Being online is a fact of life for families today. Even very young children spend significant parts of their lives in digital worlds: Schoolwork, clubs, games, and chatting with family all draw them into apps and onto the Internet.
Most parents worry about how to let their children participate in online activities while maintaining their safety online and at home. In today's technologically advanced world, teaching kids how to safely navigate the internet is as necessary as teaching them how to safely cross the street.
Read on to learn more about how you can help your children learn to safely navigate the online world, from internet safety, social media use, and everything in between.
No matter their age, all kids should know the basics of Internet security. This includes knowing how to protect their personal information and understanding how to balance screen time with other goals, interests, and commitments.
Very young children often use their parents' devices or have access to an older device. Whether your children have their own device or use yours to access the internet, here are some safety tips to help keep them safe:
- Password-protect everything you don't want your child accessing. This includes websites you don’t want them to visit, social media apps, messaging apps, and more.
- Supervise your child when they are using apps or the internet. Very young children may navigate somewhere they should not go accidentally. Supervising their internet use will help make sure they are only accessing content you are comfortable with them seeing.
Elementary-aged kids likely use the internet frequently at home and at school. They might even have their own devices. Despite their more frequent use of the internet, elementary-aged children still need some guidance to make sure they are using the internet as a useful tool in their lives. The following guidelines can help:
- Continue to supervise your children as they use the internet at home.
- Teach your children which apps and websites they are allowed to use. Make sure they have a clear understanding of this and help them understand that they should ask for permission before using anything other than these apps and websites.
Middle school and older
Often, middle school age and above is the age when it gets trickier for parents to monitor and supervise their children’s internet use. Kids want more independence, and their parents want to keep them safe. Parents who keep the lines of communication open with their kids are most likely to successfully help their kids learn how to safely use the internet.
Social media and app safety
One issue parents have with keeping their older kids safe on social media is that their kids are on different apps than their parents. For example, Snapchat, TikTok, Discord, and WhatsApp are more popular with teens than sites like Instagram and Facebook, which their parents use and are familiar with.
Kids must know that people aren't always who they seem to be online. Catfishing, where someone pretends to be someone else, is a big concern for many parents, since this is one way that adults with bad intentions can befriend and interact with kids online. Parents need to stay aware of their kids' online lives and know what apps their kids use. Teach kids never to share their personal information, never say where their home is, and never to meet their Internet acquaintances in real life.
Bullying is no longer confined to school hallways and playgrounds. Now, it often takes place online through apps, social media sites, and texting. It sometimes happens along with in-person bullying, making it feel inescapable to bullying victims, since schoolyard bullying can be continued online when they're at home.
Cyberbullying can even cross the line into illegal harassment. Parents should be concerned about their children being bullied online, and it's also important to make sure kids aren't engaging in bullying. A 2019 study estimated that about 15% of all high school students had experienced cyberbullying in the previous 12 months.
Signs of cyberbullying include:
- Kids becoming angry or upset after being online or using their phones
- Withdrawal from family life and previously enjoyed activities
- Symptoms that typically are categorized as signs of depression
Lessons in digital citizenship should be focused on helping kids be respectful, responsible citizens online who can handle difficult situations as they arise. Kids should know how to use technology to make their lives and the lives of their families and communities better. They should also learn how to engage in respectful conversations with people who have different beliefs than they do. Kids also need to learn how to critically evaluate the information they read online and know the difference between a reputable source giving them actual information and an opinion or poorly sourced information.
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