Kids' lives are online more than ever, from socializing with friends and interacting with family to online learning and education. As parents/guardians we want to make sure they can make the most of technology in a safe and secure manner. However, this can be hard as most of us never grew up immersed in such technology. As such we wanted to provide you some key tips and resources on how you can help kids make the most of online technology safely and securely.
Good Education / Communication is Key
First and foremost, make sure that you foster good open communications with your children. Far too often parents get caught up in and focus on the technology. For example, researching how to block certain websites or trying to discover which mobile apps are good or bad. Ultimately securing kids online is not a technology challenge but a behavior and values challenge. What is key is teaching kids how to behave online as you would want them to in the real world. A good place to start is to create a list of expectations with your kids. Here are some to consider (these rules should evolve as kids get older).
- Define the times when they can or cannot go online, and for how long. The goal is to limit their online access so it does not take over their lives. Perhaps allow them social or gaming access only after their homework and chores are done.
- For mobile devices, consider a central charging station somewhere in your house. Before your children go to bed at night, have all mobile devices placed at the charging station so your children are not tempted to use them when they should be sleeping.
- Define the types of websites and/or games they can access and why they are appropriate or not. This is especially important for younger kids as they will want to play the latest games not realizing the adult themes and content involved. The danger here is not just the games themselves but who your children can end up interacting with without you knowing. For example, if a younger child plays an online game with mainly older teenagers, that younger child could be bullied or exposed to behavior that is inappropriate for them.
- Describe what information they can share and with whom. Children often do not realize what they post is permanent and public, or that their friends may share their secret with the world.
- Who should they report problems to, such as strange pop-ups, scary websites, or if someone online is being a bully or creepy? You are their best defense when they come into contact with something (or someone) that makes them feel uncomfortable or they don’t understand. You want to be sure they are comfortable with approaching you for help.
- Be sure they treat others online as they would want to be treated themselves, just as in real life.
- Emphasize how people online may not be who they claim to be, and not all information is accurate or truthful. This is especially important as children become older and begin to explore the virtual world on their own.
- Document what can be purchased online and by whom. This can be a problem for kids who are gaming online and want to purchase in-app games or virtual currencies without your knowledge.
Once you define these rules, document and post them in the house. Even better have them review and sign the document, that way everyone is in full agreement. Also. consider tying these rules to their academic grades, completion of chores, or how they treat others. The better their behavior, the more they can do online.
The earlier you start talking to your kids about your expectations, the better. Not sure how to start the conversation? Ask them what apps they are using and how they work. Put your child in the role of teacher and have them show you what they are doing online. Keeping communication open and active is the best way to help kids stay safe in today’s digital world.
Security Technologies and Parental Controls
There are security technologies and parental controls you can use to monitor and help protect your kids. For example, you can install software on children's devices to track what they are doing, or use technologies like OpenDNS to track and limit what kids do online from your home network. In addition, most smartphones have parental controls built-in allowing you to limit what kids can do with technology. They typically provide capabilities to enforce usage limits or hours as well as content protections. While these technical solutions sound powerful at first, remember you cannot outsource parenting. Kids need guidance on how to behave and interact with others, regardless if they are in person or online.
Also, these solutions tend to work best for younger children as they protect them from accidentally accessing harmful content. Older kids not only need more access to the Internet (such as for homework) but often use devices that you do not control or cannot monitor, such as those issued by school, gaming consoles, or devices at a friend’s or relative’s house. Children have even been known to obtain a device parents do not know about, such as using a friend’s old iPhone or tablet. That way they can continue to interact with friends and technology using devices that you are unaware of. Finally, technology is advancing so rapidly, and the apps kids use today change so often, that even once you implement technical solutions they may not work anymore. This is why communicating with your kids about your expectations and the dangers that exist on the internet is so important and quite often the best approach.
Help Kids by Leading by Example
Remember it’s not just kids we must focus on. We need to set good example with our own behaviors. This means when your kids talk to you, put your own digital device down and look them in the eye. This way they learn that when they talk to others they to should focus on the people talking. Consider not using digital devices at the dinner table and never text while driving. Finally, when kids make mistakes, treat each one as an experience to learn from instead of engaging in an immediate disciplinary action. Make sure they feel comfortable approaching you when they experience anything uncomfortable online or realize they themselves have done something wrong.
There is a tremendous amount of research, education, and resources on how to protect kids online today. Here are some of our favorite resources that you can consider using.
- FOSI - https://www.fosi.org/good-digital-parenting
- SANS Securing Your Kids Videos - https://www.sans.org/security-awareness-training/secure-your-kids
- National Cybersecurity Alliance - https://staysafeonline.org/get-involved/at-home/raising-digital-citizens/
- NetSmarts - https://www.missingkids.org/netsmartz/home