5 Ways Parents Can Keep Their Kids Safe Online
The digital world can be a dangerous place for your kids. While surfing the web, your children may be exposed to scams and harmful content that slip by parental controls undetected.
Rather than banning web-based devices in your home, take proactive, preventative steps to keep your kids safe online. This will give them the digital skills they need to succeed in later life while minimizing their risk of viewing harmful content.
A proactive approach to online safety can help you set screen time boundaries and build healthy digital habits, too. Giving your kids the tools they need to surf the web safely will help them avoid screen addiction and may improve their ability to navigate away from potentially harmful content in the future.
1. Set Digital Safety Rules
As a mother, it is your job to help your children safely navigate the world and become more independent. However, this can feel like a tall order in the digital age when online predators and scams seem to lurk around every corner.
Avoid the temptation to blanket-ban the web in your home. Instead, have open, honest conversations about the dangers that your children may face when using the internet.
Start by setting clear rules about web use. Establishing non-negotiable expectations will keep your kids safe as they become more independent. Set firm rules to avoid common issues like:
Sharing Personal Information
Scammers know how to exploit younger users and will ask them for addresses, names, and bank details. Tell your child that they cannot share their personal details without checking in with you first.
Messaging and Friends
Children can be easily deceived into believing that strangers on the web can be their friends. Do not let your child accept friend requests or messages from people you do not know in real life.
Tell your child to come straight to you if they see something they should not have. This will minimize their exposure risk and allow you to protect them from adult content.
Social media is not a safe space for children. Even with child-safe features on, adult content still slips through the cracks. Instruct your child to stay away from social media pages like TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter.
Downloads and Apps
Children are naturally inquisitive and want to interact with the best that the web has to offer. Allow your child to choose the apps they want on their devices, but make sure you have a chance to check them first. Most apps come with child-safe features, too, which you can turn on before they start using their new app.
Remind your child that you are there to support them, not punish them. Children who see harmful content may feel embarrassed or feel as though they have done something wrong. Reassure them by responding to harmful content in a caring, compassionate way.
2. Respond to Harmful Content
According to the internet advocacy group Internet Matters, up to 56% of children have seen harmful or explicit content online. As a parent, you need to have a clear plan to help your child if they have seen something they should not have.
Start by reassuring your child that they are not in trouble. They cannot control the web and did not mean to view anything inappropriate. Once you have calmed them down, ask them about the content they saw. If they are having a hard time describing it, consider asking gentle “yes/no” questions until they are ready to open up.
Consider contacting a mental health professional if you suspect your child is struggling to process the experience. Harmful web content can have a significant impact on the health and well-being of your child. If you notice that your child is more quiet and reserved, speak to a mental health paediatrician who specializes in helping children who have been adversely affected by web-based content.
3. Manage Passwords
A recent report by Dashlane, a global cybersecurity firm, found that 20% of all passwords in Northern America have been compromised. Stolen passwords are a serious issue, as malicious actors can use a single compromised account to access other private pages like bank accounts and tax records. Keep your kids safe from cyberattacks by following security tips to improve your passwords:
- Never reuse a password
- Check for compromised passwords
- Create a personal passphrase pattern
- Use two-factor authentication to secure accounts
Act quickly if you discover that your kid’s accounts have been compromised in any way. Change passwords and report the breach as soon as possible to minimize damage and role model perfect digital safety.
4. Know the Common Scams
As your kids grow older, they will be more likely to surf the web independently. This is only natural, as all children crave independence in real life and on the internet. Safeguard your kids against attacks by alerting them to common scams like phishing and malware attacks.
Help your kids avoid phishing scams by teaching them to recognize the signs of nefarious emails and messages. Tell-tale signs of phishing scams include:
- Unsolicited emails
- Spelling mistakes in email addresses and subject lines
- Misrepresented domains (e.g. misspelled domains like “linkdln.com”)
- Urgent requests and/or promises of rewards
Unfortunately, phishing scams target kids and adults equally. But, by learning to recognize the signs of a scam, your child will surf the web with safety in mind.
5. Balance Screens and Play
Digital literacy is increasingly important for children today. Kids must learn how to use the web effectively to succeed in school and later in life. However, too much time online can harm children’s physical and mental health.
A recent report published in BMC Public Health titled “Screen Time and Developmental Health” found that too much screen time can lead to developmental issues, including obesity, behavioural problems, poor emotional regulation, speech delays, and lower executive functioning. Left unchecked, these issues can undermine your child’s academic development and general well-being.
Encourage your kids to take time away from the internet by adopting the role of a fun mom. Showing love and affection for your children can help them spend more time away from screens and develop important skills that will serve them well later in life. Consider setting up activities like:
- Make arts and crafts together
- Set aside time to listen to their stories
- Seek out adventures and play in green spaces
- Start playing tabletop games that do not use the web
These fun activities allow you to connect with your kids and show them that the web is not the only place to have fun. Replacing screen time with IRL activities is particularly important if you suspect your child has a screen addiction. A fun, engaging activity that takes them away from the web may be what they need to realize: they can discover the joy and meaning away from their favourite apps and video games.
Keep your children safe online by adopting a proactive approach to digital safety. Help them build healthy digital habits by teaching them about common cybersecurity threats like phishing scams and compromised passwords. Consider contacting a mental health professional if you suspect that your child has seen harmful content online. A swift, compassionate reaction can help your child navigate the web with confidence and safety in the future.