Allowing your child to have access to the entire Internet without restriction or supervision would be like setting them loose in the middle of Lagos. Not a good idea, and not a safe bet. And while the Internet can be the perfect place to watch harmless cat videos, research bottomless databases for school reports, and play games that educate and entertain them, it’s also a place where phishing, social network harassment, and scams abound. That’s why it’s up to you to educate your children about what’s safe and what’s not — and to know what to keep an eye on for yourself.
Talk About Cyberbullying
According to Wired Safety — a leading online safety, education, and help — cyberbullying begins to expand by age eight. And from there it reaches far and wide, with 43 percent of teens aged 13 to 17 reporting that they have experienced some sort of cyberbullying in the past year. Help your child learn how to deal with cyberbullies (and how to not become one) by having them “graduate” from the Carnegie Cyber Academy — an interactive educational tool developed by Carnegie Mellon University to teach proper Web etiquette and how to defend yourself from “Cyber Villains.”
No matter what age your child is, setting boundaries with the Internet is imperative. The types of websites your kids visit, the search engines they use, and the content they have access to should all play into the restrictions and limitations you set on your devices and through your Internet provider. Enough Is Enough compiled a list of kid-safe search engines that are more reliable than a Google Safe Search. Additionally, most cable and Internet providers, such as XFinity and Comcast allow you to block websites by URL, keyword, and device accessing them. If that’s not enough, there are services such as The Children’s Internet that offer children safe, age-appropriate Internet experience available for a monthly fee. If you do allow your child to use a mobile device, then use a kid-friendly mobile device.
Don’t Save Any Lessons For Later
From the first time you log on with your kids, utilize every opportunity to promote safe practices and open dialogue about the Internet. According to Enough Is Enough — a non-partisan, non-profit organization that has been a national leader in Internet safety legislation and education since 1994 — by the age of five, kids are very capable of using computers and phones to access the Internet. At this age, they also “accept media content at face value,” meaning that it’s the perfect opportunity for you to teach them what to avoid and how to avoid it online. Teach kids from this age to never click on ads or sidebars, how to create a username and password that is safe, what information is safe to share online, and basic privacy practices. Watch this Internet Safety video at BrainPOP Jr. together and talk about the lessons it teaches.
Teach You Kids to Treat the Internet Like “The Real World”
A good lesson to instill in children is to be as cautious and careful on the Internet as they are in real life. Challenge them to ask themselves, “Would I tell this or act like this to a stranger in person?” and, “Would I be comfortable with this if a responsible adult were looking over my shoulder?” This allows children to acknowledge that everyone is a person behind the computer screen.
Supervise the Screens
Just because you have restrictions or blocks on devices doesn’t mean that you don’t have to keep an eye on your children’s activity online. Enough Is Enough encourages families to keep all devices in shared or open space in the home — such as the living room. Make sure you know who your child is communicating with online, as well as their online history.
Internet Safety For Kids: A Cheat Sheet
- On average, teens spend 5 hours and 38 minutes online every day.
- This list of search engines includes sites that are safe for kids of all ages to use.
- Teach your kids to interact online with the same care and caution you have taught them to use every day in the “real world.”
- Kids are very capable of using computers and phones to access the Internet by the age of five.
- Utilize your device and service provider to block inappropriate websites, keywords, and search returns.
- Keep communication and dialogue about Internet use and safety open with kids.