“20 years ago, our kids were safe in their bedrooms. Now with the internet and a connection to the outside world, they are not.” ~ Glen Pounder, Director of Programs Child Rescue Coalition
There’s no doubt that technology has played a pivotal role in shaping how our children learn, socialize, and have fun today. In the past, especially for millennials and older folks, you had to physically be in a classroom and visit the school library to learn. Connecting with friends meant hanging out at their homes, seeing the movies, playing tug of war or frisbee, and mailing them hand-written letters, all within the confines of a more physically defined world that offered a sense of safety and control over what we accessed.
But, as the legendary Bob Dylan said, “The times are a-changin’.” Nowadays, kids of all ages can do all those things with just a click, all from the comfort of home. While this convenience is a welcome change, it comes with significant risks to their safety. Without the physical boundaries we once had, our little ones are exposed to cyberbullying, explicit content (like porn, violence, and extremist ideas), cyberstalking, and identity theft. Consider online sex-related crime for instance; about 9.95% of tweens and 20.54% of teens report encountering predatory online behavior in 2021 alone.
So, as a parent, what measures should you take to ensure issues such as these don’t become a reality for your child? Let’s find out below.
Set Clear Boundaries
The first step toward keeping your children safe online is setting well-defined rules about the content they can access, how much time they spend on the net, and who they can interact with, among other conditions. Some kids might whine and nag about you being an online sheriff, screen cop, or helicopter parent, but it’s crucial to stand your ground and let them know that your actions stem from a place of love and concern.
More importantly, have a heart-to-heart talk with them, explaining the real-world dangers of the internet if they don’t follow the rules. For instance, if they chat with strangers without running a background check on them, they could fall for an online scam or get targeted by a predator. These reasons should help substantiate why you can’t allow them unfettered access to the internet.
Be clear about the consequences of breaking these rules, like restricting their internet time, taking away their devices, or grounding them. They need to understand that crossing these boundaries means you’ll enforce these measures without holding back to keep them on the right track.
Teach Them Media Literacy and Cybersecurity
While it’s crucial to set some ground rules, you don’t want your kids to get the wrong impressions and consequently resent you. So, you need to delegate some responsibilities that will encourage them to think critically and independently. Rather than cutting off all access to social media, show them what to watch out for, such as catfishing, fake news, false advertising, sextortion, suspicious links, and other red flags.
Help them differentiate between positive and harmful content and how to block or report abuse and harassment. You might also want to give them a crash course on cybersecurity, such as how to create strong passwords, encrypt their data, and install antivirus. Some kids are conversant with these precautions, but it doesn’t hurt to remind them about online safety.
If you’re not a tech whiz, encourage them to research for relevant information. That way, they’ll be in charge of their online security, becoming their own protectors.
Use Parental Control and Monitoring Tools
With the increasing safety concerns today, you can’t afford to lower your defenses in protecting your child by using control and monitoring tools. Some of these programs offer a variety of capabilities that let you get an accurate picture of what your child is doing online. For instance, parental controls help you decide what sites your kids can visit and how much time they can spend on them.
You can block inappropriate content, like sexual materials or violence, and even schedule web time-outs, making sure they’re not online when they should be getting some shut-eye. Taking it a step further, you might want to monitor their offline activities too since some of their online interactions spill into the real world. For this, you need tools like geofences and location trackers.
Geofencing lets you set virtual boundaries, like your home, school, or local parks, using GPS and sends you alerts if your kids go beyond those limits. Similarly, a tracking app gives you their exact position and shows you where they’ve been. When it comes to online chats, texts, and phone calls, you need an application that scrutinizes all conversations to prevent your child from getting sucked into unhealthy exchanges.
Nuwber is one efficient reverse lookup tool that gets the job done. With it, you can know who your child is talking to, just by simply running the person’s number on the site’s search engine. But it’s not enough to ID the caller, you also need to understand the context of your child’s messages by researching and familiarizing yourself with emojis, abbreviations, and slang that have hidden meanings. As such, you can easily tell when something doesn’t seem right.
Establish an Open Line of Communication with Them
As your children grow older and interact more with the online world, they’ll need more independence and may start pushing against your rules and restrictions. Some parents are tempted to take drastic measures, like snatching their gadgets away or blocking them from social media. But, by doing so, you only end up alienating them and making them less likely to confide in you.
You don’t want to miss a crucial moment when your kids could reveal they’re harassed or groomed, which is why you need to establish a healthy communication channel, through which they feel free to confide in you. Be transparent and don’t force them to divulge their secrets. Check in on them often and listen to what they say without being judgmental or controlling.
Let them know they’re not alone and that there’s someone to protect them if they get in any trouble.
The internet is a powerful tool that can profoundly impact the lives of your children. While it has its perks, it can also throw them into some safety risks. Consider the factors discussed above when safeguarding their online world. Remember, no amount of monitoring will help if you don’t build a foundation of trust with your kids and teach them how to protect themselves.