As children’s access to the internet increases, so too does their risk exposure. From hackers to scammers to cyberbullies, there are lots of malicious actors online who will take advantage of your kids. Yet the prevalence of technology will only continue to grow as the years roll on. So untethering your child from the digital world entirely isn’t really a feasible way to protect them. Instead, here are five things to know about your children’s online safety so you can equip them to face digital dangers.
1. You can choose intentional technology.
Most modern tech is not designed with kids in mind. So giving a child a smartphone also gives them access to literally everything and anything online.
Likewise, it gives bad actors a potential avenue to connect with them. Children can already struggle to identify trustworthy individuals in real life, and online it’s even harder. The first line of online safety, then, is to have your child use intentionally kid-friendly technology whenever possible.
Phones are one particular piece of tech that kids are getting earlier and earlier. But giving a child a smartphone is like giving a sports car to an unlicensed teenager. Sure, they might be all right for a little while, but the potential for catastrophe isn’t worth the risk.
Instead, get a safe phone for kids that’s designed with their protection in mind. Without internet or social media access, these devices still give kids comms capabilities without subjecting them to unnecessary dangers.
2. You can make a safe space.
No, this isn’t a suggestion to make an emotionally safe place, though that’s certainly important in its own right. Rather, create a specific space where your kids can use their technology.
Games, laptops, phones — whatever it is, make sure your kids are in a common area of the house when they use it. That way you’ll be able to monitor their activity and reduce the chances of something bad happening.
Choose an area in your house, such as the living room or kitchen, and dedicate it to technology activity. Set time limits for how long your kids can use their personal tech in this public space. This will set clear expectations around how to use technology in a healthy way.
Of course, these expectations will vary depending on your children’s age and maturity level. And when you have some free time, you can even join them to play a game or watch a show together.
3. You must educate your kids.
Speaking of your children’s level of responsibility, remember that internet literacy isn’t something that people are born with. That’s why giving kids technology with “training wheels” will help prepare them for the real deal later on.
That said, the digital world is a wild and ever-evolving place that can look completely different from year to year. You might even find the rapid pace of change hard to keep up with yourself.
That’s why it’s important to educate your kids — on an ongoing basis — about online safety. Talk about what the internet is, what people do with it, why it’s so amazing, and why it’s so dangerous. Open up about your concerns and expectations while also giving them opportunities to share theirs as well.
Ultimately, you’re the parent, so you make the final decisions, but your children will value feeling heard and respected.
4. You should keep an eye on gaming.
Video games are one kind of entertainment technology that has traditionally been marketed toward children. While games have long been a relatively expensive form of entertainment, an increasingly predatory trend has developed over the last decade or so.
The advent of mobile gaming and ostensibly free-to-play business models coincides with the prevalence of smartphones in people’s hands. Many of these games include microtransactions, or small purchases that can accumulate to cost much more than a traditional game.
Such games do everything in their power to obfuscate their true price, like using “gems” as currency purchased with dollars. This psychological trick has led to kids unknowingly spending thousands of dollars on in-app purchases.
Research the games your kids play and keep them away from ones that prey on their developing minds — and their (or probably your) wallet.
5. You can install and activate parental controls.
No matter what else you do to protect your child online, at least make sure you install parental controls.
Such controls limit what websites your children access, when they can use their devices, what they can download, and more. Many devices come with parental controls built into them, while you may have to download and install them on others.
Just keep in mind that, as with passwords, no parental control is foolproof. If your child is particularly enterprising, they may discover ways to circumvent your controls. That’s especially the case when it comes to controls that limit playtime or access to certain sites.
Check your blind spots by looking up common ways for kids to get around parental controls. That way you can stay one step ahead of them.
Protection is possible.
With the ever-increasing amount of smart tech in children’s hands, kids are more at risk from online predators than ever before.
At the same time, kid-friendly tech and parental controls have come a long way to bolster online safety and help ward off these malicious actors. A combination of healthy tech, controls, and proactive parenting can help protect your kids.
It may be a great challenge to keep up with it all, but it’s worth it to keep your little ones safe.
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