The U.S. Department of Education (2019 data) reveals that a significant majority of children, approximately 94%, within the age range of 3 to 18, engage with the Internet. Surprisingly, even preschoolers aged 3 to 4, accounting for around 39%, are part of this online population. When preschoolers venture into the digital realm, we observe a substantial 86% access the Internet from the comfort of their homes, while only 31% do so within school premises.
The majority of grown-ups recognize the potential benefits of the Internet in facilitating children’s communication with acquaintances and educational exploration. Nevertheless, the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry highlights various hazards children encounter while accessing the online sphere. Some of these risks include:
- Content containing offensive language, promoting violence, or exploiting sexuality in an inappropriate manner.
- Content that is intentionally confusing or deceiving.
- Being exposed to inapt or unnecessary advertising.
- The lure of sharing personal details with unknown individuals due to promises of joining exclusive groups or winning prizes.
- Missing out on opportunities to develop offline social skills.
- Harassment or bullying experienced by unfamiliar individuals or peers in the online sphere.
How Can Children Stay Safe Online?
So, what steps can we take to make sure the time ahead does not expose our kids to more online risks? We begin by openly and honestly discussing with our children about staying safe on the Internet (even if they react indifferently). It’s a fact: The strength of your family’s online security is determined by the weakest link in your family when it comes to internet safety. If even one family member neglects online safety, it puts the security of your entire family at risk. Hence it is crucial to read up and stay informed on related issues. Fortunately, there are various online resources for kids from which you can benefit.
7 Essential Tips for Keeping Kids Safe on the Internet
- Have an open conversation about online content: It’s important to acknowledge that your older children may have encountered inappropriate material while browsing the web. For example, CyberGhost’s Internet safety guide proposes such online threats be discussed as online grooming, the bad actors that befriend minors in social media to exploit them. Also, children online are exposed to not appropriate content, especially when they join some platforms before reaching the minimum age. By discussing your family’s values and expectations regarding acceptable content, you can help minimize their exposure to such material. Remember, even seemingly “disappearing” Snapchat or deleted content can be captured through screenshots, so it’s crucial to understand that nothing shared online is truly private. If you want an extra layer of supervision, you may consider incorporating parental control software into your overall internet safety strategy.
- Prioritize password and software maintenance: Given the current circumstances, we have ample opportunity to focus on finer aspects. Take the time to review and update passwords across personal and family devices. Additionally, ensure that device software and applications are up to date to safeguard children from potential external threats.
- Foster a healthy balance between life and technology: Children can easily consume their entire day browsing, scrolling, and indulging in YouTube or TikTok content. It is crucial to establish boundaries to encourage positive technology habits. Consider implementing screen time limits, scheduling device breaks, designating specific phone-free zones (such as the dinner table, movie time, and bedtime), and using software that enables time restrictions.
- Embrace a guiding role on the Internet: Yoda was wise to emphasize that great power entails great accountability. By consistently instilling in children the value of being supportive online, we can help mitigate numerous online hazards. Encouraging empathy, respect, tolerance, and compassion fosters a safer digital realm for all individuals.
- Tackle the influence of peers: Children who possess electronic devices may feel inclined to share imprudent and personal photographs with their trusted friends. However, these photos can be circulated or exploited for bullying or coercion when friendships sour. Engage your child in a conversation about the pressures they may encounter online and guide them on how to respond appropriately.
- Be cautious of fraudulent activities: Have regular conversations about the various ways in which deceptive schemes can occur, including attempts like phishing, malware attacks, catfishing, spreading false information, and using enticing headlines to manipulate clicks.
- Avoid adding unknown individuals as friends: Individuals with malicious intent, particularly those targeting minors, often create fake social media profiles to establish connections with children. As a result, children may unintentionally disclose personal information, daily routines, and whereabouts and even agree to meet offline with individuals they’ve only encountered online. Discuss these potentially dangerous situations and educate your child about such individuals’ manipulative strategies. Monitor your child’s social circles and remain vigilant about messaging apps like WhatsApp.