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 even provides entertainment with streaming videos and apps and games. But with the potential for learning, there is also potential danger, particularly for children and teens. In order to keep kids safe 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 for online safety can help.
Establish appropriate limits on the amount of time children may spend online and what kinds of sites they may visit. As a parent, you should have control over the amount of screen time your child has available each day and how much is too much for each child. Once that time limit is met, you may have to remove the devices from your child’s room.
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, you could make a rule of no devices allowed in the kids’ bedrooms if you find it necessary.
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 from Lifehacker 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 boyfriends or girlfriends.
Explain that downloads can be dangerous
Free videos and games seem like a good deal, but they can have spyware and viruses. Similarly, warn kids to not open email messages from people they don’t know.
Keep personal information 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 parental monitoring features
Consider using parental monitoring apps with features such as safe search settings, filters, and other locks, particularly with young children. And don’t depend solely on filters to keep young kids 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 to establish rules and expectations.
Teach caution 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 they wouldn’t do in real life. Telling lies or secrets and making cruel comments are all forms of cyber-bullying. Kids should never say anything online that they wouldn’t say to another person’s face. Make sure kids know they should tell you if they are ever on the receiving end of mean comments or bullying, even if it is online. Check out this tip sheet for more pointers 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 kids know they can always come to you if something happens that makes them uncomfortable or hurts their feelings.
*This post originally published in 2012 and has been updated and republished.