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With many schools around the country closed for the year, parents are forced to rely on online resources to educate their children–and let’s be honest, to help with their own sanity too! If our kids are spending more time on the internet, it’s important for us to spend time talking about online safety.
Unlike many of us, our children grow up understanding that technology is an important part of our everyday lives. Our kids watch us take pictures and videos everywhere we go.
Most children don’t even know what a landline is!
They watch others make videos and post to Snapchat, Tik Tok and a variety of social media platforms.
The best way to protect your child and your family is to simply teach them about online safety.
Don’t Make It Too Scary
Some parents show their children news articles about children found tortured or dead to keep them from talking to strangers.
The problem with using this as the only means of explaining online safety to your children is that many kids naturally form relationships online. As a school counselor, I’ve talked to hundreds of kids about online safety. When I’ve asked kids from elementary to high school if they have friends on their social media accounts that they don’t know, an overwhelming amount of kids say yes.
They want to be seen.
Kids want to be liked.
They want their status to gain attention.
They don’t see the danger in allowing strangers to see what they post. They just don’t get it, and they think the dangerous things that happen won’t happen to them.
Try having a conversation about how your child can’t trust everyone on the Internet: “People aren’t always who they say they are on the Internet – some people go online to hurt kids, so unless you know them in real life, always assume they’re an adult. Don’t tell them your last name, and don’t show them what you look like.”
Talk to Them About Your Parental Controls
Parental controls are a great tool for families. They block websites, features, and downloads that your kids shouldn’t be using. You might block websites that your children would be interested in using, like social media and sites that let people watch movies for free.
When you set up these parental controls, talk to your kids about why certain features are blocked on their web browsers. Every parental block has a purpose that your child can appreciate!
Keep an open mind about your parental controls – sometimes, a website will be blocked that your child needs for homework.
Single-player flash games and multiplayer games can also wind up on a blocklist unintentionally.
Tell your children that website blocks are negotiable, and if a website is blocked that they feel they should be able to use, they can talk to you about potentially unblocking it.
Show Them Tools They Can Use
If you subscribe to antivirus software, you probably have tools that check for viruses.
Show your kids how they can run a virus check when they use the computer. With one click of a button, they can make sure they’re protected from malware.
There are also search engines that show how safe a website is to use. If your child enters a website into this search bar, they can find out if that site and its downloads are safe.
Some antivirus tools, like Norton scan files as you download them to see if they’re safe.
Show your child features like this so they know not to disable them. Additionally, show them how to block users on any websites they use.
Tell Them What to Look For
Sometimes, there are telltale signs that a person online is unsafe.
Teach your child about the things a safe person should not ask them for: pictures, their town, their last name, or where they go to school or camp. Remind your kids that another kid isn’t going to beg, scare or threaten them for this information.
Also, teach your child to consider signs that the person they’re talking to is actually an adult. Are they unfamiliar with popular games and TV shows?
To keep your kids from falling for phishing scams or downloading viruses, teach them to always check the URL bar before entering usernames and passwords.
If the URL has a different suffix (.net instead of .com), is spelled differently, or looks otherwise different, it’s not safe! Of course, remind them that what comes after the suffix doesn’t matter – that tells you which page you’re on, not which website you’re using.
Remind Them That They Can Trust You
If a child comes across danger online, they might be afraid to tell you. They might feel like you’ll blame them for being on certain websites or punish them for their actions.
Make a verbal or written promise with your children: if they interact with a bad person on the Internet, accidentally download a virus, or accidentally disable a safety feature, they can tell you about it without facing punishment.
Talk to your older children about their friends. Check their devices regularly and have open conversations about what they are seeing online. They may not be engaging in inappropriate conversations online, but I guarantee you they know someone who is.
Sometimes teens ask for or exchange nude or half nude pictures. The pictures get circulated to everyone–even people who didn’t ask for them. Talk to your child about what they should do if they are on the receiving end of pictures, or someone asks them for pictures.
When I was a middle school counselor, kids often felt uncomfortable receiving pictures they didn’t ask for and deleted them without telling an adult out of fear.
Have these conversations with your children so they know exactly what to do.
The internet is a useful and dangerous tool for children. It’s our job as parents to teach them the importance of online safety.
For younger children, we love the Amazon Fire tablet.
You can set parental controls, and for the 1st year, you get access to Amazon FreeTime Unlimited which gives your kids access to over 20,000 apps, games, books, videos, audio books, and educational content from PBS Kids, Nickelodeon, Disney, and more. Your subscription will then automatically renew every month starting at just $2.99 per month plus applicable tax.
You can create screen time limits, set educational goals, and filter content with easy-to-use parental controls.
Here are some books that can help guide your conversations about online safety: