As students return to school, it’s an ideal time for parents to help protect their kids from being exposed to inappropriate online images, potential cyberbullies and would-be predators while using their digital devices by implementing clear rules and practical safeguards.
Establishing and communicating specific safety measures can significantly reduce the likelihood of kids being subjected to questionable material or dangerous scenarios while using their mobile phones, tablets, PCs and laptops or gaming systems.
Among the most important efforts begins with communication – starting a conversation with your kids regarding expectations for their conduct while online. For example, establish agreed-upon internet usage limits (for inside and outside of the home); instruct them to never share passwords (or other personal information); encourage them to be mindful of what they post online and to always be kind; instruct them to report any possible cyberbullying or interactions they find scary or worrying; and remind them to never meet face-to-face with anyone they only know through the internet or social media.
Another primary measure is regularly supervising all internet-enabled devices, including: checking the browser history; viewing all photos and videos that kids post and receive online; knowing your child’s online friends and activities; and checking the apps and websites your child uses, such as gaming sites and social media platforms.
Technical Tools for Online Safety
There are several tools that parents and guardians can utilize, such as using safe search engines designed for kids on all devices accessible to your children. Kid-friendly search engines (such as Kiddle and Zilladog) can filter content based on specific age ranges and subject matter. Traditional search engines (such as Google) also have filter options to help block inappropriate content and video, including pornography.
“Parental controls” can offer an added layer of protection for all internet-enabled devices, including different levels of control for kids of varying ages and limits for screen time.
Other tools include:
— Installing monitoring software, which can provide a detailed report of a child’s online activities, including app usage, websites visited, emails, messaging and other activities;
— Limiting your child’s instant messaging (IM) and gamer contacts to a parent-approved buddy list; and
— Blocking access to chat rooms and only allowing live audio chat under supervision.
For Parents and Grandparents: Sharing Less is More
Parents, grandparents and caretakers should also be careful to avoid posting or sharing too much personal information online, especially about their children and grandchildren.
Due to a growing online tradition, many people routinely share “first day of school” or “back to school” photos of their kids on Facebook, Instagram or other social media with the student’s name, grade, teacher, school or other easily-identifiable information. Unfortunately, these details can fall into the hands of potential predators or traffickers, or create real-life cybersecurity risks, such as falling prey to scammers or identity thieves.
If you encounter any online content or activity that you suspect could be illegal or criminal, please report it to local law enforcement officials, or to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or www.cybertipline.com.