Tips for Keeping Kids Safe Online
Tips to Teach Children How to Use the Internet Safely
There is no denying that the internet provides wonderful learning opportunities, for adults and kids alike. It has revolutionized how we learn, how we connect with one another, and how we entertain ourselves. But with the potential for learning, there is also potential danger, particularly for children and teens. In order to protect children online, it’s important for parents to be aware of children’s online activities and to teach children how to use the internet safely. These tips can help.
- Set limits: Establish appropriate limits on the amount of time children may spend online and what kinds of sites they may visit. If you’re not sure where to start, Common Sense Media provides Family Media Agreements for several age groups that might be helpful in establishing rules for your own family.
- Put the computer in a communal area: Putting the computer in a central area, rather than in a child’s bedroom is a simple way to make sure you’re aware of your child’s online activities. Obviously, thanks to laptops and mobile devices, kids have access to the internet through other means; however this remains a good starting point.
- Explain the concept of a digital footprint: Encourage kids to think long-term before posting online. High school kids should ask themselves before they post something if they would want colleges or employers to see it. Despite what kids might think, nothing on the internet is completely private; messages and pictures sent privately can be copied and passed around, and content posted online never completely goes away.
- Create strong passwords: Explain how to come up with strong passwords that aren’t easy to guess. Check out this guide for ideas on how to create passwords that are memorable, but difficult to hack. Warn kids never to share passwords with anyone (except mom and dad). This includes their best friends and boy or girlfriends.
- Be careful what you download: Free videos and games seem like a good deal, but they can have spyware and viruses. Similarly, warn kids not to open email messages from people they don’t know.
- Personal information is private: Discuss with kids what kind of information is appropriate to share online, and what is not. One common recommendation is that kids should not share phone numbers, addresses, or birth dates. And of course, they should never enter Social Security or credit card information without a parent’s permission. Make sure that kids who are active on social networks always use privacy settings to limit what is publicly visible.
- Make use of safe search settings, filters, or parental locks: Consider using these features, particularly with young children. With young children, don’t depend solely on filters to keep them safe; make an effort to be present when they are online. It’s also important to talk with kids about what kind of content is inappropriate and establish rules and expectations.
- Be wary of strangers: Online chatting should be primarily with friends and family. Remind kids that people online might not be who they say they are. Kids should never give private information, like a phone number or address, or send pictures to strangers. Discuss what topics are OK to talk about online and what is not. Make sure kids know that they can come to you if something creepy happens and encourage them to block and ignore anyone who makes them uncomfortable.
- Teach digital citizenship: The relative anonymity of the internet can make kids (and grown-ups) say and do things that they wouldn’t do in “real life”. Telling lies or secrets, and making cruel comments are all forms of cyberbullying. Kids should never say anything online that they wouldn’t say to another person’s face. Make sure kids know that they should tell you if they are ever on the receiving end of mean comments or bullying. Check out this tip sheet for more tips on preventing cyberbullying.
- Keep the lines of communication open: Have an age-appropriate conversation about your family’s values and share why kids should avoid content and conversations that you find objectionable. Make sure that kids know they can always come to you if something happens that makes them uncomfortable or hurts their feelings.