There is no question that kids are spending more time online than usual, whether they’re attending virtual school or simply playing more on their devices so parents can get a little work done (or just a minute to themselves). While modern technology and the Internet allow kids to learn in some amazing ways that weren’t possible before, both also bring undeniable risk and potential for dangerous situations.
Talking to your kid(s), no matter how old they are, about online safety, privacy, and acceptable behavior is more important than ever before. Monitoring and staying engaged with what your little one(s) is doing online might sound like a lot of work you don’t have the time for, but it doesn’t mean you have to constantly sit over their shoulder.
Keeping kids safe online does require some of your time, but it is well worth it to protect them. Read on for four online safety basics and tips to help you keep your kid(s) as safe as possible online.
1. Talk to Them About Privacy
Have an age-appropriate conversation with your kid(s) about online privacy and keeping their information safe. For a younger child, this might look something like explaining to them never to share with strangers:
- Their name
- Their age
- Their location
- Their picture
- Other information like the name of their school or what grade they’re in
For older kids, this conversation should include not sharing:
- Their phone number (with people they don’t know)
- Their email address (with people they don’t know)
- Their passwords
- Their home address
They should also know not to open, respond to, or click links within messages or emails from people they don’t know and not to meet up with anyone in person who they met online.
Sometimes it helps to hear it from someone other than their parent. Google’s Be Internet Awesome teaches kids key lessons about digital safety, like privacy, bullying, and other watch-outs through an online adventure game.
2. Set Parental Controls and Check Device Settings
You’ve probably already done this, but if not, be sure to adjust the privacy settings on their computers, tablets, phones, apps, social media, and online games.
For apps and games, you’ll likely need to adjust the settings directly within the app itself. For example, on social media, you can ensure they are set to private mode and select accounts to block or restrict.
For other apps and games, you’ll want to navigate to the privacy settings to see your options. Different apps will have different options for what you can control, so make sure to check them all. Consider:
- Turning off location tracking
- Keeping names/photos private
- Restricting functionality like messages or chats
Be sure to check browser settings on smartphones, tablets, and computers (usually within the Settings or Tools menu within the browser) to see what they allow, what they track, and what you can adjust.
Many browsers have free parental controls that you can set to limit access to certain websites or functions (e-mail, instant messaging, etc.) by age, content categories, time limits, and more. Often devices have more than one browser (think Google Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer), so be sure to check all the available browsers on the device.
3. Install a Kid-Friendly Browser
If you want more security than adjusting your standard browser’s settings, you may want to consider installing a kid-safe browser or search engine. Below are a few options:
Kiddle is Google’s kid-friendly search engine that presents search results in a more visual, colorful manner than you’ll find on Google, making it easier for kids to navigate. It uses Google SafeSearch to filter out inappropriate content from results, and if a little one searches an inappropriate term, an error page will pop up without any content.
KidRex is another kid-safe search engine powered by Google that provides search results prioritizing kid-friendly content. It also uses Google SafeSearch to filter out inappropriate content and maintains its own database of inappropriate websites and keywords. Like Kiddle, an inappropriate search term will result in an error page with no results.
WackySafe is another great option for kid-friendly search results, using Google SafeSearch to filter out inappropriate content. Its database of keywords, phrases, and URLs ensures content is OK for little ones, and a search for something inappropriate will return an error page with no results.
4. Keep an Eye on Them
This is another thing you’re probably already doing, but consider this a friendly reminder that digital safety isn’t one and done. A simple way to monitor your little one(s) without feeling like a helicopter parent is to keep the computer or device in a central, open location when it’s in use. A kid is much less likely to get into trouble when they’re out in the open and in close proximity to adults.
Set a reminder for yourself to periodically check in on their apps, browsers, and social media profiles, as some tech-savvy kids may know how to readjust the settings. And even if they haven’t or don’t know how to adjust the settings, it’s good to have a pulse on what they’re sharing, doing, and downloading.
Pay particular attention to apps and sites that “feature end-to-end encryption, direct messaging, video chats, file uploads, and user anonymity, which are frequently relied upon by online child predators,” according to the Department of Justice’s recommendations for keeping kids safe online.
Starting open and honest conversations about digital safety and what’s expected of your kid(s) when they’re online will set the foundation for a safe and secure digital future. Make sure they know they can talk to you or another trusted adult if they stumble into a situation they aren’t comfortable with or if they aren’t sure what to do.