5 ways to protect your kids from online dangers

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With all the news about cyberbullying, catfishing or the Momo and Tide Pod challenges, parents seem to have a lot to worry about. If you’re considering taking away your kids’ gadgets, computers and phones and putting them under lock and key, stop. As online technology becomes part and parcel of this generation’s education, not allowing your kids to participate can be more detrimental than helpful.

Instead of preventing use, the direction should be to equip our kids with the right skills so that they can make informed decisions. Here are five steps you can take to protect your child from online dangers:

  1. Talk to them about internet safety at an early age

    The right age to talk to them is as soon as they start browsing online. Tell them why online safety is important. Explain to them how certain things work and encourage them to ask questions. You’ll be surprised by how intuitive your child can be. Value their inputs in this process. This will keep the conversation going and help you understand their online behavior better. You should also:

    • let them know that you are the point person to ask if they need guidance. They should be able to tell you if they come across disturbing content or if they experience unusual interactions (for example, strangers who may be befriending them or bullying them). Keep an open mind and try not be reactive when they share such information.
    • let them know that you’ll find out more about it if they ask you something that you don’t know. Don’t worry when you can’t give them all the answers. Technology is always changing and everyday there is something new. This can be a good opportunity to show them the process of research and determining which information or sources are reliable. This will help them become more discerning cyber citizens.
    • teach them how to make good passwords. Explain why they should different passwords for different accounts.
  2. Learn about privacy settings, parental controls and apps

    Keep up with new technology. Beef up your internet knowledge by learning about the importance of setting up the right privacy settings for various platforms and using parental controls to help you protect your children when they’re online. To start with, install a good anti-virus software on your computer/s. This protects your information from hackers or phishers. Also, set a periodic check on computers and gadgets at home. Check if your parental settings are still on (as kids may inadvertently change them). Here are a few helpful links to start with:

  3. Be involved in their online activities

    Even if you allow them only to watch YouTube kids, this is still not an assurance that disturbing content will not reach your child. Lately, unscrupulous individuals have become more insidious by sneaking in troubling content in between parent-approved content, such as in cartoons or ads that are displayed before videos. Monitoring their screen time is the only way to prevent your child from falling prey to these tricks. However, you don’t need to keep watching over their shoulders. That’s not only going to be time-consuming but it will also annoy your child. Instead, have an “open-door policy” at home. Place the computer in a common area. If they’re in a room, make it a rule that they can’t close the door when they are playing online. Be always available for questions. You can also monitor their search history and recommended videos when they’re not using their computer or gadgets. This will provide insight on the kind of content your child likes and watches.

  4. Set limits

    Anything that is too much is unhealthy for anyone. Help your child develop good habits by imposing set hours for the week for browsing online, playing or watching YouTube and the like. Have consistent rules about screen time so that it becomes a habit. Teach them that they should attend to priorities first meaning homework, chores, and family time before anything else.

    • There is no ideal amount of time for parents to set. It may depend on your child’s age and personality. It can also depend on the activities that they do online. For example, schoolkids use online educational resources for homework or projects.
    • For playing, browsing, posting on social media and other entertainment, the goal is to achieve balance. Allow them enough time to enjoy but not too much that they become addicted.
    • Rules can be relaxed during weekends and vacations but ensure that they won’t spend all day online. Encourage sports, healthy pastimes and face-to-face interaction with their peers and family.
  5. Keep personal information private

    This is part of your initial talk about internet safety that should be revisited every now and then. Kids can forget the importance of keeping personal information like full name, age, address, or school, private. Remind them that anything they post online will be forever. They may be able to delete a post, photo or video, but the electronic footprint they cast is permanent. This means that whatever they post now may come back to haunt them in the future and would likely have an impact on things like being considered for university, for a scholarship, an internship or a job (for an example, read Harvard rescinds admission over applicant’s past racist writings by Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed).

Sources: How do I keep my children safe online? What the security experts tell their kids, Stuart Dredge, The Guardian; Parents’ ultimate guide to parental controls, Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media; Keeping your child safe on the internet, Anne Reeks, Parenting; Retrieved March 1, 2019.

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Community Resources

Read 5 tips for smart digital parenting to get more tips and resources to help you become a tech-savvy parent.

Does your child spend too much time playing online games? Read 10 steps to healthier gaming for kids to help you regulate the habit.

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