5 ways to protect your kids from online dangers

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Developing our kids’ digital literacy is more important than ever before. With all the news about cyberbullying, catfishing, or the Momo, Tide Pod, and TikTok challenges, you may be worried about how these trends will affect your children. Here are five steps to protect your kids from online dangers:

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

    Talk to them about safety as soon as they start browsing online. Explain why online safety is important and encourage them to ask questions. You’ll be surprised by how intuitive children 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 establish that:

    • You’re the person to ask for guidance. Encourage them 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.
    • You don’t know everything but you can find out. Don’t worry when you can’t give them all the answers. Technology is constantly changing; there is something new every day. This can also be a good opportunity to show them the process of researching and evaluating which information or sources are reliable. This will help them become more discerning cyber citizens.
    • Personal information should always be kept confidential. Tell them never to share information like their full name, age, address, or the name of their school. Teach them how to make good passwords to protect their accounts. Explain why they should have different passwords for different accounts.
  2. Learn about privacy settings, parental controls and apps

    Keep up with new technology. Learn about the importance of setting up the right privacy settings for various platforms and using parental controls. Install anti-virus software on your computer to protect your information from hackers or phishers. Also, check and update your computers and gadgets at home regularly. See if your parental settings are still on (as kids may change them). Here are a few helpful links:

  3. Be involved in their online activities

    It’s easy for disturbing content to reach your child. Sexually explicit or violent videos can sneak in between parent-approved content through ads or links. Monitoring their screen time is the best way to ensure their safety. Have an “open-door policy” at home. Place the computer in a common area or make it a rule not to close doors when online. From time to time, check their search history and recommended videos. This will give you an insight on the kind of content your child likes and watches.

  4. Set limits

    Anything excessive is unhealthy. Limit their time on gadgets and help them develop good habits by having consistent rules about screen time. Help them understand that they should attend to priorities first like homework, chores and family time before going online.

    • The ideal amount of screen time depends on your child’s age and personality. It can also depend on the activities that they do online. School kids may need more time since they use online educational resources for homework or projects.
    • For playing, browsing, posting on social media and other entertainment, the goal is to achieve balance. Give 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’re not on their computers or gadgets all day. Encourage sports, exercise, healthy pastimes and interaction with their friends and family.
  5. Keep personal information private

    You may need to remind them of this every now and then. Personal information should not be posted publicly. Check that geotagging is off on their posts. Also remind them that anything they post online will be there forever. They can delete an offensive post but their electronic footprint is permanent. Any post can come back to haunt them in the future. This can have an impact on things like applying for university, scholarships, internships or jobs.

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.
Article updated May 7, 2024

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

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