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We all know the internet is a fantastic world of learning and entertainment for kids, but, like the real world, there can be dangers, too.
With some precautions, you can set your children up to become upstanding digital citizens that will lead the future. On the other hand, giving children uninhibited access to the internet can put your child, computer, and personal data at risk.
Remain positively engaged
Pay attention to the online environments your children use. Surf the web with them. Appreciate your children’s participation in their online communities and show interest in their friends. When they encounter inappropriate material, react constructively and make it a teachable moment.
Support good choices
Expand your children’s online autonomy when appropriate, especially as they demonstrate competence in safe and secure online behavior.
Keep a clean machine
Cybersecurity starts with protecting all household computers with a security suite, meaning antivirus, antispyware, and firewall software. Set all this software to update automatically so you don’t have to worry about it – software companies often create updates that deal with the latest cybersecurity threats. Keep your operating system, web browsers, and other software current as well. Importantly, back up computer files on a regular basis either on the cloud, on an external hard drive, or both.
Know the protection features of the websites, software, and apps your children use
All major internet service providers (ISPs) have tools to help you manage your children’s online experience. These tools empower you to select approved websites, monitor the amount of time children spend online, and limit the people who can contact them. Your ISP might also have other security features, such as pop-up blockers. Third-party tools for limiting children’s internet activities are also available. Remember, though, that your home computer isn’t the only place they can go online. It is important that your children understand good internet behavior.
Review privacy settings
Look at the privacy settings available on social networking platforms, computers, smartphones, apps, and other digital tools your children use. Engage your children in these decisions – decide together which settings provide the appropriate amount of protection for each child. Teach critical thinking: help your children identify safe, credible websites and other digital content. Teach them how to be cautious about clicking on, downloading, posting, and uploading content.
Explain the implications
Explain to your children the public nature of the internet and its risks and benefits. Be sure they know that any digital info they share, such as emails, photos or videos, can easily be copied and pasted elsewhere and is almost impossible to take back. Remind your children that some of this digital communication, like social media posts or photos, could damage their reputation, friendships, or future job prospects and should not be shared.
Help them be good digital citizens
Remind your children to be good “digital friends” by respecting personal information of friends and family and not sharing anything online about others that could be embarrassing or hurtful.
“Just say no” rarely works
Teach your children how to interact safely with people they meet online. Though it’s definitely preferable they make no in-person contact with online-only acquaintances, young people may not always follow this rule, especially as they get older. Talk to them about maximizing safe conditions: meeting only in well-lit, public places, always taking at least one friend, and telling a trusted adult about any plans they make. They should tell this adult the time and place of the meeting, as well as the digital acquaintance’s contact information. Remind them to limit sharing personal information with new friends.
Empower your children to handle issues
Your children may face situations like cyberbullying, unwanted contact, or hurtful comments online. Work with them on strategies for when problems arise. These can include talking to a trusted adult right away, refusing to retaliate, calmly talking with the bully, blocking the person, or filing a complaint. Agree on steps to take if the strategy fails. It is better to have these strategies in place ahead of time instead of reacting to cyberbullying after it happens.
Encourage your children to be “digital leaders”
Help your children become proficient in the safety and security techniques of all technology they use. Support their positive and safe engagement in online communities. Urge them to help if friends are making poor choices on the internet or are being cyberbullied.
6 Tips for Securing Your Family’s Digital Lives
1. Keep your home computer in a central and open location
If your main family computer lives out in the open (like in a living room or family room), you can physically monitor your children while they are online.
2. Be aware of all the ways people connect to the internet
Of course, young people have many options to connect to the internet beyond a home computer. Phones, tablets, gaming systems, and even TVs are all connected to the internet in most cases. Be aware of all the device your children are using and the ways they are connecting to the internet. Ensure they know how to use the internet safely and responsibly no matter what device they use. This includes going online at their friends’ houses.
3. Talk to other parents
When and how you decide to let your children use the internet is a personal parenting decision. Knowing what other parents are thinking, and what they are allowing their children to do online, can be helpful for making decisions about what your children do online.
4. Know the rules
Not all online services are for kids. Even some of the most popular social networking services are meant only for use by people 13 and older. There are many terrific sites designed specifically for younger children that provide a safer, more secure, and age-appropriate environment.
5. Keep pace with new ways to stay safe online
The online world is ever changing. New services with great features continually emerge. Knowing about them, and how young people use them, can help you better understand the digital life of your children. By keeping current, you can also better mitigate any concerns you may have for your children’s online experience.
6. Create separate accounts on your computer
Computer operating systems allow you to create a different account for each user. Furthermore, you can edit certain permissions for each account, like limited what websites the account holder can access. Separate accounts can lessen the chance that your child might accidentally access, modify, or change your computer settings, or delete your files.
When to Call the Authorities
If you know of a child in immediate risk or danger, call law enforcement right away. Report instances of online child exploitation to the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children’s Cyber Tipline.
- ConnectSafely.org has basic guidelines for teens and parents about cyberbullying, sexting, social networking, and more.
- FBI’s Safe Online Surfing (SOS) Internet Challenge is a free, fun, and informative program that promotes cyber citizenship by educating students in third to eighth grades on the essentials of online security. For teachers, the site provides a ready-made curriculum that meets state and federal Internet safety mandates, complete with online testing and a national competition to encourage learning and participation.
- iKeepSafe.org seeks to give parents, educators, and policymakers the information and tools which power them to teach children the safe and healthy use of technology and the internet.
- NetSmartz is a safety resource from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) for children aged 5 to 17, parents, guardians, educators and law enforcement that uses activities to teach internet safety
- OnGuardOnline.gov is the Federal Trade Commission’s main consumer-facing page to educate everyone on staying safe and secure online.
- Cyberbullying: What is It and How to Prevent It? is a complete guide to navigating Cyberbullying created by Purdue Global.
- Children’s Online Safety Test is a resource page by Virgin Media O2 created to build trust with your child and talk to them about the potential issues they may face online.