How to keep your child safe online? A guide for parents!
Through the ages, parents have had a lot to deal with. Is my child getting bullied at school? Is my child behind in reading? Is my child happy? You get the idea, lots to worry about for parents!! In the modern world, a new parenting skill has arisen. How to keep your child safe online?
In brief, you need to know what technology your child is using, both hardware and more importantly software. You can monitor what you don't understand. Teach your child not to talk to strangers or give out personal information online. Bring your child up in a culture of sharing, and make sure your child doesn't feel scared to share their online problems with you. Be sure your child's hardware is fully updated to prevent it being compromised by security loopholes.
Read on to get the full details....
Parenting in a digital world brings a whole new set of problems and challenges. Cyber safety for parents has become a massive topic for discussion and advice.
Parents see their young children growing up with tablets and computers all around them. Often, when those children grow into teens, the mobile phone is their best friend!
In this article, I want to map out some internet safety tips for parents. To help you add another parenting skill to your growing arsenal! To help with some of the key concerns.
As well as this, I want to give some guidelines on a closely related issue, screen time for young children.
We will start with younger ages, but will go through all ages of children in this article. Even if your child is young, I want to help you map out some long term strategies that will benefit your child right through to adulthood.
I would never claim this to be the ultimate internet safety tips for parents, but it should be the a start for anyone parenting in a digital world.
The Key Issues in Cyber Parenting!
Should I limit my child's time online?
Generally speaking, young children require much more structure and time limits than older children.
When a child is under two years old, there really isn’t any need for them to be online or using screen based technology. The American Academy of Pediatrics had guidance in place up until 2016 that said the same, screen time is not beneficial for children up to two years old. My advice would be to stick by this, as there is no definite and consistent string of research that can prove otherwise.
An exception would be something like Facetime (or similar video streaming services) with grandparents or other family members. This is one situation that can prove somewhat beneficial for a child of this age.
I am talking more about things such as language teaching videos aimed at these very young children. At this age, they need two way and highly engaging interactions with real humans. The use of videos at this age could actually prove to be harmful to your child’s future development.
When they move more towards preschool age, the benefits of your child having screen time become more worthwhile. Only if this screen time is closely monitored by the accompanying adults.
At this age, children start to be able to link what they see on screens with what happens in the real world. This link makes learning from screen time interactions more viable.
The important thing to say here is that quality is king. There are many apps on the android and apple stores which are not really well designed or laid out for the best case learning. Therefore, it is important that what your child is consuming is of high quality.
I am from the United Kingdom and a good example of high quality children’s programming would be the BBC (the good old British Broadcasting Application). You can see that their computer and technology based applications actually have research and educational thought going into them.
It is the same for video content. There are some poorly made and researched videos online, that offer very little quality learning activities for your child. So, do your research, and seek out the high quality BBC like equivalent.
As you will be limiting your child’s screen time at this age, making sure what they are consuming online is quality becomes of up most importance.
Going back to the American Academy Of Paediatrics, for this age they recommend one hour of screen time a day. They also recommend that this is made more interactive by having an adult accompanying the child during said screen time.
Now we get to the area between young school age and the teenage years.
With preschool age, a one hour a day limit makes things simple. However, at older age groups things start to get more complicated.
It is more than likely that your child is starting to feel the draw of modern technology and the screen time it entails. The most important thing here is to discuss this situation together and come up with rules and expected behaviours together. From a young age, you should be talking with your child about the effects of too much screen time and why we need to be responsible with technology. The importance of physical exercise and enough sleep etc. Then, when they are older you can enter discussions and form mutual agreements.
The hardest times will probably come when your child is a teenager and is starting to have their own opinions about the use of technology. By this time, a teenager is often already aware and in full use of popular social networks.
My view is that, hopefully, the way that you have brought the child up in their younger years should help. By regularly talking about and discussing appropriate uses of technology during those years, you should help form appropriate behaviours as a teenager. This will not always be the case, but you are giving it the best chance to happen.
Rules will still be in place and agreed upon with your teenager.
So, you can see from this recommended screen time, that as a child gets older they will increase their presence online and thus there will be an increased need to keep your child safe during this time.
Generally, we want to make sure your child is well trained at a younger age, so when they do get that increased time online they know how to deal with it well.
If you try to wrap your child up in cotton wool, they will simply go online themselves when they are older and become more exposed than someone who has experience online. We don't want to raise internet naive children, but internet savvy children!
Screen Time is NOT the only factor
It’s not only about screen time, it’s about what is going on around that screen time. A lot of leading experts in the field seem to agree on this fact.
It is important that your child’s social interactions aren’t being reduced by the use of technology and screen time. As a parent, you need to make sure that you continue to organise and arrange social events for your family. These could be normal daily communications and interactions. It could also involve special trips and such like.
Maintaining a balance between online and real life activities is very important, and will become the major area of concern for parents as their children grow up.
You can also designate times that are technology free in your family. A popular one is during family meal times, to encourage more interaction.
Simply put, if a child is more socially savvy in real life, they will be more likely to be socially savvy online. So make sure your child is getting out and about and socially like any regular child.
Now that we have defined some ground rules for how your child uses technology in your home, how can we actually keep them safe whilst they are online?
Research what your child is using
Earlier, we talked about making sure your child is only exposed to high quality applications in their technology use.
This research continues as your child gets older, but it will be in reverse. When your child starts choosing what they want to interact with online, make sure you look into that product or resource. Find out what it entails. It would be a good idea to then sit with your child some of the times they are on this application. You could play or use the app along with them, and more importantly, be in a position to give them advice about potential safety issues that may arise.
As well as valuable education time for your child, it could also turn into a real family bonding experience. And this doesn’t have to be a one way education from parent to child. Show your child you value their skills and let them teach you things they know about these online applications that you don’t. It can be an enjoyable and valuable time for both parent and child.
It also shows your child that you are interested and want to help with what they are doing online. This is one way to encourage your child to think of you if they have problems in this area.
I can remember from my own childhood, that my parents had literally no idea about what I was doing on computers. To be fair, you could say this situation was slightly different, as personal computers really hadn't been around very long at this stage. But the point is, I knew my parents literally had no idea about the computers I was using. They did limit my computing time, but literally had no way of relating to what I was doing!
So, don’t be scared to sit alongside your child and educate yourself about what they are doing. It is very hard to give effective guidance if you aren’t familiar with this.
Don't ONLY rely on software
There are many excellent services out there that will help block inappropriate content from your home internet. A great example of this is Qustodio. This software will block inappropriate content and even help you track how much time your child is spending on devices and what they are looking at. We have a review of this particular app HERE if you are interested!
These type of apps are at least good at letting you see what your child is interacting with, so you know what to educate yourself in, especially if you are not internet savvy yourself!
All of this is brilliant and offers great cyber security for parents, but if you rely on only this too much, you are not preparing your child for their future digital lives.
In the same way that we teach young children about skills such as creativity, we also need to teach them about how to be safe online.
If these parenting control apps act as like a safety net, the problem is when you take that safety net away, your child might not be prepared to deal with any potential new problems they experience.
As soon as your child starts using devices, teach them not to just click on anything they see and to be aware of links and adverts. Sometimes, adults are wary of talking to young children about this, as they see it as too complex for children and out of their realm. Firstly, you will be surprised what a child can learn at a young age. Also, it doesn’t matter if they don’t fully understand everything you are telling them. As they get older, and with repeated demonstrations from you the parent, they will gradually learn all those important things about internet safety.
So, educate your child on top of using blocking softwares. Then, when your child is old enough, they won’t immediately fail as soon as that software barrier is taken away.
Don't talk to strangers
Parents often know to teach their young children to not talk to strangers in the real world, so I don't know why a lot of parents forget to do this in the digital world. In some ways, it is even more important. Because your child will often use the internet away from other people, meaning strangers will have more time and freedom to try and talk to your child. There is often no one around to help your child deal with this in the moment.
So ,don't be scared to tell your child that they need to be careful. That, when people talk to them online they can't see who that person is. They might not be the age they say they are or even the gender they have told them.
This is a key point we need to teach our children about the digital world growing up!
Hold on to personal information
Teach your children to never give out personal information online. This includes their name, age and where they live. And ask your child to tell you if anyone starts asking them for such information.
Link this to the last point, that you cannot always tell who exactly a person really is online, and you need to be cautious!
Keep your devices updated
As well as bringing your children up to be well educated and informed internet users, you need to make sure that the devices they are using are safe in the first place.
In this day and age, there are people trying to hack through the different software platforms you use on your computer or tablet device. These exploits are often quickly found and “patched out” by the makers of these platforms. By patched out, I mean the software is updated to close out such loopholes in security. However, if your devices are not fully updated, you are missing out on such protection.
Keeping all your devices fully updated and patched should be a high priority in your household.
How to keep your child safe on social media?
When your child is getting towards their teenage years, this is when the worry of social media will start to come in for many parents. This is when most people start thinking more about cyber safety for parents and internet safety tips!
What types of social sites are there?
It is my personal opinion that big, well funded social networks are often far safer than those lesser known niche chat sites. I would be wary of allowing your child on those smaller websites, where people make profiles and use a chat system through the website itself. There are many of these that are targeted specifically at teenagers and young children. At the very least, I would do a lot of research into the safety of any such sites if your child shows an interest in them. The main problem is that people can usually make fake profiles on these small sites much easier.
Facebook is a good example of what those big, well funded social networks do to protect their young users.
First of all, Facebook as a network only allows people to register personal accounts using a real name. This is massive, as it means that those on the network are far more likely to act appropriately when they are accountable to their own name.
Officially, children cannot even register on Facebook if they are under 13.
Profiles of children from the ages of 13-17 years old are treated differently from regular users. Sensitive contact information is hidden from their profile and default privacy settings make sure posts are only shared with the child’s immediate circle of friends and family. When your child changes those default settings to share with a wider audience, Facebook will send them regular reminders to make sure they fully understand what this means for their privacy.
Facebook has a family safety centre section on their service, aimed at offering advice regarding this issue. They also have a host of reporting tools to allow their users to easily report anything that may be uncomfortable or inappropriate.
On the tools front, Facebook also has a privacy check up, to see if all the privacy settings are as you expect them. You just click on the question mark icon in the top right hand side of your screen, and find privacy check up in the resulting menu.
Another tool is the activity log on Facebook, that shows every action done on the platform.
I am not saying this is a bullet proof system, it’s far from it. I just want to put your mind at ease regarding big social networks and your child.
It's nice to know that others are helping contribute to cyber safety for parents!
It is a sad fact in the modern online world that there are groups of adults out there that are looking to directly target young children through the internet. As they often can't get any traction on those big social media platforms, you usually find them gravitating to the smaller, more niche chat websites.
This is why I feel it is important to keep your children off these smaller chat based websites altogether. As we said before, if you are monitoring simply what your children are engaging with online, you can then determine if these sites and resources are suitable or not.
What to do if your child is being cyber bullied?
This will go back to what we were talking about earlier. Educating your child on internet use from an early age, should make them aware of possible problems and how to deal with them.
In the same way that we talk through everyday life situations with a child, we should be doing the same regarding technology use. Most adults are heavy users of technology, so it is highly likely your child will grow up to do the same. We want to bring up a tech savvy and confident child on the internet. One that will be aware and hopefully avoid potential problems before they develop.
If cyber bullying is discovered, you need to make contact with the other peers involved and try to work out the problem. If this is not possible, you should be making contact with the appropriate school authorities to work it through their channels. You will often find that cyber bullying is being done by someone your child knows, so this will hopefully make the reaction more straight forward.
You should also be aware of the process that you need to go through with your child’s school. Who should you contact in these events? What process do you need to go through? Then, it means you are prepared in the event you need to go down that route.
If the problem continues or escalates into something more serious, such as stalking or exploitation, the local authorities should be contacted immediately for assistance.
How to avoid that "Big Bill" moment?
It has been a well documented issue over the years.
A great example is this article from The Guardian newspaper in the UK. A school age child ran up a bill of 4000 US dollars through Google Play, the online app marketplace used by Google’s Android mobile platform.
You will get tired of me saying this, but again this situation is down to educating your child as early as possible. It is highly likely that a lot of children won’t even make the connection between these online purchases and the value of money in real life. By explaining this to your child early and putting the responsibility on them, they will learn what the real value is.
For example, after explaining what the real value of these transactions is, you could give your child pocket money and restrict them to only spending that amount on transactions.
It’s exactly the same as in real life situations. It is quite common for a parent to explain to a child the value of transactions made in a shop. Asking them to help pay and making them realise how much things cost, for example. That should also carry through into the online world.
What age should a child be given a cell phone?
Having been a teacher in Asia for a rather long time, I have seen parents over here giving cell phones to preschool age children! I usually teach 4-5 year old children, and I have had numerous situations where we have found children to have cellphones in their school bags!
Cell phones these days are like small computers, in fact some are probably more powerful than your home computer! With a computer, you could do something like having it positioned in an open area to help monitor what your child is doing on it. With cellphones, they can be easily used in all locations, including a lot that you cannot easily see.
Talking about an exact age for children to have a cell phone is kind of tough. Because it really depends on the maturity and level of responsibility that the child in question has. This can happen at a wide variety of ages, depending on the child.
You will probably find that most children naturally want to get a cell phone as they get older. This could be used as a tool to encourage your child to become more responsible. If you want a phone, you need to show responsibility in these other areas first!
Cell phones are not only a worry for parents, they can also be a positive thing. They can offer you a direct link to your child, to make sure they are OK and keep in regular contact.
So judge for yourself when your child is ready for the responsibility of a cell phone. Talk with them about the possible dangers and concerns surrounding them. Rules need to be discussed and agreed upon.
I would say, when your child gets to the age of around 10 or 11 years old, that's when you should start considering this.
If you want internet safety tips for parents, the product mentioned above Qustodio does also help you monitor the activity on your child’s cellphone too. This may help to put your mind at ease somewhat.
Sofware does make cyber safety for parents easier, just don't get too reliant on it!
Build a relationship of sharing
Building a good relationship with your child is an important parenting skill. It is equally important for parenting in a digital world!
As well as educating your child about technology and the internet, you also need to build up a culture of sharing in your family. You want your child to feel that they can come to you if they have a problem or a concern.
Usually, when a child thinks there is a problem, they may be worried that the parent will take away their technology. This may lead them to not sharing what happened, and a situation getting worse.
Your child needs to know that there will not be a knee jerk reaction to these problems, that you have shown a history of talking things through with them and coming to fair conclusions and actions.
I am not asking you to let your child get away with everything, or to not have consequences to undesirable behaviour! I am merely saying that you need to be consistent and reasonable with your child. If they see this, they will be more likely to come to you with their problems.
This is when they are more likely to come to you if a stranger has started asking them weird questions or they saw something they think they shouldn't! This is what you want!
Be a good role model!
This is a general parenting skill, and relates well to parenting in a digital world too!
Young children like to mimic and copy what they see adults doing. Your children will grow up with you as their biggest role model.
You will see them picking up a lot of your behaviours and character traits.
The use of technology is exactly the same. If your children see you using technology in a certain way, they are more than likely to follow.
This is as much a part of your family culture as any other aspect of parenting, and you need to show them as they are growing up.
This is also a great time to talk through cyber security issues. If you are online or using technology and have a problem, talk this through and give a commentary if your child is in the same room. By hearing how you deal with these situations, they are far more likely to do the same when they are older.
Thanks for reading this article, hopefully it helps a little for parenting in a digital world. Cyber safety for parents is not a simple topic, in fact it is quite complex.
We have tried to give a good starting point, but this is far from a definitive guide. We encourage you to continue your research and stay educated on this matter, as it is a key parenting skill in the modern world.
If you have internet safety tips for parents, we would love to hear below in the comments.
I know there are parents out there that like to totally cut their children off from using technology until they are teenagers or even longer! For me, this strategy doesn't work as you end up with a child that is blissfully unaware of the issues that could arise online. They then become much more likely to click one of those undesirable links or not know how to cope with unwanted attention online. A tech knowledgeable child is usually a safer child online, it's just up to parents to guide their children when needed.