Millennials and members of Generation Z who have grown up with the internet as a fact of life have introduced technology to young people at progressively earlier intervals. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has led many parents and guardians to allow more significant amounts of screen time in addition to lengthy periods of remote learning. The decision of how much time to allow a child to spend on the internet is one best left to parents in conjunction with medical advice. However, one indisputable fact is that the internet is full of potentially dangerous information and individuals (without even considering the Dark Web). Use these five tips to help protect your child online and prevent any inadvertent purchases, age-inappropriate content, and other risk factors.
One of the best and simplest ways to ensure that your child remains safe on their digital excursions is to show an interest and be engaged, especially as they continue to grow and mature. After asking your child what kinds of websites they visit and what apps they frequently use, it is highly advisable to review them together with your child and discuss what you consider to be appropriate content. It is also essential to communicate to them that other children’s parents may have a different standard of appropriateness and to be aware of that when accessing the internet when not at home.
For children approaching adolescence and young adulthood, you should also emphasize that the internet is in no way a private space and that what they post on social media could have lasting consequences for their online reputation. For example, the college students from the first Borat film attempted to sue Sasha Baron Cohen for reputational damages, only to be informed by the judge that their behavior was entirely consistent with their online personas. A general piece of advice is that once something has been posted online, it is there for good – after all, anyone can screenshot an image or message before it gets erased.
One of the simplest ways to keep track of your child’s web browsing is to set non-negotiable time limits, using half an hour as an example. By setting an alarm as an objective timekeeper, you can help forestall some of the inevitable arguments over whether it was half an hour or not. You could also potentially program your router (or unplug it) so that household bedtimes can be free of potential Wi-fi related distractions.
Although the following advice may be challenging to implement for parents of older children, another excellent method is not to allow children to use devices without being under supervision. This can be achieved by keeping any mobile devices in your possession, setting devices to forget your network’s password automatically, and making a rule about no internet-enabled devices allowed in the bedroom. As children get older and learn more about the internet, such as how to erase browser history, the importance of talking to your child about their online habits becomes even more critical.
While many parents have given and received the advice of “don’t talk to strangers,” the internet can sometimes give people the illusion of anonymity and make them prone to sharing information that should be kept private. Examples include using geo-tagging applications that reveal their physical location, giving out personal details like the school they attend, their real name, home address, email, and so forth. One good way to explain this is to ask your child if they would feel comfortable sharing that kind of information with strangers in real life, and if the answer is no, they should not do so online.
Posts on popular social media platforms can also contain metadata that can be used to determine precisely where the photo was taken, including GPS coordinates, date, and time. Therefore, if your child is sharing photos or posting on social media, you should ensure that all appropriate privacy settings are enabled and discuss with them why doing so is important.
Thanks to the power of search engines, you can enter almost any phrase or word combination and return a high volume of results. For children who are perhaps unaware of the different connotations of certain words and concepts, even the most innocent search terms can result in your child being exposed to unsuitable images, text, and more. Many consumer electronics have the ability for users to set parental controls, which include features like password protection, the ability to prevent playing games with more mature content, and preventing purchases from being made on credit cards associated with the device. Other examples include downloading or purchasing software for kid-safe web browsers to control and limit the kind of website your child can visit more directly.
No one wants to imagine that their child would be subject to any kind of online abuse, but parents must be aware of their children’s favorite apps and how they might be used against them. If a child wants download an app with features that include user anonymity, video chats, file uploads, end-to-end encryption, and direct messaging, they may be placing themselves at risk to potential predators. Parents should also be aware of sudden behavioral changes like refusing to be parted from their devices, anxiety, depression, angry outbursts or becoming withdrawn.
Although the internet can be taken for granted by those who have never known life without it, parents should take all reasonable precautions to protect their children online. While there are many different tools and techniques at your disposal, the most important is to keep open lines of communication with your child and keep an eye out for any sudden changes in behavior or demeanor.