My 2 year old grandson puts me to shame. Under the watchful eye of his parents, he can find his own folder on the iPad, select the program he wants, and play it. I didn’t touch a computer until I was an adult! Children today have grown up using computers, smartphones and tablets, and by now it’s second nature to them. However, although they may be totally comfortable with finding their way around all this new technology, they don’t have the maturity and life skills required to handle some of the wider implications of seamless online access. Of course, we want our kids to use technology—their future careers will almost certainly depend on it—but how can we nurture their skills whilst protecting them from its dangers? These seven tips will help you to find the right balance.
1. Know about age-appropriate recommendations
Naturally, your approach to staying safe online will depend on the age of your child, and it’s best to be well prepared by beginning as soon as possible. Take a look around the internet and find out what are the recommendations for each age range, exploring issues like how much time they should spend using technology and what they should be able to access. Be careful to limit their access to films and games that are certified for their age.
2. Use your wi-fi settings wisely
Most wi-fi providers build parental control systems into their hardware so that you can limit access to adult material or other unsuitable content. Some will allow you to set time restrictions too, e.g. only family-friendly access before 9pm. You may need to compromise on this if you have children of widely varying ages, but if so then it’s smart to discuss responsible use with your older kids and closely supervise your younger ones. Be aware that other settings aren’t likely to have such restrictions, so letting your kids browse in the local coffee shop could throw up some surprises!
3. Set a family code
Make sure everyone feels as though you’re setting a family code rather than simply limiting what the kids are allowed to do. Discuss matters together, and agree on some basic rules that everyone must follow—including you! For example, you might agree that there will be no devices at the dinner table. Set time limits for use (based on guidance for the age of your child), and encourage them to do plenty of other activities as well. You could even plan a ‘device-free’ activity once a week.
4. Talk to your kids
Communication is everything here, and you want your kids to understand that you’re both protecting them from possible dangers and also training them how to keep themselves safe when they’re old enough to fly solo. Explain the types of problems they may encounter online, and make sure they know what to do in difficult situations (such as finding a pornographic site unexpectedly). Further, make it clear they can come to you without condemnation if they make a mistake.
5. Discuss personal safety
Over time, train your kids in the important aspects of maintaining personal safety online. They should know the essentials, such as setting passwords to limit access to their accounts and keeping these passwords a secret—even from their best buddies. Discourage them from leaving their devices where someone else can use them, and emphasize that they should always log out of accounts so no one can impersonate them.
6. Explain the significance of online presence
Kids need to know that what they post on the internet is there forever and will be associated with them ad infinitum. Tell them that future college recruiters and employers can often access information they’ve posted, and that people have sometimes been fired for unwise postings. Sexting, unsuitable photos, or ill-judged comments can all come back to haunt them and could get them in trouble with the law. They should also be wary of posting very personal information online, as this could make them vulnerable.
Lastly—but equally importantly—cyberbullying is becoming increasingly frequent, sometimes with tragic consequences. Talk frequently with your children to help them understand they should always behave as they’d want to be treated, and stress that the internet does not make them anonymous. Be sure they also know what to do if they’re the victim—they don’t need to suffer in silence.