Internet Safety for Kids: Teaching Kids How to Be Safe Online
As kids grow older and start using computers and mobile devices, parents become more and more concerned about their safety while going online. And they have every reason to do so. However magical and useful the internet world may be, there is a great number of dangers that lurk online for young kids. Internet risks for children fall into three categories: content risks (kids being exposed to content that is harmful for them, such as violent scenes, pornography, etc), contact risks (kids communicating with strangers, providing personal information to them or even agree to meet them) and conduct risks (e.g. being a cyberbully or a victim of cyberbullying, making accidental in-app purchases, etc). Luckily, a lot of tools have been developed in order to ensure internet safety for kids, but how can you ensure that your kids will be safe online even if they are not at home?
Teaching your kids to be conscious about what their doing online
It may sound difficult and a little perplexing, but teaching your kids to be conscious about their online behavior is not very different from teaching them how to be conscious when walking on the street. You talk to them explaining the rules and what they should be cautious about, you explain the rules in practice when you go out with them and most of all you watch your own behavior, because you know kids will follow your example. So, when and how should you start talking about internet safety for kids with your little one?
As far as age is concerned, the sooner the better. Especially when kids start school and they are more likely to go online when they are not at home, they should know how to make good use of the internet. Start by making a discussion with them. Explain that the internet is a great tool that helps us find a lot of information and keep in touch with our friends, but as with everything else, there are some rules we should all follow to be safe. Inform them about the possible online dangers and advise them on what to do. You may feel a little uncomfortable talking to your little ones about violence or pornography, but it is of utmost importance that they are able to recognize what is harmful for them and know what to do if they happen to come across such content.
View this as another chance to strengthen your trust relationship with your kids. Make calm conversations ensuring them that they can tell you anything without being afraid that they will get scolded or punished. They should feel that you will always be there to help and that there is nothing to worry about if they come to you.
What you should talk about
First of all, you should remember that the conversation about internet safety for kids is always open and ongoing. There are many factors you should talk about with your kids, but this does not mean that you should overwhelm with information. You can pick a topic a time or even be occasioned by a movie you watched or an incident you heard to start a conversation. So here are some of the things you should talk about:
- Sharing personal information and photos online
Sometimes going online while in the comfort and safety of our house creates a delusion that what we share online remains private. Kids may also feel that it is ok to share personal information online, especially when talking to friends, so you should make sure that they understand that once they post something online, they can never be sure who is going to end up having access to this information or how they are going to use it. Make clear that they should never share personal information, contact details, personal photos, etc, online, even when chatting with a friend, since a single screenshot is enough to lose control of who’s viewing them. Clarify that their password is included in the info not to be shared with anyone except you.
- Being aware of their digital footprint
Another important thing you should help children realize is that everything they post is out there forever. Kids act impulsively by nature and this is their way to learn the world. However, they need to think twice before posting something online, since this will be their digital footprint. So, before posting something that seems funny and harmless at the time, ask them to think: “Would my parents be okay with it? Would I want my grandchildren to see it in the future?”
It is sometimes difficult for kids to realize that written language is not the same as oral language. You should let them know that they should be super kind when talking to their friends online, because written language can be misinterpreted and they may hurt a friend, even if they do not mean to. Make clear that there are real people behind those screens and your kid should never say anything they would not say to someone face-to-face even if they see other people in the chat doing so.
At the other end of the spectrum, you should inform that there are moments online when people say and write things they do not mean. So, if somebody says something nasty about them, they should never get into discussion with that person. Show them that you trust them and that you will be waiting for them to come to you for help.
- Being exposed to upsetting or uncomfortable content
As in real world, kids can also be exposed to all kinds of content online and they should be prepared to recognize the danger and know what to do to protect themselves. Let them know that they may come across images or videos that are not suitable for their age and in that case they should turn to you or another adult they trust for help.
- Online scams and pop-ups
While surfing on the internet, kids will come across various pop-ups and online scams that promise to give them a prize if they fill a form with their personal data or if they click a specific link. Such pop-ups seem very attractive to little kids, however they should know that they should never fall for these things and they should ask an adult for help if they cannot get rid of them.
Internet safety for kids in practice!
As said before, your actions speak louder than your words, so be sure to show your kids what is the safest way to use internet. Let them watch you while you search for info online and use any ads, pop-ups or fill in forms that you may encounter to show them in practice what they should do. Show them what type of sites they are allowed to visit and how they can set a safe password. And don’t forget! Kids mirror your behavior, so if you want them to follow specific rules, you should follow them first!