The internet opens up entirely new worlds of possibilities for children. From learning opportunities to fun pastimes, online connectivity enriches kids’ lives inside and outside the classroom. However, the digital age children and parents live in now is not without risks.
The physical dangers you’ve probably already warned your kids about also exist online. Predators take advantage of the internet’s anonymity to target and potentially exploit those who might be too trusting or naïve. This includes children, who may not be aware of predators’ tactics or that people don’t always have good intentions.
The truth is online activities can expose kids to real threats. Here are a few ways to protect them from the internet’s dangers.
1. Use Devices Made for Kids
While you can install parental controls on any device, some smartphones are specifically designed for children. These gadgets come preinstalled with more sophisticated operating systems that restrict online activities and access. The KidSmart OS on Troomi smartphones blocks and filters adult internet content. Parents also see what online activities their kids are engaging in and can adjust the smartphone’s functionalities.
Other operating systems installed on phones designed for children completely restrict web browsing, social media apps, and online games. This level of restriction might be more appropriate for younger children versus preteens and teenagers. However, it does remove the possibility that your kids will be exposed to inappropriate content on their phones.
Similar to regular smartphones, those made for kids come equipped with GPS and location services. You can track the phone’s location and report lost equipment using these services. Some operating systems also allow you to set up designated safe zones. You’ll receive an alert when the phone (and presumably your child) travels outside those boundaries. Safe zones might include your kid’s school, their friends’ homes, and your neighborhood.
2. Discuss and Establish Guidelines
Parental controls and restricted devices can only go so far. There’s always the possibility your child will use an unrestricted smartphone, tablet, or laptop. And since you likely won’t be with your child 24/7, the next best thing is to discuss appropriate online activities.
The guidelines and standards you and your children set might evolve as they age. You can start with an open discussion about what sites your kids are using and who they’re interacting with. You’ll also want to talk about how much time they’re spending online and what activities they’re engaging in. Is your child on social media for two hours a day, or do they spend an hour on homework? List and review the apps, sites, and hours spent.
Once you’ve reviewed your child’s usage, talk to them about the differences between appropriate and inappropriate online behaviors. Establish guidelines and boundaries about what sites, apps, and activities can present dangers. Teach your kids what threats to look for and how to report or block them. Message and connection requests from online strangers are common examples. You may also decide to set time limits for online activities like TikTok or Instagram.
3. Keep Computers and Devices in a Central Location
For younger kids especially, keeping their computers and devices in a central location helps parents monitor online activities. While it’s tempting to let a child use a laptop in their room, this puts them out of sight. When you set guidelines for online activities at home, insist that your kids use the internet only in common areas. This means bedrooms, bathrooms, or other private spacs are off limits when your child is online.
By keeping devices in a shared area like the living room, you can easily see what your kids are doing. If something suspicious happens, your children have instant access to an adult or parent who can investigate. Red flags and questionable occurrences are an additional opportunity to teach kids to recognize threats and inappropriate behaviors. And if parental controls fail or aren’t activated, you can step in to correct the problem and address any concerns.
When kids’ devices are kept in a central location in the home, parents also have access to browser histories and downloads. You can go through the browser’s history and bookmarks to see if you spot anything questionable. Review any downloaded programs to see whether they present threats or opportunities for exposure to inappropriate content. Sites and apps you’re uncertain about can go into a restricted or blocked list within your parental controls.
4. Teach Kids About Maintaining Privacy
Research about predators reveals that upward of 500,000 are online every day waiting for their next target. It’s estimated that one in five children receive solicitations or messages from online predators. One of the ways these individuals target and groom kids is through the sharing of personal information. This includes private details, pictures, and videos children share about themselves with online strangers.
It can start as a seemingly innocent message about common interests and hobbies. Before long, a predator knows your child’s age, location, where they go to school, and what they look like. Sometimes these individuals gain access to information that’s publicly posted or shared on social media. Images and videos not hidden by privacy controls and settings are up for grabs. So are public or tagged posts that appear to be fun games but ask people to list personal favorites.
When speaking with your kids about appropriate online behaviors and boundaries, instruct them to limit what they share online. Let them know that anything they post can easily circulate among others, including strangers. Show your kids how to make posts and other content private. Discuss what’s not wise to share online with anyone and what information they shouldn’t exchange with online strangers.
Online safety is something kids and parents need to approach as a team. Although the internet presents children with many advantages and conveniences, parents should point out its potential dangers and threats.
Using parental controls and restrictive devices, opening the lines of communication, and setting guidelines can help keep your kids safe. But in the end, internet safety comes down to teaching why those boundaries exist and how to recognize when they’re being crossed.