These days, handling kids and Internet usage is a battle that involves a balance of privacy, education, responsibility and honesty. It's a tough path to maneuver, especially for parents who are introducing their oldest or only child to the World Wide Web.
As more and more schools use computers and tablets for educational and research purposes, technology is a growing part of children's lives. Beyond that, there are smartphones and video game systems that connect to the Internet, giving children continuous access to everything on the web.
Since you can't stop them from using it, you'll need to prepare them for everything that comes with it. Internet safety for kids is a hot topic for a good reason; it's now just another part of being a modern parent. Here are 5 things that all parents should think about when they're discussing Internet safety with kids.
1. Online Activities
Probably the most pivotal thing to consider when parents are contemplating Internet safety for kids is what they're doing when they're online. While some kids will be online doing research, school assignments or educational games, others will be using it for fun.
Regardless, it's important that parents have an idea of what their children are up to online. Start a dialogue before they ever start using the computer that enables you to ask questions about their online activities.
How you handle those activities depends on your style of parenting. Some parents may want to give their children freedom after discussing what types of websites they shouldn't be visiting, but many will want to set rules on which websites are off limits. Child protection settings or programs can assist with this, allowing you to block certain sites that may have adult content.
Another way to approach this situation is to ask your children if you can go online with them every once and a while. Ask them to show you what kinds of websites they visit and what they enjoy doing when they're online. With this kind of approach, you can check up on them while presenting it as an interest instead of enforcement. Of course, if you find they're visiting inappropriate websites or talking to strangers, you'll have to put a stop to it, but overall this method can build trust between you and your child.
2. Time Spent Online
When kids start using the Internet, an important component is how much time they're going to spend on the computer. Sit down with them and discuss how much time you each feel is appropriate. It all depends on you and your family.
Some kids may only want to use it for homework-related reasons, but most will want free time as well so you have to judge how much online time is too much. Start out by asking your child how long they feel is appropriate so they feel that they have a say in the situation as well. But coming up with a time limit and sticking to it may help them realize that the Internet is a tool and has its purpose, but that it's not something to be messing around on all day long.
If you're not keen on setting time limits, you'll still want to pay attention to how much screen time kids are getting each day. Parents should also consider what time kids are getting online. If they start acting secretive about the computer and getting on at the same exact times, ask questions to make sure they're behaving responsibly and not talking to someone they shouldn't be talking to.
3. Who They're Talking To
Internet safety for kids heavily revolves around who they're talking to when they're online. The most obvious issue would be if your kids are talking to strangers they met online, either via social media, chat rooms or email. Because children can be naive or gullible, it's important to share the dangers of the Internet with them. Make sure they know that people can lie about who they are online so they need to stick to conversations with people they already know.
Parents should also find out who their kids are talking to online in case of cyberbullying. Kids may not be keen to discuss who they've been talking to if they are actually being bullied by a peer so watch their moods before and after they use the computer.
If they're often depressed or anxious once they get offline, there's a good chance they're dealing with some kind of web-based conflict. Try to keep communication open with them so they know they can share these problems with you. It's also a good idea to inform them that the easiest way to combat a bully is to ignore and delete any unwelcome messages.
4. Levels of Privacy
Parents will want to consider how much privacy they want to grant their kids online. When you discuss what types of activities and websites are appropriate to use and which they need to avoid, you can also discuss privacy levels. Some parents may trust their children to tell them the truth, but those that don't want to have to worry about them stumbling across something they're not supposed to see can set the parental controls to block certain websites.
You'll also want to discuss the lack of privacy found on the Internet. Make sure your kids know that any words or photos they post are there forever and can't be deleted. They should also be told not to post private information like a home address, phone number or the school they go to online.
Another decision around privacy to make is whether or not kids should share their passwords with parents or be allowed to keep them private. Whether you decide to randomly check their accounts to make sure they're not talking to anyone they shouldn't be, or trust them to do the right thing, it's a good idea to keep the passwords on hand just in case there's ever any cause for concern.
5. Internet Safety For Kids On Other Platforms
When it comes to Internet safety, parents need to remember that time spent online isn't only on the computer. You can set all of the parental controls you want on the family PC, but if you don't also do the same on your child's tablets, smartphones or videogame systems, you can't control what they do online.
These all provide access to social networks, email accounts, instant messengers, forums, chat rooms and other portals through which kids can meet people online. To make sure they're truly safe, inspect every device your child could possibly use to go online and make sure it's set up how you want it.
Most importantly, make sure you and your child are on the same page and that you maintain a certain level of trust between each other. This will limit surprises and give you a little more peace of mind when your kids are using the web.