Your number one priority as a parent is keeping your child safe. You’ve probably already taught them to not talk to strangers, look both ways before crossing the street, and not share personal information. However, nowadays there’s so much more to worry about. The internet, online gaming, and social media all pose threats to the healthy development of your children.
Additionally, our collective reliance on tech skyrocketed over the past year-and-a-half when many of us were stuck at home. When it comes to the dangers that various forms of technology pose, keep the following three strategies in mind to help your kids stay safe.
1. Set your child up for success.
Think back to when you received your first cell phone. Many of us were in our teens or perhaps even college students before we got our first phone. No matter how old you were, it was likely much later than children today are accustomed to getting their own cell phone.
And, of course, cell phones today are far more powerful than they were even five or 10 years ago. From unlimited internet access to downloadable apps to social media sites, cell phones can easily unlock a whole world of dangerous information to children.
Buying a specially designed cell phone for kids is one of the easiest ways to monitor how your children use their phones. Phones such as these are designed to ensure that your child is safe while also fostering a sense of independence.
Most often, these phones either limit or prevent children from accessing the internet, social media, and games. They’re made for what a phone was originally designed to do: connect with family and friends through calls and text messages. Moreover, because the phone offers only basic functionality, you can rest easy knowing that your child isn’t spending countless hours browsing the internet.
If you’re concerned that your child or teen will be disappointed by a restricted cell phone, take the time to explain to them why they are getting this type of phone. Remind them why you’re giving them a cell phone in the first place and what a privilege it is. Be prepared to answer back when they share stories about how their friends or classmates are able to play games on their phones or browse the internet.
Just go in knowing that a somewhat underwhelming response is completely normal. Reassure them that they will someday be able to have that kind of phone but now is not the right time.
2. Establish technology boundaries and ground rules.
Prepare yourself. This step may prove to be a challenge and it will look different for every household. That said, it’s important you establish technology boundaries and ground rules.
The internet is only one click away. While your child may need to be online for schoolwork, that doesn’t mean they need to be online all hours of the day. Leaving a child alone with the internet can be dangerous for them psychologically and also physically as they increasingly disconnect from outdoor, independent play.
Technology boundaries can range from time limits to where devices are used and how. For example, you may want to limit younger children to 30 minutes of technology time after their homework is completed. Alternatively, you may establish that nobody will use a device or be online after dinner.
Another helpful rule for your children could be that all devices must be used in a common area of the house such as at the kitchen table or in the family room. This allows you to see exactly when and how they are accessing the internet. It quickly discourages secretive behaviors.
Bring up the boundary-setting conversation during dinner or a family meeting when everyone is involved and listening. Remember to provide a reason for why you are establishing technology boundaries. Depending on the age of your child, you may be able to share with them that everyone online isn’t always friendly, even if they seem so.
Alternatively, you might be able to go a little deeper and explain how people post things online and on social media that shouldn’t be viewed by anyone, regardless of their age. Ask your child what they think makes sense as far as ground rules so they feel heard and included. Follow up with a plan everyone finds agreeable.
3. Install and use parental monitoring tools.
No matter how much you trust your child, using parental tools and monitoring software is always a good idea. After all, your child or teen may not even realize they are entering a dangerous online environment. Lack of knowledge can easily put your child and their safety at risk.
Research conducted prior to the pandemic shows that nearly 40% of parents are using parental controls for their teens, blocking or filtering their online behavior. Best of all, many companies and websites today are making it easier than ever to set parental parameters.
Many internet providers also allow parents to set up controls by logging into their accounts and determining what types of sites will be blocked on the house Wi-Fi. You can also pause Wi-Fi throughout the house for set periods of time. This can be useful if you’re worried your child is secretly going online after everyone else has gone to bed.
Additionally, both Chrome and Safari web browsers allow you to manually block certain sites. You can even determine what types of sites are blocked based on who is browsing the internet. This can be helpful if you’re worried your child or teen may be tempted to purchase something using your credit card.
There are new developments in terms of parental controls on social media as well. Just this past summer, Instagram established restrictions providing parents the ability to “allow,” “limit” or “limit even more” sensitive content. TikTok also has an option to “turn on restricted mode.” You may also find it helpful to insist on having your child’s usernames and passwords for all social accounts. This can help ensure they aren’t posting or responding to comments inappropriately.
Technology has its benefits but also its drawbacks. It’s easier than ever to have a friendly chat with someone across the world. It’s also easier than ever to be exposed to illicit behaviors and inappropriate messaging or posts.
That said, you don’t want your child to live in fear of the power of technology. Talking to your children about how technology can be dangerous and why you’re limiting or restricting usage can be a helpful way to get them on board. Lastly, remember they won’t be young forever. Limiting their usage and online behavior now will only help them in the years to come.