When it comes to internet safety, it’s not a matter of if your child will run into inappropriate material, but when. Even though kids take to tech like a duck to water, you can never assume that they know how to be safe about the sites they visit or the information they give out.
Kids don’t know best.
Kids seem to know immediately how to swipe through apps on your iPad, but they don’t know how to protect themselves from inappropriate content and people. Your children look to you for protection and guidance when it comes to what apps and websites they should be using and how they should be using them. Here are some tips for protecting your child on the internet.
Be a good example.
Unless you have a device specifically designated for kid use, your child uses your devices, so make sure that your personal use of your phone, iPad, and laptop are safe for kids. If you visit a website with inappropriate content, your kid is just a few clicks or swipes away from accidentally landing there when she tries typing in a similar site name or accesses your history. Same goes for apps. Your child will figure out quickly how to swipe through your photos and scroll through your messages.
Avoid exposing your children to inappropriate materials (and the awkward conversations that follow) by making sure that all your content on your phone, iPad, or laptop is safe for kids. If you’re texting sensitive information or words you don’t want them to read, use the Invisible Ink feature on iMessage to hide your words from your message feed—but realize that kids can still read the messages by tapping on the Invisible Ink. If it’s something that your kids should not read, delete those messages. Don’t visit sites that you wouldn’t want your kids to see on the same devices your kid uses, and keep your camera roll clean.
Do your homework.
Okay, you’ll probably need to use your phone or computer for this one: You need to do homework on how to best protect your kids on the internet. Use resources like Common Sense Media and other sites to find out ways you can maximize internet safety for your child. Here are some basic tech tips for monitoring and shaping your child’s internet usage:
Use parental controls.
Both Apple and Android devices have ways to restrict certain apps and require passcodes before purchasing in the app store or opening certain apps. If you do set parental controls, make sure your child doesn’t know your passcode, or there’s no point to having one.
Block content using a browser extension.
You can use a simple browser extension, like BlockSite for Firefox and Chrome, to block specific websites or keywords. You can even set it up to be in effect during certain times of the day. For a more detailed breakdown of how you can protect various browsers, use this cyber security guide.
Check up on the browsing history.
If you’re worried that your child is getting on inappropriate sites or using apps they shouldn’t use, check the browser history after they’ve been surfing the internet. If there isn’t a record of the sites they visited when you know they were on the internet, they may have figured out how to delete their history, perhaps unintentionally. Talk with them about it.
Browse alongside your child.
You don’t have to rely on apps and virtual locks to monitor your kid’s browsing—just sit next to them. This is especially effective with younger children who may need guidance finding books to read or educational games to play. Guide them through the digital landscape and show them plenty of fun, safe apps and websites so that they know how to use the technology and don’t get lost while navigating it on their own.
Feeling overwhelmed? Ask around.
Chances are other parents are figuring out how to deal with the same concerns you are. Get on Facebook and Twitter and ask your parent friends what tips and tricks they use to keep their kids safe on the internet. Read up on internet safety and figure out what works for you and your family based on the age of your children the types of devices they have access to.
Don’t freak out.
As much as you try to protect your children and shape what they see on the internet, sooner or later, they’ll come across something you don’t want them to see. When this happens, be calm, and depending on the age of the child, be willing to confront the difficult stuff. Chances are they didn’t intend to come across inappropriate materials online; be empathetic and listen to your child. Discuss what they saw. Let your children know that they can trust you and can talk to you about what they find on the internet, whether good or bad. Your child is going to get the information from you or someone else—so let it be you.