By: Trey Sikes
In today’s environment, technology is all around us—and we are constantly connected. This applies to our children as much as it does to adults, if not more so. Our kids are growing up in the “smartphone era.” Even if they don’t have a smartphone yet, they know how to use yours. They might even have a tablet device, such as a Kindle Kids Edition. But just as with any activity our children are interested in, we must set boundaries and rules to ensure their safety. Strangers, friends and sometimes even our children themselves can all pose a threat online.
To be honest, keeping kids off the Internet just isn’t possible, and parents can’t always be there when their children are on a device or behind a keyboard. However, the best way to help our children use the Internet and technology safely is to be involved in their online life, just as you would be in their real-world life. This involvement is necessary to ensure that kids know what to do when a cyber bully attacks, when a questionable site shows up in search results, or when that new game asks if they want to buy that upgrade.
The first step in protecting our kids online is to make sure they are aware of the dangers and educate them on how to avoid them. They need to be aware that anyone they don’t know in real life is a stranger online, and they should act accordingly. Even people they do know can be cyber bullies. Social engineering is also targeted at kids, who often don’t think through the ramifications of their actions online. Kids also need to be aware that something they post today could be found years from now by potential colleges, employers or others, which could negatively impact their future. Talk with your kids about these dangers, guide them through what to do if they are confronted with them, and explain how they can avoid them when possible.
Set expectations for your children about what is and is not allowed while using the computer, tablet or smartphone. Define the circumstances when and where using technology is okay, along with where they can go on the Internet, what apps they can use, and/or what games they can and cannot play. Consider setting time limits and setting up a central location where devices are stored once time limits are up.
A document with these rules posted in your home can help ensure that technology is safely used. Consider adding the consequences for breaking the rules as well. Make sure your children understand the rules and that they agree to them. Don’t forget that the rules apply outside the home, like at a relative or friend’s house or the school library.
To help ensure you know what is going on in your child’s digital (and actual) life, create accounts on social media sites they use. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or whatever other apps they use. This will allow you to monitor their online actions and interactions, and it will help you know what they are facing on a day-to-day basis. From time to time, review the apps on their devices and ask to see how a given app works if you don’t know what it is. If they aren’t willing to share, it may be time to outlaw that app.
When my son was 5, he got a Kindle Fire Kids edition form his grandmother. He now has his very own device! He got to choose his passcode and go look for apps and videos that he likes. Does he still want to play with Mom’s smartphone? Of course. But now there is an alternative that is his with some built-in protections. One of the most important benefits of a dedicated device is that even if he finds something with malware, viruses, etc., it won’t infect the family computer or another family member’s device. If his device becomes unusable, we don’t have to worry about our financial records, pictures or other vital documents being lost. Thus, his dedicated device allows us as a family to have a separation in the productive technology we use, and what is used for our child’s play.
Fostering an environment where online activities are as open as real-world events will allow parents to guide their children through the pitfalls that are out there in cyberspace. If you’re a parent or guardian who would like to learn more about online security for children, please visit the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) website or StaySafeOnline.org.
Now it’s time for you to share: Use the comments section below to tell us what kind of online safety guidelines you have established (or would like to establish) for your family!
The content provided in this blog consists of the opinions and ideas of the author alone and should be used for informational purposes only. VyStar Credit Union disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information provided.