Inside: Practical internet safety for kids suggestions for keeping kids safe (and responsible) online.
Kids today are really no different to how we were as children. They want to play and create and explore, and chat and gossip and hang out with their mates. Just as we all did. The difference today however, is that our kids are often doing these things in a vastly different playground. The advances in technology have led to huge changes to the way we live our lives, and subsequently, to our parenting.
It’s a playground that offers significant value to our child’s development and learning, but it is also a playground that is very much more exposed, exaggerated and complicated than any we played in as a child. So as parents, we need to secure that playground when they are young to protect our children from the risks and dangers. We also need to ensure that we are giving our kids the skills and the critical thinking to stay safe and responsible, and to get the very best out of this environment, as they grow and become independent users of technology and the online world.
Securing your home & devices
When we look at protecting the devices themselves that are within our homes, as well as the content that they allow, there are a few different ways we should be doing this:
Software: We should be using software that acts as a protector and a filter. When thinking about downloading or purchasing software, some of the things you want included are Malware and virus detection (yes even for Macs) and parental controls, at the very least. Other things to consider are anti-phishing, anti-theft, password managers, rescue modes and online backups.
Wi-fi: There are now modems that come with built in filters and parental controls that can be controlled by a parent (admin) to determine what sites are available on whatever devices are logging in to that wi-fi. Certain profiles can even be created to make different sites available for different users and there is even the capability to determine how long and at what times of the day certain sites or apps can be used.
Settings: Each device comes with privacy and safety settings that we need to be using as a minimum way to protect our children.
For example, Safari has settings on phones, ipod touches and tablets that can block certain content and websites (find out how in this post – Set Up Safari Safe Settings in Seconds). IOS devices can also allow kids to stay within an app without accidentally leaving it, by setting up the guided access setting. Youtube also has settings that can be set to restricted access thus theoretically blocking inappropriate content (I walk you through the simple set up process here).
Each website or social networking site that requires a username will also have settings that will determine who sees what you post and who has access to your information.
With each new device, each new app that requires a login and each new website that is explored, be sure to find out how you can set up accounts and devices in the safest way possible.
Please be aware however, that settings change frequently, some sites are private by default, others are public, and many are never 100% guaranteed to work as intended.
Boundaries: Having family rules around technology is also one of the best ways to keep things under control. Decide on what will be the rules for technology usage for your family depending on ages of your children, your individual situation and circumstance, and your family values. These may be rules such as having passwords and login details for all devices and sites. It may be that the wi-fi gets turned off at a certain time of night. It may be that all devices are charged in a location out of bedrooms. You may make it a rule that there are never devices at the dinner table. Whatever you deem as important to help your family incorporate and use technology in a safe and stress free manner.
Monitoring the kids
When our children are young it is a lot easier to monitor how they are using technology. They are usually playing games we set them up with or watching videos we search for them. As we know however, they can easily find themselves anywhere on the web with a few innocent (or not so innocent) swipes. We need to be alert to what they are viewing. Getting the most out of the technology also requires making the most of the interactive elements. Be sure to sit down and play some games with your child as well, as this not only serves as a great bonding experience (even for older tweens and teens), but also helps provide teachable moments along the way.
There are all sorts of monitoring devices on the market now, and whilst they can certainly have their place to keep you alert and in touch with what your child is doing, we have to be careful that they don’t replace the teaching and connection that is so important to your role as a parent. As children get older there will also be issues of trust that come in to play if they feel like you are trying to ’spy’ on them. It is also true that keeping up with every single site or conversation your child has online can not only become tedious, but near on impossible with so many new apps and ways to interact becoming available each day.
So it then comes back to giving our kids the skills to be safe and responsible and smart users of the technology. For all those times when we can’t keep their technology use confined to the home, when we cant completely secure their devices, and when we can’t monitor what they are doing and keep up with every online hangout that they visit.
How do we do that?
Learn about the technology to remain relevant: Find out what it is capable of, how your kids use it and how others are using it.
Teachable moments: Focus on all those little moments along the way to give lessons without lectures. There are plenty of examples on a daily basis of people doing the wrong thing online, so use these examples to start discussions with your kids. We can also be encouraging the good stuff as well, by pointing out when kids do great things online.
Role model good behaviours: Remember your own behaviour is one of the greatest teachers for your kids. Let them see you do the right thing. Be kind online and have time away from devices to connect with people face to face.
Time away from screens: Encourage time away from the screens and nurture other pursuits and hobbies that help build their self esteem and get them out enjoying other experiences and communities.
Focus on connection with your kids: Helping our kids stay safe and smart online is not a one off lecture or talk. It must be ongoing, adapting to the changes in our children as well as the changes with the technology. The relationship and open, honest connection we have with our kids will only help us be more alert to the experiences they are having online.
Remember that software and settings are essential elements of keeping kids safe, particularly when they are young. But we cannot rely on these and be lulled in to a false sense of security that any technology will do the parenting for us. We need to work hard on the learning, the connection and the understanding in order to get it right for our kids.
Martine of The Modern Parent is a mum, speaker, writer, educator and family counsellor.
For more information on building better connections with your kids around technology and the online world, you can purchase Martine’s eBook – Parenting in a Digital World: Stop fighting, Start connecting.
Connect with Martine at The Modern Parent.