When I was a kid, my parents warned me constantly about the perils of running with scissors and waiting 30 minutes after eating before getting in the pool. Traditionally, parents were more concerned with making sure the kids were home in time for dinner.
When raising my kids, it was all about homework and limiting TV time, at least until the personal computer, Internet and online games took center stage. At this point, a whole new issue surfaced: using the home computer safely and responsibly.
Today, this challenge is multiplied exponentially as mobile devices are used anywhere and everywhere.
Kids are now bombarded with ways in which to avoid the real world and sink into the online realm. In a recent Intego survey conducted by Ipsos, 49 percent of parents said their children’s use of smartphones and tablets interfered with bedtime, schoolwork or mealtime. In addition, the more time kids spend connected, the more they risk exposure to online threats – from cyberbullying to malware.
So what’s a parent to do? Fortunately, there are ways parents can give their kids the freedom to enjoy the benefits of connected devices while ensuring they stay safe and act responsibly:
- Keep the lines of communication open – Parents should sit down and talk to their kids about how to be good cyber citizens and what type of behavior online is acceptable – from not participating in cyberbullying to staying away from websites that are inappropriate. Kids should also be encouraged to talk to their parents or other trusted adults if they run into things online or on their mobile devices that make them feel uncomfortable.
- Limit screen time – If screen time is getting in the way of dinner, homework, bedtime or just plain family time, parents should set limits. This can involve a discussion about when and where it’s appropriate to use mobile devices, as well as when they are not allowed (for example, at the dinner table and after 9 p.m.). Some parents may need help enforcing screen time rules and there are a number of solutions available that can shut down access to a computer or mobile device based on a pre-set schedule.
- Keep information private – Children should be educated about what information should not be shared with others online. These things include home addresses, phone numbers, school names, passwords and even vacation plans. Keeping personal information private can help protect kids and the family from identity theft and physical threats.
- Stay safe and secure– Every member of the family needs to be a part of keeping the family cyber safe and secure:
- Passwords – Parents should emphasize to their children the importance of using passwords that can’t be easily guessed and changing them regularly. Younger kids may need their parents to oversee this but older children should be taught how to manage passwords on their own.
- Think before you click – Teach your children that they can’t trust every email that hits their inbox. Kids should be informed about the dangers of opening attachments or clicking on links in suspicious messages from either strangers or friends and family who may have had their computer infected or hacked.
- Limit access – Parents can limit their children’s ability to install files on the computer or download apps on their mobile devices. You can create a separate user account on your computer with limited permissions, which will help prevent kids from accidentally installing unwanted programs. Most mobile devices also provide settings that parents can enable to prevent kids from downloading or purchasing apps.
Today’s connected world doesn’t have to be a challenging experience for parents. With these tips, along with helpful resources like those available on StaySafeOnline.org and Intego’s Mac Security Blog, parents can put in place best practices that will keep kids – and the rest of the family – cyber safe and secure.
About the Author
Jeff Erwin has been a startup founder and CEO in the tech and software industry for more than 30 years. He’s served as the CEO of Intego, the leading provider of Mac security and makers of Family Protector, since 2011. Jeff and his wife have three kids who grew up as the Internet and video games began to capture the interests of tweens and teens.