5 ways to protect your kids from online dangers

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With all the news about cyberbullying, catfishing or the Momo, Tide Pod, or TikTok challenges, parents have a lot to worry about. As online technology becomes part of this generation’s daily lives, increasing kids’ digital literacy, particularly their ability to differentiate what is good from what is bad online, is more important than ever before.

Here are five steps you can take to support your kids to protect them 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 the basics 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 every day 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 that personal information should always be kept confidential. Also 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 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

    Even if you allow them only to watch YouTube Kids, this is still not an assurance that disturbing content will not reach your child. Content like porn or violent videos can sneak in between parent-approved content through ads or links. Monitoring their screen time is the only way to prevent your child from watching them. However, you don’t need to keep watching over their shoulders. That’s not only going to be time-consuming, it will annoy your child. Instead, have an “open-door policy” at home. Place the computer in a common area. Make it a rule that they can’t close their bedroom door when they are 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 that is too much is unhealthy for anyone. Limit their time on gadgets and help them develop good habits by having consistent rules about screen time. Emphasize that they should attend to priorities first such as 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 don’t spend all day online. Encourage sports, exercise, healthy pastimes and face-to-face interaction with their peers and family.
  5. Keep personal information private

    This should be part of your initial talk about internet safety. You may need to remind them of this every now and then. Personal information like full name, age, address, or the school they go to should not be posted publicly. Also remind them that anything they post online will be there forever. They may be able to delete a post, photo or video, but the electronic footprint they cast is permanent. Whatever they post now may come back to haunt them in the future and would likely have an impact on things like applying for university, scholarships, internships or jobs.

Article updated April 21, 2020

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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