While the Internet can be a great tool to keep children entertained, inform them, and even educate them, it can also put them at risk of being exposed to inappropriate and potentially dangerous content.
From online predators who prey on children to explicit or violent videos, there are dangers lurking online that parents must know how to prevent or mitigate.
Use these tips to ensure that your child stays safe when using the Internet, no matter what they’re doing or where they’re playing.
Set Time Limits on Devices
It’s no secret that too much screen time isn’t great for kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests a two-hour limit per day. Parents can encourage their children to do other things by implementing a house rule.
When everyone is finished using their devices at night, they have an agreed-upon amount of time (the agreed-upon amount could be another hour) before turning off all electronics for the night. Explain why it is important and enforce consequences if necessary.
Use Parental Controls
Setting limits on what your kids can and can’t access online is a great way to protect them—and their friends.
Parental controls are not just about setting time limits (such as making sure you know what movies they’re watching) but also monitoring usage and educating yourself on apps and websites.
For example, you might want to check which games your kid plays online or determine if they’re hanging out with people who aren’t appropriate. Smartphones now come equipped with parental controls that make it easy for parents to set these boundaries—you can even shut off internet access completely until you hand over your device.
Establish Screen Free Zones
One of parents’ biggest challenges is setting rules that work with their kids’ lives. A good rule of thumb? Establish screen-free zones.
Your home and car are two good places to start—your kids should be free from screens when they’re eating dinner or when they’re riding in a vehicle. Make these rules (and any others you set) clear and consistent so your kids know what’s expected of them.
Tell them that you only want them using screens as an occasional reward—not every single waking moment—so it becomes something special rather than just something that happens all day long.
And always talk with your kids about what you see going on in their life: Did they meet someone new at school? Did someone say something upsetting?
Be Open About Internet Use
One of your primary goals as a parent should be educating your children about internet safety. One important rule is that you must be an active participant in your child’s online activity.
You can’t just put parental controls on their devices and then walk away—that’s not how it works! Too many parents simply don’t understand what their kids are looking at online, or why they want to look at those things.
Don’t forget that even if you set restrictions on what sites they can visit, you still need to know where they are going so you can ensure they aren’t getting into trouble.
Stay Connected To Your Kids’ Digital Lives
These days, it can feel like we’re living parallel digital lives. But at home—with kids in constant contact with friends through social media and text messaging—we rarely know what they’re saying or doing online.
To keep your kids safe online, you’ll need to know how their digital lives look from a birds-eye view.
Try using an app like Circle or OurPact that lets you monitor your child’s device usage across all platforms (Android and iOS), whether they have smartphones or gaming consoles.
Install a parental control software
A great way to keep an eye on your kid’s web use is by installing parental control software. Available as both standalone applications and add-ons for browsers like Chrome and Firefox, these apps can filter out questionable websites and ensure that your child isn’t exposed to inappropriate content or advertisements.
A key feature of these tools is also time management—they make sure kids spend only a certain amount of time online each day or week. Make sure you read up on which free version works best with your browser before taking the plunge!
Check out the application settings
You can now share screen time with your kids and even set a timer on how long they can use an app. These settings are all located in App Limits on your family’s shared iPad or iPhone (you’ll need to be running iOS 12).
You might want to place a soft cap on gaming apps if you notice that your kid plays too many games; it might just lead them down a rabbit hole of in-app purchases.
And don’t let your kids delete their screen time history: Go into Screen Time, scroll down and select Reset all Screen Time Data. This will bring up a confirmation window, but once you select yes it’ll erase all their activity so only you can see it.
Download an ad-blocker
If your child is spending hours in front of a screen every day, you should set some limits. One way to do that is by installing an ad-blocker on his or her computer.
Because ads are one of those ways sites make money, blocking them may make those sites less attractive to your kids—so they may spend less time online.
(It also means less distraction while they’re working on homework.) Be aware that if your kids have smartphones with web access and unlimited data plans, then they can still bypass ad-blockers through their browsers.
In addition, not all ad-blockers protect against other risks like phishing attacks—so be sure to use a parental control software program as well if you choose to go down this route.
Download an anti-virus
What is worth knowing about internet safety? The last decade has seen a rapid proliferation of information and communication technologies.
Today’s kids have grown up in a world of instant access and Google. Along with all these opportunities come potential dangers—both online and offline. Parental supervision alone won’t make your children 100% safe online (or anywhere else), but it will ensure they make healthy choices that can save them from risky behaviors in a future when they’re on their own.
Remember that as you research different internet safety options, particularly those geared toward kids; evaluating internet safety services always needs to be a team effort between you and your children or students. Regardless of what solution you choose, set rules together: no devices at meals, no phones at bedtime, etc.
Protecting your kids online requires ongoing vigilance. The first and most important step is setting rules and sticking to them. If you set rules but don’t enforce them, then you are no better than those people who have broken into your child’s account and started conversations with total strangers. Parental monitoring tools like Circle can help with that.
As a bonus: when you know what your kid is doing online (and even more importantly who they are talking to), you also know if they need help or guidance that might not be readily available through their friends or social circle (e.g., mental health issues). Some great advice from Carter and others on how best to tackle internet safety without ruining family time – now that’s an excellent digital parenting skillset!