The internet provides an attractive haven for kids confined to homes during the pandemic. In fact, their screen time has dramatically surged by as much as 50% with COVID-19. Of course, a large part of it is spent on Zoom classrooms. But it’s not all educational. The internet offers plenty of entertainment, too, from social media to gaming and streaming. This has become a growing concern for many parents worried about its addictive consequences.
To make matters worse, there seems no end to the dangers lurking online, waiting to lure unassuming children. Cyberbullying, predatory behaviors, malware attacks, child identity theft, extortion, and other criminal activities have been rising in tandem with the internet’s popularity. All these pose a massive threat to children. Undoubtedly, ensuring their safety in a digital world has become a top priority for any parent.
So, if you’re worried, too, here are 5 essential steps every parent must adopt to protect their kids and help them enjoy a safe online experience.
The importance of supervision cannot be stressed enough, especially as you first introduce your child to the internet. It’ll also provide an excellent opportunity for you to spend time with your child and understand their interests. And by exploring the digital space together, they could get accustomed to the digital environment faster and more safely.
First, ensure that you have access to their online accounts, including email and social media profiles. It will allow you to monitor their search activities, the content they access, and the people they interact with online. Remember, child predators often pose as youngsters to lure in kids on social media and chat rooms. If you notice any new friends, use Nuwber to verify their identities. It can even help you with a reverse search in case there’s a phone number available.
Setting up the environment to make supervision easier is also essential. For instance, keep the computer in an open area instead of your child’s room. This will help keep an eye on them while attending to chores around the house. Minimize the number of devices available to your kids and prevent them from accessing Wi-Fi using tabs and smartphones as much as possible.
Ground rules are critical to set controls and discipline, so your kids understand what’s acceptable and not with their digital behavior. First, limit screen time to a few hours a week. Define which time of the day and for what purpose they are allowed to go online. This is essential to prevent addictive behaviors and to help kids achieve a balance between their virtual and real worlds.
Next, set up rules to clarify acceptable data sharing practices. Remember, it’s easier for online predators and criminals to extract information from children. So, preventing kids from disclosing personal information to strangers is important. Ensure that they do not post any photos or videos without your consent. Guide their online conversations so they can avoid sensitive topics that could put them at risk. Also, define which websites and content they are allowed to access.
Be strict with how you follow through with the rules you have set. Reward your child for good behavior with, for example, an extra 15 minutes of screen time.
It’s equally important to encourage open conversations whenever your kids have a question or are in doubt. Put them at ease, so they can speak to you in a non-judgmental environment. It will help ensure that they reach out to you and not to someone of their age when they need clarifications or guidance. It will also prevent misconceptions and misguided messages from shaping their attitudes and behavior in the digital space.
Creating the right environment for them to speak up will also help you identify and tackle threats from cyberbullies and predators before they escalate. Besides, it’ll provide an excellent opportunity for you to help them understand various risks and dangers of the internet without instilling undue fear.
Your kid’s digital environment keeps evolving at a rapid pace, much like yours. How they engage with the internet and how their safety could come under threat can significantly change over time. For instance, online child exploitation saw a sudden spike last year as kids’ online activities increased with the pandemic. Cyberattacks took a similar turn as lessons shifted to virtual classrooms.
So, it’s critical to keep yourself updated to stay a step ahead of malicious actors that prey on children. This might involve learning new skills, tools, and techniques and staying abreast of emerging threats to children’s online safety. Use resources such as news sites, newsletters, parents’ forums, and social media groups to stay informed. They could help you identify potential threats, acquire tools and techniques available to tackle them, and learn essential practices to protect your child’s online presence.
Parental control software and apps can add an extra layer of safety and ease your workload by monitoring and supervising your child’s online behavior. For instance, they can limit screen times on multiple devices, activate safe search and filter content, and may even locate your child’s whereabouts. These tools could also monitor social media activities, keep you updated with detailed reports and alert you to any incidents that demand your attention.
As a parent, it’s important to understand that you can no longer keep your child away from the internet. Overly strict rules that prevent them from any online activities could be unhealthy and may deprive them of opportunities to learn and explore the digital space. Standing by them and guiding them through their digital environment is always a better option for young children starting their online journey. Of course, a few ground rules will go a long way, too.