Raising kids is scary enough when you just think about the most obvious dangers. You’re worried about your new driver, the pressure your kids might face to try drugs or alcohol and all the other bad in the world.
Add the internet to the mix and it can seem terrifying.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep your kids safe on the internet. Of course, the most important way to keep them safe is to build a relationship of trust with your kids. If they know you’re not “out to get them,” your kids will be more likely to confide in you should trouble arise.
But here are 6 other ways you can help ensure the safety of your kids on the internet.
1. Monitor their internet usage.
Sounds pretty obvious, right? But it might not be what you think. By monitoring your kids’ internet usage, I don’t mean for you to helicopter over your kids and watch over their shoulder as they chat with their friends.
Instead, tell your kids that you’ll need their passwords. It’s as simple as that. Ask for their passwords for email, social media and even that Roblox game they play with their classmates. Then leave them alone.
Every now and then, inform your child that you’ll be taking a look at their email accounts or their social media pages. Then, do it together. Peek around at the messages they’ve sent and received, but don’t pry. That girl your son has a crush on? Leave that thread alone.
Keep an eye out for unusual activity, bullying, or for names you don’t recognize. Be sure your child is there with you. He can answer the questions which may arise, and it’ll help to cement that foundation of trust to know you’re not snooping behind his back.
2. Use your phone.
Of course, you’ll run into the occasional “resourceful” child who likes to delete emails and conversations before they’re read. If you suspect your kid might be this type, you’ll have to take a different approach.
Add his email address or social media account to your phone. You’ll be notified immediately when new messages come in. And while you don’t have to read them – I’d recommend you don’t – you’ll be better aware of what’s going on in your child’s digital world.
3. Discourage oversharing.
I’ve always had a big problem with bumper stickers. You know the type. On a minivan, you’ll see the following:
- A stick family – there are two girls, two boys and a full-grown woman.
- There’s a sticker that says “Lacrosse Champions – Morrisville Elementary”
- On the front of the car is your parking permit for Forest Hills Housing Development
- Finally, there’s the sticker that says “I love my Boston Terrier.”
Without you having said a word, a potential predator knows that you’re a single mother of four children who attend Morrisville Elementary. You live at Forest Hills, and you have a tiny, non-threatening dog. One of your kids plays lacrosse, so your family is not likely to be home during games.
You won’t find bumper stickers on my car.
Your child may be passing along information to predators online without realizing he’s doing it. Informing the social media world of where you’re going to vacation and when is one example.
Talk to your kids about the importance of keeping private things private. In fact, it’s another reason you should monitor their internet usage.
4. Put a timer on the internet.
I had a friend who did just this. Her son was talking to a few unsavory characters on the internet. Unfortunately, today it’s almost impossible to “ban” a child from the web. That’s where they research and even complete school assignments.
If you’re the parent of an older child, you know how it is: sometimes the kids are up after you go to bed. If that’s the case, just put a timer on the modem. At, say, 9 pm the internet will turn off, and your kid will have no choice but to go watch reruns of M*A*S*H. Keep the modem in your bedroom or in a locked closet.
5. Don’t rush to limit screen time.
Millennials and the younger generations have a very bad reputation. They’re known as the mindless generations, the ones who spend hours staring myopically at their phones and tablets while the world passes them by.
That’s just not so. I have a soft spot for these young people. They’re the first generation which are completely and literally “connected” to their work, school and responsibilities. They may simply be unsure of how to turn it off.
Kids who are staring at their phones aren’t just staring. In fact, they’re doing something we were never able to do. They’re communicating effortlessly with friends, contacts and others from around the world.
Before you limit screen time, ask your child what he’s doing online. Is he chatting with friends? Looking up the most recent movie reviews? Is he trying to sort out a bullying situation?
Find out what you can do to help your kid. Find out if you need to help him at all.
6. Know your kid.
What’s your kid’s personality like? Is he reserved, holding problems in so that you have to ask him before he’ll share? Or is she open, easily bubbling over with excitement about her latest idea?
Is your kid the type who will adhere to your internet rules, or do you think you might need to implement a few extra safeguards?
There is absolutely no substitute for a meaningful, honest and open relationship with your child. When you have this kind of relationship with your child, it’s easy to learn what’s going on in his digital life: you ask him.
Use the commute to the ball game and supper time to talk to your kids. Get to know them, and not just by asking questions. The more open you are in daily life, the more open he’ll be if trouble should arise. And that’s the best way to keep your kid safe on the internet.