Technology has exploded in the last few years and almost everyone has an online presence.
The digital age is for every age as many sites now offer content specifically designed for children such as YouTube Kids and Disney Junior.
While this sounds like a great idea, and a relief for parents looking for age-appropriate content, those sites themselves are not enough. Parents still have a lot of work to do in preparing their children for safe internet practices.
The parent’s role starts early and basically never ends as long as their children are in the home. It takes patience, diligence, education, and even specific tools to create an online space for their children to explore but still have boundaries.
If you are looking for tips and ideas to make this job easier, here are 10 ways to create a safe internet for your family.
1. Don’t Be Afraid of the Internet
It can be overwhelming to think about where to even start when it comes to internet safety. Some parents choose the extreme and don’t allow their children on it at all.
This approach is fear-based and can eventually backfire. Once kids start school, much of their homework requires access to online. Plus, making it forbidden will fuel their interest and without proper skills, they are open to making bad decisions.
Caution is definitely encouraged, but do not be afraid of the internet. Learn the dangers and then educate yourself on the solutions.
2. Make Sure Your Connection is Secure
Internet safety starts at home with your connection. You may not know this, but all internet connections are not created equally. Without the proper setting, it is relatively easy for someone to hack in and ‘piggyback’ onto your Wifi.
This can be done for just the purpose of free internet, but for some, it is a way to try and access your information.
To protect against this, there are two simple changes to make. Your router comes with a default network name and network password. Did you know they could be changed?
Setting strong passwords for all your accounts is the first great step in protecting your family and your sensitive information. Do not fall for the easy to remember ones and never use the same passwords twice.
There are secure apps you can use to help with the organization, but always invest time into strong passwords.
3. Stay Involved
The older your children get, the more they will resist this tip. It doesn’t matter. Stay involved in their online activity. It isn’t about just trusting them. They can have the best of intentions and still fall victim to online predators.
You should know the websites they visit on a regular basis. You should also know what kind of information is required for those sites.
Make sure your children know there will be times when you will sit with them and observe their activity. This isn’t about spying or being controlling. It is an effective way to monitor what they are doing online and to also make them aware that you are involved.
Children will openly complain about a parent’s involvement in their life, but deep down they are comforted by and expect to have boundaries.
4. Set Expectations to Create a Safe Internet for Your Family
If you haven’t already done so, you should arrange a family talk. There should be clear expectations set.
It is a good idea to have standing rules for using the internet. These rules can be as many or few as needed for your children and their expected activities.
An example is time restrictions. You can limit the number of hours each day that your child has access to the internet. You may need to factor in homework time and then allow for free time.
Most devices also have a curfew function. Once set, the device will completely shut down at the designated time.
Your children should be taught never to respond to messages or friend’s requests from anyone they do not know. They need to also understand they can always come to you whenever someone makes them uncomfortable or tries to bully them.
Speaking of bullying, teach your children to respect others online. It is not hard to be kind. Just because they are ‘anonymous’ does not give them the freedom to say anything they want. Values and decency belong online as well as in the real world.
Once there are set rules and expectations, an online safety contract should be printed out and signed. It should be displayed in an open area as a daily reminder.
5. Set Up Parental Controls
As the parent, you have the ultimate say in what your children do online. While it is good to trust your children, there are additional safeguards you can put in place for an added layer of protection.
There are several parental controls that you can customize for your particular situation. You can install blocks to specific websites and limit to age-appropriate content.
You can also disable the function to download apps or make purchases. You can prevent the device from showing its location.
There are several restrictions that can be put into place. Here are the instructions if you have an Apple device.
6. Designated Areas for Online Activity
Another great tip for internet safety is to have designated areas for online activity.
Many parents only allow their children to use their devices in open areas such as the living room and kitchen spaces. Being online behind closed doors in their bedroom is prohibited.
This rule will change over time as they mature, but it is a good one to start with younger children.
Another extension to this tip is to ban use during mealtime. Family meals should be spent interacting with each other, not online. Making, and enforcing, this rule not only limits their time online but also creates a more connected family.
7. Personal Information Means Private Information
There are countless websites that will ask for personal information. Children have little concept of the dangers of giving this out.
Teach your children, and everyone in the home, to never give out personal information. This includes full names, addresses, birthdays, or phone numbers.
Many sites use a two-factor authentication system for verification. While it is helpful in some instances, it can open up your private information if used incorrectly. Here is information to turn off two factor authentication.
Provide guidance on managing their social networks. They should be careful about tagging in their location and posting their plans and where they will be.
8. Have a Guest Network
There will always be guests in your home from time to time. Many of them will ask to use your WiFi.
If your router provides the option, set up a guest network. This allows them to use your connection but keeps them out of any of your personal information
9. Don’t Believe Everything You Read
This is a great tip for adults as well as children. We are taught to believe things we read. When it comes to information online, that is simply not true any longer.
Prepare your children for the reality that everything they come across online may not be true. Everyone has an opinion and it is easy to set up a platform to share that opinion. Teach them to research and get more than one viewpoint.
Create an open environment where they feel comfortable coming to you with any questions or concerns about what they come across.
Wisdom takes practice and a certain level of maturity. Talk to your children and teenagers often about what they are seeing and stay on top of their views on society and the world. Allow them to develop as an individual, but be mindful of where they obtain their information.
10. Don’t Forget Cellphones
Much of this information centers around laptops and tablets, but at a certain age, your child will get a cellphone. Many of the same restrictions can be put on a phone and the same protocols can be put into place.
The biggest difference is a phone is obviously smaller and it is more difficult to actually see what they are doing all the time. Make sure your child understands the expectations and limitations of their cell phone use.
You should also stress the dangers of texting with strangers. There are new texting apps that appear every day. While they look fun and engaging, they are used by people intending to prey on innocent victims. Make sure your child is not one of them.
Also, make sure there is a secure and unique passcode to be able to get into their phone. There are many opportunities in the course of the day for someone to gain access to their phones. Make sure they cannot get passed the front screen.
It’s Not All Bad
There are definitely dangers out there for anyone who is not careful online. However, the internet is full of great information and fascinating content. It should be explored with excitement and curiosity.
The key is to know how to use it wisely. By implementing just a few simple, but necessary rules, you can create a safe internet for your family.