Electronic devices, from smart phones to tablets to laptops, are omnipresent in our lives. Whether our kids have their own screens or not, they likely have access to their internet, whether it’s at school, at a friend’s house, or even at the library. Parents have likely read about all of the dangers associated with kids having unrestricted internet access. So how can you keep your kids safe?
As a parent, you are right to be concerned. The internet can be a minefield of inappropriate content, predators, bullying and harsh commentary. But at the same time, the internet is also a gold mine. It’s a place to learn, socialize and create. In 2018, keeping your school-age children completely off of the internet is probably unreasonable. The trick is navigating the fine line between allowing your kids to explore while protecting them from danger.
There are many options available for WiFi routers that cut off internet access at certain times, software that limits internet usage or apps that track your child’s internet history. While these may be valuable, there are other steps that parents can take to set up a system to help keep your kids safe — and teach them to protect themselves at the same time. Because kids are often more tech-savvy than adults, particularly as they get older, working with them on these basic principles will often be more useful than protective routers and software.
The first rule that every parent should know is that there are no hard and fast rules. Technology is evolving constantly, and every child is different. As your child ages, she or he will require varying levels of oversight — and if you have more than one kid, each child might have a different need when it comes to the internet. The key is to be flexible, and adjust as needed. One way to look at the internet is to think about leaving your child home alone for the first time. You don’t know exactly what she or he will do, but you have to trust that you’ve raised your child right so that they can deal with whatever might happen. The same is true for going online. Set up structure early as your child begins exploring the internet with your oversight. Don’t allow them to bypass rules, such as by lying about their age to have a Facebook account. When they get their first device, teach them how to create a strong password, and set rules for who can download apps. Teach them good digital citizenship, and you will feel more confident about their ability to handle themselves when it comes time to take the proverbial training wheels off and let them soar.
Next, think about your own internet or device usage. Are you setting a good example? Many of us are glued to our own screens, whether it be our phones, tablets or laptops. If we can’t control our own internet usage, it will be hard for us to set limits for our kids. You can also help them make good choices about what they share online when they are older by asking them for permission about what you share about them now. Explain that the internet is forever — and that you don’t want to post a picture or tell a story that they might find too personal or embarrassing. Make rules about gadget usage apply to the whole family — including you. Doing so will help pass on lessons that will benefit your kids in the long-term.
Finally, we cannot emphasize enough the need to communicate constantly. It may be tempting to monitor or control your kids’ online presence with software or a router that limits internet usage. But unless you talk to your kids about why you are restricting their time online, those controls may not actually work. Instead, try to keep an open line of communication and focus on how your kids are doing in their every day life (their grades, their friends, their community involvement). When you establish trust with your kids, they will be more likely to come to you if they do run into trouble, such as harassment, bullying, or coming across a disturbing image.
Parents can also check out resources such as Netsmartz and Common Sense Media to help them talk to their children about using the internet and staying safe online. If your child has experienced violence of any kind as a result of her or his internet usage, we can help. Blackburn Center offers a range of services for victims of violence. Contact us today to learn more, or call our hotline anytime at 1-888-832-2272 or 724-1122 to speak to a trained crisis counselor.
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