The proliferation of wireless technology, mobile devices and unlimited content weighs heavily on many parents’ minds. A 2013 research study by Common Sense Media found that 72 percent of children under age eight and 38 percent of children under age two have used a mobile device for watching videos, playing games or using apps. Another study found 24 percent of teens reported being “online constantly” and 56 percent go online several times per day.
So understanding all this, how do we keep our children safe when they’re online? Issues such as cyber bullying, online contact with strangers, sexual messaging or unwanted exposure to pornography are real problems that face children each day. It’s important to teach children to understand the internet, have an open dialogue and create confidence in their use.
- Actively Mediate Online Activity: Research finds that children are safer online when parents are more engaged with their behaviors and activities. This is as simple as sitting nearby or with your child while they are using the internet. Step in when the opportunity is right to teach them how to avoid inappropriate content or in-app purchases, and help them find the content that aligns with their interest.
- Tap Into Interventions: Younger children are less able to understand how to use the internet, ads and what constitutes inappropriate content. Use ad- and pop-up blocking software to help keep what they’re seeing streamlined, and choose kid-friendly search engines like Kiddle.co. Learn about and understand available parental controls and exercise them accordingly.
- Curate Content: Create a list of age-appropriate sites and bookmark them for your child. They’ll appreciate having go-to content that they love and it will help avoid any accidental exposure to inappropriate sites.
- Use a Family Email & Social Networking Account: Avoid using personalized accounts and instead use a group family email, which will allow you to access your child’s communications. You can do the same with social networking sites to allow them limited access.
- Start a Regular Dialogue About Uncomfortable or Questionable Content: Opening up the lines of communication as your child begins using the internet provides them with a good habit of telling you when something makes them uncomfortable and opportunities for you to continue to guide them as they become more independent.
- Establish a Partnership: As your child becomes older and uses the internet more intelligently and independently, continue to monitor their use. Create a partnership that gives them independence while supporting them, such as joining the same social networking site, engaging with their posts and getting to know their friends–just as you do in everyday life.
- Set Safe Parameters: Create rules and boundaries around internet use that will help provide adult supervision while allowing your child independence. For example, require that all online activities occur in the common areas of your home, where you’re available as a resource to help guide them through difficult situations. And regularly review your child’s list of friends on social media–just as you would in person–to help them keep their content private.
- Delay Smartphone Ownership: When surveyed, many technology leaders claim their children do not receive personal smartphones until eighth grade, which led a group of parents to create the initiative Wait Until 8th. Delay smartphone ownership so you’re able to better exercise control over your child’s time online until they are mature enough to make decisions on their own.
- Designate Tech-Free Zones in the Bedroom and Dining Room: Setting boundaries around where technology can and can’t be used is important. It provides you with a way to continue to be present during internet use, and to ensure that some areas of the home are sacred for conversation and connection.
- Educate Your Children: As developmentally appropriate, make your children aware of some of the negatives they might encounter, like cyberbullying, online predators and identity theft. Open up a conversation about the permanence of their online footprint when it comes to colleges or job hunting. Help them understand how to search safely and exercise their privacy settings.
For more information on online safety and other small changes you can make for a happier, healthier family, check out 52 Small Changes for the Family, out now.