There are so many terrifying statistics relating to online safety for children that it’s difficult to choose which to begin this article with.
Do I go for the fact that one in three children has been a cyberbullying victim? Or do I point out that 90% of kids over eight years old have already seen online porn? Perhaps the fact the nearly a quarter of teens admit to being involved in “nude sexting” is more attention grabbing?
The reality is that the three eye-opening statistics above are the mere tip of the iceberg. The Internet is fraught with dangers for young people, and as parents there is simply no option but to take those dangers seriously. The online world isn’t one you can shield children from, as it’s a part of everyday life (and one that brings with it numerous opportunities and possibilities). However, it is possible to take steps to protect your loved ones and make them as safe as possible.
Here are ten of the most valuable steps you can take:
- Educate yourself
As a parent, you simply cannot take a stance of “I don’t understand computers.” If you don’t understand them, you need to learn about them – because you can be sure your children will.
If your children know considerably more about technology than you do, you’ll never be able to protect them from online dangers. There are countless online and offline resources to give you the knowledge you need.
- Demonstrate your understanding
If your children are aware that you understand technology they’re less likely to try to pull the wool over your eyes. This doesn’t mean that all children specifically wish to do this, but as those teenage years descend, it’s natural for young people to begin to hide things. This can be dangerous in a world of private chatrooms and self-deleting messages.
If a teenager were to type “ASL?” (Age, Sex, Location?) or “POS” (Parent over shoulder) into an online window, would you know what they meant? If not, you need to learn more.
- Learn the risks
Online risks to children develop and evolve all the time – from trolling to phishing – and on to online relationships with people who may not be who they profess to be. As a parent, you need to understand these things, which means constantly reading up on the subjects.
- Try the services and apps your children are interested in
If your children suddenly show interest in a new app or social network, you need to understand what it involves, what it can do, and whether it’s suitable.
The NSPCC reviews apps and services from a parent’s respective, so their resource is well worth checking out, but there’s no substitute for signing up to these things yourself so you know exactly what your children are involved with.
- “Friend” or “follow” your children
As an extension to the above, a good strategy can be insisting on being one of your child’s “friends” or “followers” on any social network they wish to be a part of. This is a reasonable compromise and one that gives you visibility on at least some of their activity.
- Encourage discussion
Keeping up an ongoing family dialogue about online safety and technology helps to show your children you are aware of the possible issues and keeping a watchful eye.
As an example, statistics show that a clear majority of children are contacted regularly online by strangers. It’s therefore highly unlikely that your children aren’t (at the very least) aware of this happening to their friends. By showing knowledge of the statistical realities, you can hopefully create an ongoing open discussion.
- Establish house rules
Whether your rules involve Wi-Fi embargos after a certain time, bans on laptops outside of the kitchen or living room, or vetos on certain social networks, there should be some rules in place. The rules should also be enforced stringently so that children know that they won’t get away with breaking them.
- Install antivirus software
Antivirus software seems almost old-fashioned now, and there are plenty of threats it won’t protect against. However, it should still be seen as a must on all family computers.
- Use parental controls
Parental control software will never take the place of real-life parental control, but it can act as a useful complement. Nowadays it’s possible to implement parental controls on smartphones and tablets as well as computers, to provide some level of protection when children are aware from your watchful eye.
- Stay up to date
Technology moves fast and so do trends, especially among teenagers. One day it’s all about Twitter and Facebook, and the next it’s all abandoned in favor of Snapchat!
The only way to keep up is to stay on top of these developments yourself. You may have never wanted to become knowledgeable on modern apps and social media platforms – but if you’re responsible for children it comes with the territory.
The tips above provide a good grounding in online safety for children, but there’s so much more to learn. You’ll find a detailed online safety guide at BestVPN.com.