Children around the world now log onto the internet and use mobile devices daily. Whether for schoolwork, videos, gaming, or connecting with family, children are highly active in the digital ecosystem. In 2021, over 62% of US children watched TV daily online, while 30% surfed the internet. Moreover, almost all US children between the ages of 13 and 18 own a smartphone, while most of them also have a tablet or PC. These numbers are similar in Europe, where most British children use social media, as do French children.
With all the benefits kids enjoy there are, of course, serious risks. Parents rightly worry about online predators, cyberbullying, misinformation and exposure to inappropriate content. So how can parents mitigate potential problems, while still allowing their children the freedom to explore the online world and remain connected?
Let’s take a dive into helping kids use tech safely.
Online Activity: At Home but not Always Safe
Children often use a computer in the family home, so there may be a feeling that no real danger can occur with mom and dad nearby. But online predation can occur with minimal outward signs. Additionally, parents may disable social media apps on a child’s smartphone but allow them on the home computer. This can mean kids experience harsh cyberbullying while at home, without reporting it to their parents.
Top 5 Tips for Parent of Kids who go Online
1. Teach your kids to recognize tricks used by online offenders, such as developing a rapport through compliments, liking kids’ online posts, offering to exchange pictures, and engaging in increasingly sexualized conversation.
2. Learn to spot signs your child is becoming a victim of an online predator, including receiving gifts from someone they don’t know, trying to conceal their online activity, and getting unusually upset when told they need to take a break from online activity.
3. Consider asking your child to sign a safety contract. When you discuss the parameters ahead of time and allow them to take an active role in their own safety, they may feel more
empowered to stay safe.
4. Know the platforms your kids use. Trends change and kids tend to move fairly quickly from one platform to another. It’s a good idea to learn what is popular for kids online and to know how to use them.
5. Do not be afraid to take action if you see real signs of danger. While open communication usually works best, there are cases when you may need to use technology to help monitor what your child sees on the internet, filter out inappropriate web content, and track what your child does online. When your child’s life and wellbeing is in danger, take the action needed!
Smartphones: Little Computers, Big Risks
Essentially, these devices are little computers, so having kids use them requires computer literacy and a proper game plan. While kids face many of the same risks spending time online, phones have added dangers. A GPS-enabled phone can reveal the child’s location and that constant connectedness can give kids more access to social apps. This may lead to sexting, becoming victims to cyberbullies, and browsing non-age-appropriate content.
Top 5 Tips for Kids’ Safe Smartphone Use
1. Set up password protection, so that only you and your child can access their phone. This measure helps limit problems caused by school bullies and will ensure no predator can learn private information by accessing your child’s phone.
2. Approve all apps your child downloads. Prevent them from using those social media apps that could open them up to victimization.
3. Disable location tagging when your child posts online. You might want to use this feature for helping them walk home from school or finding their way to the corner store, but posting location on social media puts your child at risk for stranger danger.
4. Update the operating system in a timely fashion. Even if you aren’t computer savvy, it is important to stay on top of updates on your child’s phone as these often include important security fixes.
5. Be easy to talk to. Your kids need to feel they can confide in you. The better the relationship between the two of you, the greater the chance they will alert you of a safety risk or misstep.
Help your Child Enjoy Healthy Online Connections
Ultimately, children learn from adults who model healthy, responsible behavior. You can show the young people in your life the joys of connecting with friends and family, watching online entertainment, and staying on top of work responsibilities with mobile devices – while maintaining personal privacy and appropriate boundaries.
It is important to understand their interests and to be aware of whom they are looking to as role models online. There are a lot of false gods out there, so it is up to us as parents to equip our kids with the values, perspective, and savvy to identify and disregard the toxicity in the ether.
Instead of pulling the plug on kids’ online involvement – leaving them with little guidance as they enter their teen years – start early to model a balanced life filled with meaningful online and offline connections.