Protecting children is more difficult than it used to be, thanks in large part to technology. We explain ways to prepare youngsters for the threats they may encounter online.
You may recall a time before the internet, but your children do not. Internet connection is as common to them as fresh air—and nearly as necessary. Online, your children can access information and entertainment from anywhere in the world. For parents, this unrestricted access can be both a convenience and a source of concern.
You are not alone if you are concerned about keeping an eye on your children in a modern, connected environment. According to research, two-thirds of parents in the United States say parenting is more difficult today than it was 20 years ago, with technology playing a key role.
It was easier for parents to keep track of who their children were communicating with before the internet because they could see them all in person. Kids can now have close pals online, many of whom they will never meet in person. These virtual pals can nevertheless have an impact on your children's thoughts and conduct. Those friends may not be who they claim to be, which is a legitimate concern for parents.
It is your responsibility to teach your children wise online behaviors so that they can make sound decisions when left alone with an internet-connected gadget.
1. Recognize the Internet's Dangers
The photographs, videos, and remarks that children put on social media today may come back to harm them tomorrow. Explain to your children the need of being cautious while posting online and not publishing anything they don't want other people to see.
While many websites talk about protecting your personal information or provide you with sharing settings, there's no guarantee that these tools keep your data safe from a breach. If you share something sensitive with a third party or put something on Facebook, don't be surprised if it comes up on the internet, even if you didn't mean it to.
On today's internet, people might lose their reputations and even their careers because of things they posted 20 years ago—even things they deleted. Just because you delete a tweet doesn't mean it isn't still archived somewhere.
It's not simply about avoiding the dreaded "cancel culture", It's also about keeping them financially and physically safe (and, by extension, your family, friends, and employer). If your child publishes images of their present location on Instagram while on that fun family vacation, they've just informed the rest of the world, including criminals, that you're not at home. Future insurance claims may be refused if the child tweets about a medical problem that affects them or a family member.
Once your data becomes public, you have no control over it. Discuss the internet's power and permanence with your children, and think about it before sharing information online.
2. Beware of Phishing Scams
By clicking a bad link in an in-game chat box or opening an email attachment and falling victim to a phishing attack, you and your child may unknowingly offer information to a hacker. Phishers send emails that appear to be legitimate correspondence, relying on you to provide personal information such as usernames and passwords so that they can conduct subsequent assaults on your accounts.
3. Update applications and browsers
It may take a few minutes out of your day, but upgrading the apps and browsers on your child's smartphone is essential for good online health. Bad actors rely on unpatched devices that are more prone to attacks. Old, un-updated programs can be sold to another company, which may utilize the software for illegal reasons. Delete apps that you or your child no longer use, and set your child's smartphone to update apps automatically.
4. Keep in mind that nothing is free
Companies hope that you or your child would provide personal information to them in exchange for freebies, whether it's a free-to-play game or a free download. The company then sells your information or convinces you to buy in-game products. Most of these sites have a plan to generate money off of you, even if it's unclear how.
5. Screen-Time Restrictions
It's tempting for parents to limit non-school-related screen time, but kids frequently engage online, which is beneficial to their development. The appropriate amount of time spent online will differ from child to child, but you may monitor their screen time without being overbearing.
Apple, for example, includes parental settings on its products that allow you to track how much time your children spend in front of screens. Google and Microsoft both offer free tools to assist you in managing your child's screen usage.
6. Learn to Conduct Information Source Research
The unrestricted flow of ideas and media is one of the internet's strengths: anyone may upload anything online. Unfortunately, this implies that anyone may spread misinformation and pass it off as fact.
It's critical for youngsters to understand early on that social media can spread half-baked ideas and rash opinions just as quickly and as widely as real facts and the results of careful research. There are numerous YouTube videos and Reddit threads featuring so-called influencers urging you or your child to think and feel a specific way. Teaching your children how to apply critical thinking skills and do objective research using trusted sources online might help them avoid a lot of misinformation. Encourage students to use vetted internet learning sites where appropriate.
7. Communicate with Your Children
The hottest new game or social platform may become obsolete in a month or two, so try to talk to your children about their internet activities. Keeping track of children online can be a full-time job. Because most parental control programs cannot effectively monitor social media posts, maintain open communication with your children as they navigate the online gaming and social realms.
Common sense is the most effective parental control tool. Your children are probably more knowledgeable about the technology they use than you are, so show them that you value their knowledge. Installing invasive parental control software to snoop on your children does not demonstrate your faith in them, and they will most likely find a way around it. Taking a more hands-off attitude can be frightening, but it could improve your relationship with your children.
If you decide to install parental control software, choose one that works best with your children's cooperation. Discuss some ground rules with them and allow them to express their desires and needs around internet access, then use those discussion points to help you select parental control software. Some of the services we've tried take a more hands-off approach to monitoring, presenting a warning rather than a block when your child attempts to access an undesirable website or approaches the end of his or her screen time.
8. Promote Creativity Online
The internet has removed barriers to learning and success in a variety of creative and technological professions. Encourage your teen's interests by assisting them in establishing a professional presence in front of an internet audience. This might include encouraging kids to create TikTok or YouTube videos, start a blog or podcast, or even contribute content to online news outlets.
However, putting oneself in front of an audience of potentially angry strangers might be frightening. Inform your adolescent about the risks they incur when they expose themselves and their work to anonymous criticism, and allow them decide whether they still want to share their work online.
9. Spend Some Time Away from the Computer
Step outside. Unplug the video game console, allow the computer to update, and disconnect from the internet for a few hours or days. A camping trip without Wi-Fi may allow you to spend more time getting to know your children. You can also show your children what life was like before the internet. Who can say? They may even enjoy the old-fashioned, analog way of living.