As parents, our top priority is always the safety of our children. Since kids can’t fully provide for themselves, it’s up to us to create a secure environment where they can learn and grow until they become independent.
However, the paradox here is that the more we try to keep our kids safe, the more likely it is we are limiting their ability to explore the world and find the things they like and want to do. The internet is perhaps one of the best examples we have of this.
The internet is at once a fantastic resource that children can use to learn, explore the world, and communicate with people, and also a pit of vile, harmful material that, if presented to your children, can have a really negative impact. As a result, we need to find a balance that allows our children to use the internet for all that is good while keeping them safe from what is bad.
There’s no one formula to do this, but we’ve found that by establishing some ground rules and maintaining an open dialogue, you can find this balance and keep your kids safe. To help you do this, here are some rules you should consider implementing in your household.
The Threats Children Face Online
Before we go into the specific rules you can enact to keep your kids safe, we thought it was important to point out the threats that are out there. You can see why these rules are in place, and we will also share some statistics about them (so that you can see why it’s so important to take this stuff seriously).
The main threats kids face online include:
Another thing to consider is your child’s social skills. Spending too much time online can limit their ability to communicate in person, and there is also the impact of screen time. We still don’t know what happens to our brains when we look at a screen for long periods as kids, but most seem to agree that trying to limit it is likely the best way forward.
Rules to Keep Your Kids Safe Online
Now that you better understand some of the risks your children face and can see that these risks aren’t just the insignificant worries of a few people but rather real dangers, it’s time to talk about your strategy for online safety.
Below we’ve listed rules for both you and your children that we feel set up a good framework for keeping kids safe online. Of course, it’s unnecessary to implement all of these rules, but we think any good approach to your child’s internet use should include at least some of these.
1. Never Share Personal Information
Given the risks involved, we think it is a good idea to set up a rule that forbids the sharing of personal information. This includes:
- Your full name
- Phone Number
- Date of Birth
- Social Security Number
Of course, to sign up for some services, you may need to give up some of this information, but with this rule in place, your child will know to ask first since just giving it away would violate the rule. This will allow you to evaluate whatever they’re trying to sign up for and determine if it’s a good idea to move forward.
Make sure your child is clear about what you consider personal information, as well as why they shouldn’t share it with anyone, as this will help increase buy-in, making it easier to keep them safe.
2. Don’t Post Personal Pictures
Along the same lines, you should discourage children from sharing photos of themselves online. This not only compromises their identity, but it can open them up to all sorts of dangers, ranging from cyberbullying to sexual abuse. If they want to share photos of themselves with friends – one of the major social media draws – encourage them to send these photos via text or email, so they aren’t shared publically.
This also applies to profile pictures and avatars. Make sure your kids know to avoid using photos of themselves for these, as this once again over-exposes them to the dangers of the internet.
3. Always Use a Screen Name
To keep your child’s personal information secure, make sure they are using aliases and screen names. For kids, this is most often going to apply to gaming platforms.
Let them know that if they use their real name, the people with whom they are interacting would be able to find them more easily, either online or in person, which opens them up to all sorts of danger.
To increase buy-in, encourage your kids to have some fun with this. Making a screen name can be enjoyable and can also be a chance for your children to express themselves. If they can have fun while making themselves more secure, then this is truly a win-win
4. Never Buy Something Without Asking
This should be a relatively easy one to enforce since most kids don’t have any money. However, with older kids who might have access to a debit or credit card, make sure they know that they need to check with you before they spend any money.
The primary reason for this is to ensure they’re not spending money behind your back. The other reason is to ensure they aren’t handing sensitive financial information over to people who want to steal it and use it to take their identity.
If you use a shared device, make sure you don’t have your credit card information saved in any “auto-fill” program. These can be convenient, but this also means that kids can easily spend money, often without even realizing they’re doing so. We suggest you either don’t save this information or make a separate profile on the device.
5. Keep Passwords Strong and Secret
A password is one of the strongest defenses your children have against hacking and identity theft. As a result, it’s essential to instill good password habits in your children right from the start. This begins with making strong passwords. A strong password:
- Uses numbers, letters (both capital and lowercase), and symbols
- Is at least eight characters long
- Is not an easy to guess number like your birthday, phone number, or “123456”
- Is entirely private
When it comes to kids, this last point might be a bit sticky, for stressing privacy and asking for their password at the same time might seem a bit hypocritical. But what will determine your approach is the age and maturity level of your child.
Older kids who have shown an ability to discern between what’s safe and unsafe online should be encouraged to make their own passwords and keep them private. Younger kids, or those who have yet to prove they can manage themselves online, should make a password with you so that you can be sure they’re doing it right, and also so that you can get access to their account if needed in an emergency.
6. Set Privacy Settings to the Highest Level
If your kids are into social media, or they want to start using it, make sure they understand privacy. Mainly, they need to know that once they post something, it’s out there for whoever wants to see it.
From there, you can explain to kids that they can often control who those people are that see what they post and that it’s beneficial to keep this circle as small as possible.
Luckily, almost all the online services we now use give you the chance to customize privacy settings. Work with your children to make sure their accounts are as protected as possible so that if they do share things deemed safe to share, they are doing so with a community you trust not to bring harm.
7. Don’t Talk to Strangers
This rule is often a basic one in most families, so just make sure that your children know it also applies to the online world. If an unknown person approaches your child on the internet, make sure they understand that this is a potentially dangerous situation that they should try to avoid, even if the person claims to be someone they know.
Luckily, in contrast to in-person situations, your child has the opportunity to completely ignore whoever is trying to contact them. Ensure they know they have this power and that they will use it if and when the time comes.
8. Avoid In-Person Meetings
One firm rule you should establish in your home is that your kids should NEVER, under any circumstances, agree to meet in person someone they’ve gotten to know in an online setting. Good things rarely come from this, and you, as a parent, should be skeptical of anyone who wants to meet your child first over the internet and later in real life.
Should your child want to do this, make it known that they must first consult you so you can evaluate the situation for yourself and take all the necessary measures you need to take to ensure your child is safe.
9. Ignore Threats
One tactic many cybercriminals like to use to do their dirty work is to send people threats. They may send emails or other messages that say they will release compromising information or photos if something isn’t done, or they may design software that can take control of your device until you give in to its demand.
For children, hearing these threats can be triggering, as they might think they could get into more trouble if they don’t respond to them. Teach your kids to simply ignore any of these threats. If they are unsure, encourage them to talk to you about them to help figure out if they’re real and show your kids how to spot when they’re fake.
10. Report Anything that Feels Weird
In a moment, we’re going to discuss the need for dialogue regarding internet rules. Still, one way you can encourage your kids to start this dialogue is by getting them to share with you anything strange they encounter on the internet.
If your child is unwilling to disclose first, maybe take the lead by mentioning something you saw. Then, when they start to open up, you can see what kinds of threats they are facing while also judging how well they are doing to identify and deal with potential threats.
11. No Private Browsing
One rule we think is beneficial is to keep all internet use public. This means not allowing your kids to take devices into private spaces in the home, such as their bedrooms. Forcing kids to use the internet on shared devices stored in public spaces will make it much less tempting for them to try and do stuff they probably shouldn’t be doing. Additionally, by keeping browsing in public areas, you will have the opportunity to keep tabs on what your kids are doing.
In truth, this policy probably won’t be very popular, but it is effective. It’s always important to remember that being a parent means sometimes having to be a bit unpopular or “uncool.”
12. Limit Screen Time
Lastly, we think it’s essential to limit your children’s total amount of time in front of a screen during the day. This not only reduces the potential physical dangers of such activity, but it also helps reduce how much your kids are exposed to what’s out there.
Of course, this can get tricky when kids use computers and other devices for schoolwork, which is why we think it’s a good idea to limit this time to “pleasure” activities. It may also be useful to make it a weekly limit, as this will give kids more freedom to choose, which they will like, while also making sure they’re not spending too much time online, which you will like.
Tips to Help Keep Your Kids Safe
Most of what we have discussed so far are rules and policies we suggest you should consider imposing on your children. However, for these to have their intended effects, you should also keep the following things in mind:
Follow the Rules Yourself
Try as best you can to hold yourself to the rules you’ve established for your children. This will help show them that they are not there to control them but rather to promote genuine safety.
Of course, there may be things you simply can’t or don’t want to follow (such as only browsing in public spaces.) But if you are going to hold yourself to a different standard, then make it clear to your children why this is the case, and perhaps even lay out a path for them to follow that would allow them to earn this privilege.
Doing this not only increases the credibility of whatever rules you’ve imposed, but it also helps keep you safe. Many of the rules we’ve discussed, while aimed at children, do promote overall safety in an online environment.
Use the Internet With Your Children
One good way to keep your kids safe online is to use the internet with them. This will help you get a better idea of what they use the internet for and how they use it, but it will also give you the chance to deal with issues that arise in real-time.
Kids will likely be reluctant to do this, not necessarily because they are doing something wrong but rather because they just don’t like parents nosing around in their business. If you approach this by showing genuine interest and a desire to learn – and not by coming off as a helicopter parent – you will probably find that your children are much more open and willing to share.
Doing this often will help you keep up with what your kids are doing online and help contribute to a dialogue about internet use.
Talk Often and Be Involved
Along these lines, perhaps the most important thing you can do to keep your kids safe online is to maintain a healthy dialogue about their internet use. Ask them what they are doing online, if they’ve encountered anything strange or interesting, if they have any questions, etc. And make sure you reciprocate. If your child can tell this is a real interest of yours and an actual conversation – not an interrogation – then they should be more open to talking.
The key here is to make sure these conversations are regular so that you can constantly be monitoring your child’s choices and also available to answer any questions or concerns they may have.
Learn Acronyms and Other Sneaky Apps
We all want to think our kids have the best intentions, but they can always be sneaky. As a result, it’s vital that you be as informed as possible about what’s going on in the internet world.
For starters, try to pay attention to new trends. For example, Tik Tok has exploded recently among teenagers. When you see a new trend emerging, find out from your child what they know and how interested they are in it so you can do your own research and identify any potential risk.
It’s also smart to learn about apps and other services kids can use to hide their online activity from you. Doing so might not always indicate bad behavior, but it’s suspicious. For example, Audio Manager, Calculator%, and Vaulty are all apps that allow your kids to hide their online activities. There are also plenty of others out there.
Lastly, it might be smart to educate yourself on how kids talk online, mainly the acronyms they use. These change a lot, with new ones emerging all the time, and if you’re not familiar with them, they can look like another language. Here are some of the most common, but remember to always be on the lookout for more:
Use Parental Controls When Needed
If you’re finding it difficult to get your kids to follow the rules you’ve established, one thing you can do is use parental controls. These can help you block specific sites or types of content, keep your kids offline during certain times, limit what they can see/share, and more.
In general, we promote using these only after problems, as we think it’s more important to establish good habits and trust than strict controls.
Look For Signs of Abuse and Suspicious Behavior
It’s important that you are attentive to your child’s behavior, as this will help clue you into any issues. For example, if kids are trying to hide what they’re doing, acting withdrawn, or getting anxious about things that used not to worry them, they may be getting into some trouble online. Perhaps they have become victims of something such as cyberbullying.
If you do spot these behaviors, be sure to approach your children gently, as they may be suffering. From there, hopefully, you can start a dialogue that will help them stay safe against the many dangers that are out there.
Keep Your Kids Safe Online
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to worry about our kids when they go online. But due to its vastness and unregulated nature, the internet is full of stuff that can do serious harm to your child. However, this doesn’t mean you need to hold them back. Implement some or all of these policies, rules, and suggestions while working hard to maintain an open and honest dialogue and feel confident that, in doing so, you are preparing your children for a safe and rewarding online experience.