Growing up in a time where entertainment, instant communication, and information is readily available at their fingertips, today’s children aren’t familiar with a world without the internet or smartphones. Kids spend a considerable amount of their time utilizing technology and other communication tools each day. Especially in the COVID-19 era, face-to-face communication has become scarce and the use of digital communication has skyrocketed. Families are using the internet for social communication, work activities and projects for school at unprecedented levels.
Unfortunately, as our family’s time online increases so do the risks of internet-based threats including chatroom imposters, inappropriate internet usage and cyberbullying. This is particularly true for school-age children. Here are a few tips for parents to consider when navigating online safety and how to protect their family from any dangers.
1. Keep personal info private.
A study from Cox Communications and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children found many teens are not concerned about sharing personal information online. The majority thought posting photos or other personally identifiable information on social media was not unsafe, and nearly half were not worried about other people using their info/images in unapproved ways. Given the prevalence of Instagram, TikTok, and other social accounts, the results of the survey are unsurprising.
Kids experience an immense amount of peer pressure to join and frequently post on social media apps including Instagram and TikTok. However, when signing up for social media apps, the major companies use our personal data and exposure which can lead to dangers. Online predators can view these accounts by pretending to be someone in the teen’s age group. Private messaging capabilities can give them easy access to start conversations, which can then turn towards offers of in-person meetings. It’s important to monitor their social account settings to ensure they’re “private.”
2. Monitor online behaviors and device usage.
To effectively help kids navigate the internet, embrace some monitoring tools. Nothing complex, just some new tools that track our kid’s phone and computer usage. Here are a few programs worth looking into:
· FamilyShield by OpenDNS is a tool that blocks certain inappropriate domains on your entire home network. This includes proxy servers, sexual content, and violent sites.
· Qustodio is a parental tool for phone use that features social media tracking, smart filtering, and the ability to manage screen time remotely.
· Kidlogger (currently just for Android) and other similar tools are useful for adding controls to usage, and seeing exactly what functions kids are doing, and what they’re typing. This and other apps allow parents to remotely view any photos the kids take, their location, and to record any incoming or outgoing calls.
There are many monitoring tools available. Do your research and read reviews to find trusted and easy-to-use services.
3. Don’t use just any search engine.
Given today’s environment at home and remote learning, it’s not realistic for kids to avoid the internet. Many schools are using a range of online tools that can be leveraged by educators, students and parents. It’s very easy for kids to jump to a default search engine on your family computer and start out with innocent browsing but a couple of clicks could lead to suggested searches and take them down in inappropriate path to violent content or even pornographic images.
Show your kids what safe searching looks like and guide them with best practices, such as avoiding certain words or being cautious with image results. Let them know they can talk to you if they come across something that seems out of place. Don’t rely on default browsers. Consider using safer tools like GOFBA, a secure search engine and communication platform that offers chat, email, file transfer and storage features. This family-friendly option helps eliminate inappropriate sites and content from search results and constantly filters out fraudulent or malicious sites that could put your kids at danger.
“There’s a time and place for internet usage – the younger the child, the more personal the supervision should be. Safety begins at home with the help of parents teaching kids to practice good internet habits and understanding the reality of online dangers,” said Anna Chin, Founder of GOFBA. “Don’t be afraid to openly talk with your kids about their time spent on the internet, devices and social media. Communication can help parents set guidelines and keep families safe as possible, especially during challenging times like COVID-19.”