The internet can be an invaluable tool for kids. They can research topics for school, play online math or word games, and communicate with teachers and friends and family. By going online, kids can have the world at their fingertips, and get the information they need when they need it.
But the downside to all that access is the potential danger and exposure to inappropriate content that kids may encounter when they go online. Here are some important ways parents can protect their children and teach them about internet safety.
Tips for Internet Safety for Kids
- Make use of internet safety tools. Browsers for kids such as KidZui, Yahoo Kids and PikLuk are a safe way for kids to explore the internet. There are also internet filters such as NetNanny and monitoring software such as Web Watcher, which can be helpful tools for parents.
- Don't rely on internet safety tools. Keep in mind that no tool is 100% effective. Being aware of what your child is doing on the computer is the best way to protect your child.
- Look and know. Just being in the same room with your child or being able to see your child on the computer without being able to see the screen is not enough. You need to actually pay attention and see what your child is seeing. Keep the computer in a central place, such as the kitchen or living room, so that you can keep track of what your child is doing while you are making dinner or doing other chores.
- Educate yourself about online dangers. What do child predators know that you don't? What are some warning signs that your child might be at risk online? The Federal Bureau of Investigation has a Parent's Guide to Internet Safety that lists important safety tips for parents.
- Help your child learn how to protect herself. As with other things in life that a child must eventually navigate on her own, going on the Internet is something she will have to learn to do safely by herself when she grows older. One very important thing to teach your child is to never give out personal information such as her name, birthday, address, and age.
- Don't wait to discuss dangers. These days, kids are using technology at younger and younger ages. Explain to your child as soon as she begins using the computer why she needs to be careful online (there are people out there who may pretend to be nice and friendly online, just like in the real world, and they may actually be dangerous). Then, talk about what she can do to protect herself (don’t give out information; never talk to anyone without you present unless it’s an approved and pre-agreed upon family member such as grandma or grandpa). Go over these safety tips just as you would safety tips about potential dangers from acquaintances and strangers.
- Know about how he will be protected when away from home. Be aware of what safeguards are in place when your child goes online away from home (such as at school or at a friend's house). What online safety tools do they have? Who is watching the kids and how closely?
- Don't forget the cell phone. If your child has a phone that allows him to connect to the internet, you have to monitor that as closely as you do his internet access from the computer.
- Don't forget the videogames. Many videogames and gaming systems allow kids to go online and interact with friends, and more problematically, strangers. Before you allow your child to go online while playing videogames, be sure that you know exactly who he is talking to and playing with, and monitor his gaming closely.
- Be mindful about limiting technology. While tech tools like computers, smartphones, and eReaders can be invaluable for kids and parents alike, don’t forget that it's important to unplug sometimes. Too much screen time may interfere with sleep, shorten attention spans, and interfere with learning, among other problems. And when you turn off screens, you have more opportunity to get outside and have some family fun, whether you’re playing outdoor games or just taking a walk.