According to the findings of the Pew Research Center, 95% of US teens have smartphones and use them today. This means that it is virtually impossible to prevent them from surfing the Internet. Indeed, most kids are already active Internet users. They look for communication, information, entertainment, or support among other interests. But unlike adult users, they are not always aware of the many possible threats the Internet harbors. Unless properly instructed by their parents, educators, or other caregivers, they risk destroying their privacy, reputation, and even future careers.
Digital Safety and Social Media Dangers for Kids
Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube, as well as apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp, or TikTok, enable instant and constant communication. Therefore, kids love them as the Pew Research Center finds. Indeed, social networks outperform traditional texting. They enable kids to create private and group chats, share photos, links, or stories, and post videos among other alternatives. Still, they don’t protect young users from possible aggressive intrusions into their private lives. While online, kids can become victims of thieves or sexual predators, who are looking for vulnerable individuals of which they can take advantage without much effort. The information kids post can be used in harmful ways by bullies. They can become acquainted with some inappropriate content that may hurt their wellbeing. Finally, kids can download information that will infect their mobile devices or computers with viruses, undermining privacy and data security. Unfortunately, these threats are as real as the many benefits that virtual environment brings. But it doesn’t mean that parents should limit their kids’ Internet access altogether.
Perhaps it is not the best decision today to keep children away from the Internet by the time they are fifteen or sixteen. Firstly, it is no longer possible. Modern technology is too intrusive and there are too many devices that bring people online. If not at home, kids will get social media accounts while at a friend’s house or while at school. Secondly, there is no point of ignoring something that has already become ordinary for an average American. Although online communication is rather complex, keeping children out from social media today is just like keeping them away from the pool when all other kids are already swimming. Instead of doing so, allow your kids to jump into that pool under your wise supervision and show them how to swim, staying safe and secure. All too often, children’s digital safety nowadays depends on the decisions that parents make. Therefore, don’t deprive your kids of online communication. Instead, employ strategies that will make their online experiences safe, constructive, entertaining, and informative.
Allies in Protecting Youth Culture
Although parents can influence their kids’ online experiences significantly, they are not lonely in the mission of ensuring children’s Internet safety. Both religious and educational institutions often make significant contributions as well. They are particularly effective in promoting youth culture and preventing bullying. Religious leaders, as well as educators, can become valuable role models for kids. They can explain the importance of treating others with respect.
Unfortunately, some kids treat anonymity that social media provides an opportunity to assault others seemingly without any personal responsibility. Only mutual efforts of parents, educators, and religious leaders can change this situation. It is important to explain to children that the harm they cause others by bullying them can far exceed their original intentions. And even if no one knows who exactly the bully is, this kid is still responsible for all the possible sufferings of the bullied person. Although every case of bullying may require specific attention, youth culture that promotes self-respect and respect to others can contribute to the elimination of bullying as a practice.
16 Simple Rules to Family Safety Online
Parents should primarily consider establishing rules that children will abide. Yes, it is that simple. Probably, your kids are already accustomed to following some rules. For instance, they use seatbelts in cars or do homework after school. The same approach will pay off well while ensuring digital safety. Here are some rules you can consider for promoting online safety of your children:
Rule 1. Using a child-friendly browser. – Nowadays, many browsers are developed specifically for kids. They allow access only to age-appropriate content, enabling parents to create their lists of approved or blocked sites. Some common browsers also can be better for children than others because of the way they treat customer data and support extensions. Overall, parents should choose browsers, which allow them parental control over the data that kids can access.
Rule 2. Checking browser history once in a while. – You should inform your kids that you will occasionally check the content they read online. It is important to explain to them that this is not about intruding into their personal space, but about making sure nothing threats their safety. Your kids should understand that you are always on their side. So, avoid being judgmental when checking browser history.
Rule 3. Customizing security settings. – You should consider customizing settings on both a family computer and your children’s mobile devices. Nowadays, parents can install programs that not only limit browsing options to approved sites only but also provide parents with information regarding the child’s physical location. Of course, consider keeping children informed, because failure to do so can eventually undermine their trust.
Rule 4. Introducing bookmarking as a kind of safe browsing. – You should spend some time teaching your kids how to surf the Internet. Consider suggesting bookmarking as a good option. Your kids can add bookmarks for the sites they usually visit. This will protect them from some safety-related threats. Also, this practice will make it easier for you to monitor the content that children read online.
Rule 5. Limiting the time that kids spend online/in front of a screen. – This may be tough and your kids may disagree, but screen-time should be limited. On the one hand, research suggests that spending too much time in front of a screen, be it TV, computer, or a smartphone, is harmful to children. Those who remain for too long online may end up with anxiety and attention-related issues. They also risk to never develop some of the necessary social skills that are important for effective face-to-face communication. On the other hand, by disciplining kids in such a manner, you will show them that online communication is just one of the many aspects of their social lives.
Rule 6. Actively promoting alternative activities. – Help your kids build viable real-life social networks. Ideally, their online communication should be a continuation rather than a substitution of real-life contacts. Communication with other parents may be relevant here. It is particularly good when parents occasionally organize camping activities, museum or field trips, sleepovers, picnics, or concert visits for their kids. Age-appropriate non-Internet activities will save your children from putting too much emphasis on online communication.
Rule 7. Child-parent communication. – Parents should encourage kids to discuss their online experiences with them. This is particularly important when it comes to cyberbullying. Explain to your kids that bullies themselves often suffer from neglect. So instead of trying to hide such instances, kids should immediately tell their parents about them.
Rule 8. Discussing the importance of privacy with children. – Parents should clarify that online communication in general and social media in particular largely deprive people of privacy. Even information that is shared in private online communication can be easily distributed to a larger audience. So basically, everything children post online is no longer private and can somehow affect their future.
Rule 9. Teaching children to avoid public Wi-Fi. – Research suggests that public Wi-Fi users are more likely to become hacker victims. Therefore, children should treat such networks with caution, because they can put their data under threat.
Rule 10. Children should ask for permission whenever they want to install a new app or a program. – Some apps may compromise the user’s privacy. So, children can download or install anything on their computer or smartphone only after consultation with a parent.
Rule 11. Informing children about possible threats they can face while online. – Instead of simply forbidding children to visit certain sites or install some apps, parents should explain why they impose such limitations. Tell your kids about hackers and predators, as well as explain that too personal information can be used to destroy one’s reputation or intrude into one’s private space.
Rule 12. Children should interact online with people they and their parents know personally. – Given that there are many predators online, it is safer for children to communicate with those they know. Of course, when playing online games, children may meet new friends. Explain to your kids that such online friends may deceive them. For instance, a 36-year-old man can pretend to be a 12-year-old boy just for fun or to assault.
Rule 13. Children should not engage in cyberbullying. – No matter how much you trust your kids, still enforce this rule. You should explain to them that no reason is good enough to justify cyberbullying.
Rule 14. Adding parents to the list of friends in social media. – This doesn’t mean that parents will actively comment on every piece of information their child posts. They will simply be updated if anything happens.
Rule 15. Treating personal images, videos, or any other information with caution. - Children should disclose only those facts online that they are ready to share with every person they know. Some specialists recommend telling kids about the three Ps: parent, principal, and pastor. So, when deciding whether to publish something or not, kids should think that these three Ps will read their post.
Rule 16. Keeping passwords safe. – Children should not reveal their passwords to anyone except their parents.
Resources for Privacy and Parental Control
In addition to the mentioned rules and cooperation with religious and educational leaders, parents can utilize some resources to ensure their kids’ online safety.
- Parents can use special plugins or extensions for browsers that allow greater parental control over online content available to kids. For instance, by using safe mode for YouTube parents limit their children to kid-friendly videos.
- Circle App helps to create content filters, time restrictions, detailed browser histories, and more.
- Kidbridge allows parents to monitor their child’s text messages and browser history.
- Install kid-friendly browsers. These include Kiddle, KidRex, KidSplorer, KidzSearch or Maxthon Kid-Safe Browser among others. If your child tries to search something questionable, it censors bad content.
- Benefit from using special software for smartphones. Particularly, greater parental control can be enabled through FamilyTime, Qustodio, ESET Parental Control, Norton Family Premier, or Net Nanny among others. These apps have some free functions, but paid membership has much greater functionality, which is often worth the price. Using such apps, parents control the child’s smartphone. For instance, they can restrict access to social media, filter age-appropriate online content, and track location.
- Kidgy is an app that can be used by both iPhone and Android, that lets parents know if their kids leave a certain predetermined safe-zone boundary, it can be your yard or your neighborhood.
Social Media Benefits for Kids
Apart from the discussed dangers, social media bring many opportunities. They easily connect kids with their peers, promoting common interests and active information sharing. Also, they encourage constant self-development, because kids easily access educational materials. Given that many modern businesses succeed particularly due to online activities, fluency in online communication is a valuable asset today. Thus, while using social media, kids are likely to obtain skills that can be useful in their future careers. Finally, social media help children build large networks of contacts, which can eventually benefit them in their future education or career. If supported by their parents, educators, and religious leaders, as well as decently protected from potential threats, kids can significantly benefit from using the Internet in general and social media in particular.
Parental Control Is Not About Forbidding; It Is About Teaching
The world has changed, and it is no longer efficient to shield children from the Internet. Rather than doing so, it is wiser to teach them to care for their privacy, security, and reputation as early as possible. By imposing simple rules and relying on modern resources, parents can promote educational and professional success of their children, turning them into experienced Internet users.