It happens to even the most savvy of web surfers. We type in something that seems totally innocuous or click on a link that looks like it would be safe in any other universe, and suddenly we’re inundated with pop up ads, sounds of a “questionable” nature start blaring out of our speakers and videos that we’re not sure we will ever be old enough to see start playing.
If it’s traumatizing for us, as adults, imagine what that’s like for your kids!
Trust me when I say that those sorts of scenarios are not an “if” for you or your kids, but a “when.” They will happen. But they will happen a lot less often if you know how to be careful and keep your kids safe while they surf the net and spend time online.
The good news is, there are many ways to keep kids safe on the internet.
Some parents choose to only allow their kids to have screen time if that screen time happens while they are in the same room to keep a watchful eye over every move their kids make. Others prefer to allow their kids unfettered access to the internet, figuring that the best way to learn is to make a few mistakes here and there.
I feel the best approach is somewhere between the two. You don’t necessarily have to watch over every keystroke your kids make, but you don’t necessarily want them to be free to trip over less than desirable content, either. I managed to achieve that balance as my rather internet-savvy son got online at the age of 5. Oh yes, he taught me a thing or two, too!.
So Where Do You Start?
It all begins with a conversation. Kids are getting online earlier and earlier these days so it’s helpful to talk about staying safe and having a healthy layer of skepticism when spending time online. Remember the Stranger Danger talks we got as kids when we wanted to go outside and play? This is a similar conversation.
This is particularly important as your kids get older and start navigating the waters of social media and chatting. It’s perfectly fine to have rules about only allowing your kids to interact with people they already know, especially in public social media spheres or in situations where the person they are talking to wants to meet in tangible space.
Teach your kids to be skeptical of anybody online who tries to talk to them but encourages them to hide the interaction from their parents–especially if that person is trying to persuade your kids to do things they do not feel comfortable doing.
A lot of parents think that the best way to approach these conversations is with a list of rules that their kids have to follow and leave it at that. It is important, though, that you don’t treat this conversation as a one-time thing.
One of the best ways to keep your kids safe online is to always keep the lines of communication open.
- Check in regularly with your kids.
- Ask them which sites they’re visiting, who they’re talking to, etc.
- Get ready to keep your poker face on if you hear things that make you uncomfortable.
You want your kids to feel safe coming to you even if they have broken one of the rules (which, let’s face it, they’re going to do every once in a while). The last thing you want is for them to hide something that could be harmful or predatory because they’re afraid of being reprimanded.
Behind the Scenes
In addition to all of the talking, it’s good to take steps behind the scenes too. Here are some of the things you can do to keep your kids (and your computer) safe.
Parental controls are important and one of your first lines of defense against sites with inappropriate material. You can configure parental controls in various ways:
- Set them up to block sites with certain tags and grades.
- Block specific sites.
- Use this software to set up profiles for each child so that you aren’t limiting, for example, research that your high school senior has to do for homework purposes while attempting to keep your third grader safe online.
It’s also a good idea to set up a password manager as another layer of protection. Password managers allow you to keep track of the different passwords you use for different sites. To change or enter a site’s password or, for example, the computer’s parental controls, a person needs the password for the password manager. This way, you reduce the chances of your kids figuring out the parental controls password and simply turning it off when you aren’t home or aren’t paying attention.
Even children’s sites can have nefarious code. Make sure that you have top notch internet security software installed so that your kids aren’t accidentally downloading viruses, trojan horses or ransomware. Turn it all the way up to eleven.
Remember, even if your parental controls are turned all the way up and you watch everything your kids do online while they are at home, you can’t be everywhere all the time. This is why those open lines of communication are so important.