The internet is an amazing tool to help kids learn, build critical thinking skills or socialize with diverse groups of people. It’s also a scary place for parents who are justifiably worried about their kids becoming victims of fraud, identity theft or cyberbullying. The mobility of various devices means parents have fewer opportunities to monitor how their kids use the internet.
Parents should prepare their children at an early age to recognize potential dangers and continue preparing them as they grow older and encounter new risks.
“Think of sending your kids out into the internet…in the same way you think about sending them out into the world. Different age groups require different amounts of oversight; even within a specific age range, different kids have different inclinations, and with them different needs,” says security writer Brian Barrett.
Use the following guidelines to reap the benefits of being online while mitigating the chances of falling prey to cyber thieves, scammers and bullies.
Set Limits and Boundaries Early
Even before your kids have their own cellphones or laptops, set basic expectations or ground rules, discussing how much time they spend online and/or what websites they may visit. Use the age ratings listed on apps, games and online TV content to guide your choices.
To help kids and parents understand and commit to boundaries and responsibilities, the website Safe Kids offers a number of tools:
- Yes-or-no quizzes for children with questions about what they can and can’t share online
- Pledges from parents that they won’t text their children during inappropriate times, such as while they’re at school
Be Smart About Passwords
When teaching your kids how to create passwords, steer clear of easy choices such as your birthday. A stronger password choice would be a sentence – or passphrase – that includes multiple elements, such as upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, symbols and/or spaces.
Other websites generate strong passwords for you, and there are password managers you can consider using to securely store and keep track of your passwords.
Recognize and Prepare for Scams
Connecting with others is a breeze in today’s world of email, chat and social media. Unfortunately, it’s also easy for cybercriminals to use these same avenues to victimize people.
Parents and children of all ages need to know the most common scams. For instance, offers of free ringtones may require you to download an executable file. This malware, or malicious software, infects devices with viruses designed to steal data or even to destroy your entire system.
Since even prepared kids can make mistakes, always have security software in place. Antivirus protection not only keeps your devices virus-free but can also manage passwords and keep data confidential.
Steer Clear of the Internet’s Dark Side
The anonymity offered through apps such as Snapchat appeals to kids who want to express themselves in ways they might not feel comfortable doing in person. On the down side, anonymity may increase the chances that your kids will encounter – or even post – inappropriate content. Worse, hiding behind a screen name emboldens some to become bullies, leading to negative impacts in the real world.
Make sure your kids understand that nothing is truly temporary or anonymous online. It’s easy for people with bad intentions to take screenshots or photos and then circulate them in a way meant to hurt your children. Talk frankly to your kids about what they post, particularly hurtful comments or risqué photos.
If your child is the target of cyberbullying, encourage them to talk to you about the incidents, capture the evidence with screen shots and block and report the bully to the app or website involved.
Consider Parental Control Tools
Parental control software can block unwanted web content, limit screen time and restrict applications. Operating systems, including Microsoft’s Windows, Apple’s Mac OS, and Google Chrome OS, come with free, built-in parental controls. And Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer have several complimentary tools to limit website access or filter out inappropriate content.
Make Online Safety a Priority
Don’t let concerns about what might go wrong stand in the way of letting your children explore the vast virtual world. If you’re educated about risks and employ smart monitoring tools, your kids will be more likely to use technology safely and come to you for advice if they run into anything uncomfortable.
About the Author
Monique is a freelance digital journalist specializing in business, marketing and technology topics. Her work can be seen on Venture Beat, MediaPost and the Stanford Blog. In her spare time she likes to spend time outdoors hiking and hanging out with her Cocker Spaniel.