Kids grow up these days with tablets in their hands, and access to electronic toys and computers at a very young age. And while you might monitor their usage for a while and set up parental controls to manage what they can access and how much time they spend online, at some point, you might decide that it’s time to trust your kids and give them unrestricted access to the Internet.
It’s a scary undertaking especially when you consider that, while the Internet is home to a wealth of educational information and can be a great resource, it also contains lots of filth, fake news, inappropriate content, and dangerous people lurking behind their keyboards.
But let’s face it: we can’t shelter our children. And today, the Internet is a big part of our world.
With that said, there are 10 things you can instill in your children before letting them run free on the world wide web.
10 Limit Time They Spend
Stress the importance of limiting their time on the Internet, and with electronic devices, period. While you might allow your child to have a computer in his room and take off the parental control features that allow you to block Internet access, you still want them to recognize that they need to use it sparingly.
Using the Internet to help with school work, conduct research, and spend a bit of time on social media, streaming music or videos, and surfing the web is fine. But locking yourself in your room for hours on end while you are online is not right. And that will be grounds to revoke the privileges.
9 Don’t Post Private Information
If your child is old enough to have a social media account, chat in online forums, or create and post YouTube videos, and you have given them permission to do so, that’s great. But make sure they are mindful of the things they post. If they appear on camera, or they are talking with people they don’t know personally in online gaming forums, for example, make sure they know not to disclose details like where they live, their last name or birthday, what school they go to, and so on.
Beyond putting their own selves at risk, doing so can also put the parents at risk as scammers and thieves could use the details to break into the parents’ accounts and steal things like credit card information. It isn’t just for their safety, but yours as well.
8 Don’t Access Adult Websites
Even “unrestricted” access to the Internet for kids should still involve blocking inappropriate adult websites. While it’s impossible to block everything, you should put filters on their computers and devices that prevent them from accessing websites with adult content.
But beyond that, have the talk with them that if they are curious about something, they can talk to you, an older sibling or family member, teacher, or guidance counselor. And let them know that there’s a lot of damaging and disturbing content on the web and they should avoid going down that rabbit hole.
7 Note You Will Check Browsing History
You don’t want to make your kids feel like you are breathing down their necks and watching their every move. But let them know that, since they are still children living under your roof, you will be checking their browsing history every now and then. And while you’re at it, make sure that they accept you as a friend on social media, even if you’re using an alias so their friends don’t know it’s you.
Don’t make it a scheduled thing, but let them know that at any moment, while they are home, you might decide to check. This prevents them from being able to run and delete the history before you get there. And it gives you some added peace-of-mind that they’re just researching silly things kids look up, and details for school projects and not up to no good.
6 Warn Them About Accepting Friend Requests
Having a social media account to connect with friends, family, and acquaintances is fine. But make sure your child never accepts a friend request from someone they don’t know. Explain to them how the world wide web works, and that people can mask who they really are through fake profiles, fake photos, and made up details.
It might look like a nice, young 16-year-old boy from a neighbouring town who’s trying to connect, but it might really be a 65-year-old predator in his basement preying on kids. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and stick to connecting with the friends they know, and new friends they meet in person first.
5 Computer Viruses Exist
Educate them on computer viruses, spyware, and malware and the various ways they can make their way onto a computer or even mobile device. This includes visiting questionable websites, clicking on links from unknown sources in messages and e-mails, unknowingly installing infected programs or apps, and more.
While you might give them unrestricted access to the Internet, make sure they never open e-mails from unknown sources, and ask permission before downloading any software or installing any new programs. And install an anti-virus program on the computer and mobile devices for added security.
4 Don’t Believe Everything They Read
Older kids might scour the web for news and take information they read in blogs and social posts as gospel. Tell them not to believe everything they read, and to rely on reputable sources to verify news, not someone’s underground blog or Tweet.
Teach them how to check sources, what news websites to trust, and how to take everything they read with a grain of salt and do their own research before coming to conclusions about important issues. Encourage them to read several news sources as well to understand how a single story can be skewed in different directions based on slant and bias.
3 Never Open E-mail Attachments From Unknown Senders
Chances are your child probably doesn’t even use e-mail (what’s that?) But on the off chance they do, inform them about how legitimate and believable e-mail scams can look. Make sure they never open attachments or click on links in e-mails, or even instant messages, from unknown senders.
If it looks like a message from the bank or an old friend but seems suspicious, have them forward it to you, or show you. These days, however, kids are far savvier than their parents when it comes to online safety. So they’ll probably realize before you do that the e-mail should just go straight to the trash.
2 Remind Them That You Can’t Delete Something From the Internet
Kids love to post to social media, whether it’s mundane updates, funny photos, selfies, and more. But remind them that nothing can ever be wiped clean from the Internet, and the things they post today can and will impact their lives later. A questionable Tweet or inappropriate photo, for example, could prevent them from getting the job they want, or enrolling their child in a particular preschool 10 years from now.
Show them stories of people who have been denied entry into prestigious schools, fired from their jobs, or alienated by their friends and family due to things they posted online in their younger days.
1 Teach Them About Online Predators and Cyberbullies
Online predators and cyberbullies are abundant online, and come in all forms, lurking on all kinds of websites, social media sites, chat rooms, and gaming platforms. Remind your kids that a seemingly innocent gaming partner might not be who they seem, or a sweet-looking person who just wants to connect on Facebook to make new friends might be after more or taking on a fake identity to get it.
Also make sure they are aware that if someone they don’t know, or even someone they know, is engaging in cyberbullying, they should let you know immediately.