By Amber Shimel, MSW of Thriveworks Counseling
There are so many reasons parents worry about their kids. The world is full of danger and unknowns, and the internet is no exception. In fact, this is an area that confuses and worries parents more than many others. Parents grew up in a different era, where there was no social networking, no messaging, and no apps. It can be very difficult to understand all the different ways children can get into trouble on the internet. However, there are many ways parents can help keep their children safe online, by creating healthy, clear boundaries.
1. Keep computers, tablets, and any other electronic devices in the public spaces of your home.
This is a common, and easy way, to show your children that you are aware of their activities online. While it may still be impossible to watch every single thing that your child does online, using electronic devices in public areas makes it much more difficult to hide things. If something unsafe comes up while they are browsing, you will be right there to discuss it and explain it.
2. Teach your children basic safety procedures online.
It may seem like common sense to adults to never give your full name, phone number, address, or other personal information online. However, children are totally unaware of these guidelines unless someone teaches them these things. Internet predators can appear very friendly online. Warn your children about various ways predators will attempt to trick children into giving them personal information. Explaining these dangers ahead of time will be the best way to prepare your children for what they may encounter online.
3. Use the features already available to you on your devices.
Almost all internet browsers and devices have safety features and parental controls built in. Many parents do not use these simply because they are unaware of their existence. If you look under Settings, Parental Controls, Safe Search, Content Advisor, or Internet Options, you will find many ways to make the internet safer, using features that are already built-in. Using the Help feature may help you understand all the options available on your device.
4. Set clear rules for your home and family.
Make a list of safe and acceptable websites. Many of the most dangerous situations come into children’s lives because of school or homework research. When conducting research online, kids may come across things they never imagined seeing. By talking about safe search options, children can conduct their research in a responsible way. There are many safe options available for research, such as Kiddle, Ask Jeeves for Kids, and Yahooligans. As long as children are aware of the many safe options, they can search responsibly on their own. If they feel the need to depart from the options you have already approved, make it clear that they must get special permission and that they must also have supervision. As with most aspects of parenting, being clear about your expectations and consequences is a key to a healthy relationship with your child.
5. Explore software options.
There are many software options available for purchase. Some of these can give a daily report to parents about everything that your child has done online, others restrict access to certain sites, and still others set time limits and boundaries, with different profiles and parameters for different members of your family. There are various price ranges and options available, which can meet every family’s different needs. These programs have a wide range of features that can make internet safety easier to manage for busy families.
6. Be involved.
As with all aspects of parenting, being involved is one of the most important keys to success. Be interested and aware of your child’s activities online. Play the games and apps that your kids love. Admire the latest Minecraft land they built on their tablet. If your teen has an Instagram account, you get one too. Be their friend on Facebook. Do not be intrusive or annoying, but be genuinely involved. Kids know when adults are being genuine. Do not try to fake being interested in your child’s activities online—actually be interested. In the physical world, you would not let your child go to secret places with people you do not know; the online world should be no different. Stay involved and interested in your child’s online life.
Being a parent in the world of the internet can cause parents to panic. Setting boundaries for kids online can seem so overwhelming, parents basically quit. Parents can start to feel annoyed and bothered by the fact that their five-year-old may seem to know more about the internet than they do. But do not feel discouraged; help is available in many different forms. Being educated and prepared is your best defense against the many dangers online. Stay involved in your children’s lives both offline and online, and you can help your child grow up safely in the world of the internet.
Provided by Thriveworks Counseling centers, now with more than 30 locations across the United States. Learn more at Thriveworks.com/find-counselor