4 Tips for Keeping Kids Safe Online

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am part of a unique generation. We are tasked with parenting the first generation that doesn’t know life before the World Wide Web but we remember existence before Google and Facebook. I managed to survive most of my childhood without daily access to the internet. However, most in my generation are now actively using technology as a part of our daily lives. We began with the green screen of Oregon Trail and now some of us voice text our kids using a smart watch.

I find myself feeling pretty confident that I’ll be able to keep up with my daughters in the technology department but realize that attitude could lead me right into an app-disaster. With that in mind, I’ve decided to come up with a short list of reminders for myself and the rest of us in the generation that remembers floppy disks that were actually floppy.

  1. Baby Steps and Quality Time:
    Safety online isn’t really that different from safety in the rest of the world. Just like we wouldn’t allow our 2-year-old to cross the street, we also don’t wait until our child’s 12th birthday and send them off into traffic to practice street crossing on their own. We give our kids the privileges and responsibility that they can handle gradually by teaching them and guiding them and certainly not all at once. Enjoy time together using technology. There are many apps and web pages in which you and your child may have shared interest. This provides moments to be a positive role model.
  2. Get Smart:
    Educate yourself on what your child is doing. Fortunately, we have Google at our fingertips! If you want to allow your child to play online games, be sure you understand the game and what the options are for chatting with friends and accessing content that isn’t part of the game. For example, in Minecraft kids can join games with others and chat with them. Just watching your child play for a minute or two wouldn’t necessarily tip you off to that fact. It doesn’t make it a bad game. It just changes the conversation you will want to have with your child before playing. Ask your child questions and listen to their answers. Start a conversation and stay involved.
  3. Set Expectations:
    Some of the best educational games are on the same website as games with violence so helping your child understand what the rules are for your family online is critical and frequent checks are important. As my kids get older and play at a friends’ house, we are talking more about what to do if they are away from us and run into a computer situation that doesn’t fit with our rules. This isn’t different from when we talk about what to do if something in the “real world” makes them uncomfortable away from our parenting umbrella. As they get older and do research for school, they may run across inappropriate content in a search so we talk about the best thing to do if that happens as well. We also talk about what they can share or tell in person or online as well as how we treat others.  Some parents have written contracts with these expectations. At https://thesmarttalk.org/ a parent and child can follow the steps on the page for creating a contract together with some conversation and bonding on the side. Of course, if those expectations aren’t followed, parents follow through with appropriate consequences including reduced privileges.
  4. Monitor:
    It is critical to keep an eye on what is happening. Our house rules ask our kids to use technology in the living room or dining area rather than bedrooms. We also set the expectation that any passwords for apps or devices need to be shared with a parent. As our children get older, they will likely have more freedom since they have been very trustworthy so far. For now we take a peek every so often just to be sure they are still doing ok and haven’t bumped into anything they can’t handle. Children need to understand that parents have the responsibility to keep children safe. Even though the child is trustworthy and makes good choices, others on the internet may not be appropriate, so good parenting requires supervision with the goal of keeping kids safe.

Happy clicking everyone!

Heather DeWit, Director of Childcare and Education Services

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