This is a collaborative post. I received compensation for this post, but all opinions are mine alone.
At the bus stop last week, I noticed that one of our neighbor’s kids, a 10-year-old, was scrolling through his Instagram account. To be clear, that was his own smartphone and that was his own personal Instagram account. Nowadays kids are exposed to social media at a younger age than ever before and that comes with real risks. That’s why it’s essential to set guidelines and expectations for your family.
While my kids are still quite young, they have heard of Instagram and Facebook. They occasionally watch YouTube videos (of kids performing fun science experiments – at least it’s educational) and they certainly love the kid’s games on my phone. With kids relying on technology today more than ever, it’s important to teach kids smart internet habits. Whether your kids are 2 or 16, or somewhere in between, here are some sensible ways to keep kids safe online.
1. Have a talk with the kids!
Keeping those lines of communication open at all times. Sit down and have age-appropriate conversations with your kids about what (and who) is online. Without scaring them, make them aware of the dangers and uncertainties of the online world. At a bare minimum, tell the kids not to talk to strangers online, not to accept friend requests from someone they don’t know and not to reveal personal information (name, residence, school, etc.) Also, tell them if they ever encounter something unfamiliar online, they should come to you right away.
2. Set strict parental controls!
Whether your child is browsing the internet, scrolling through social media or checking out the latest episodes on your streaming media player, look for parental controls that allow you to set time limits on technology use, content type and more. There are plenty of parental control apps that can be downloaded to a smartphone. Net Nanny is a popular one that has pretty good reviews by parents.
In addition to parental controls on the computer and on the phone, you can also use your home router’s parental controls. The settings on the internet router can often be set to restrict the time of day that the internet can be accessed. For example, this could prevent any internet use after 6pm, which might be a useful feature if your child is known to log on at bedtime. Depending on the model of the router, you may also be able to access a log of all sites visited. This is independent of the browser history on the phone, so even if your child deletes browser history, you will still have a reliable record. Here is a good overview of routers with parental control settings.
3. Limit screen time!
Allowing the kids to stare at a screen for hours on end is never a good move. Limit the accessibility of the computer, phone, tablet, etc. to certain hours and to certain rooms. For example, maybe your child can only go online in the living room before 6pm. I think this is a smart idea because it’s easier to keep tabs on their online activities when they are doing so in the same room as you.
4. Keep all software updated!
Did you know that visiting websites puts one’s computer in danger of catching a virus or malware. Ensure that your software systems are up-to-date with the latest antivirus patches to mitigate these risks. The settings can be adjusted to your schedule, but a good idea is to have the software automatically scan your hard drive at least once a week. Here’s a good overview of the best antivirus software options for 2018.
5. Be a role model!
If you want your kids to practice smart internet habits, show them how to do it by being a role model. Don’t stare at your phone all day catching up on social media, responding to text messages and browsing the web. Be sure to moderate your own screen time and put the phone down to play with the kids often. Feel free to let your kids participate in your own online activities- this can be a great opportunity to reinforce the rule of not sharing personal information with strangers online.
Here’s another useful tip. Make a habit of leaving all electronic devices (phone, computer, tablet, etc.) out of your own bedroom in the evening. Here’s some info on how technology can negatively impact sleep quality. Show your kids that you don’t need any electronic devices to fall asleep at bedtime. Encourage your children to give their brains a break from technology in the evening.
Now I’d love to hear from you. Do you follow any of these tips? How do you keep tabs on your kids’ internet activities?