The internet has revolutionized our lives in countless ways. But as any parent knows, keeping your kids safe online is a constant concern. If you’ve wondered what steps you can take to limit your children’s exposure to harmful content, we can help. As it turns out, there are tons of companies working on this problem. Some help parents control what their kids view. Others are aimed more toward education. But they all have one thing in common: keeping your kids safe online.
Aside from expert help, parents can win the war at home one battle at a time. Negative influences will always be there. But parents can be a good example and set logical rules. Follow the steps in our guide to help your children make good decisions online.
Keeping your kids safe online can seem like an overwhelming task
But you are not alone. Parents have dealt with the same worries and frustrations for decades. Of course, the issue has become much more serious in recent years. As more devices than ever are linking to the internet, kids have more opportunities than ever to find trouble. At the root of it all, though, is a basic parenting concept. Keeping your kids safe online is in many ways the same as keeping your kids safe anywhere else. You want to minimize the risk of harm while maximizing any benefit. And let’s be honest, there is plenty of upside to web access. Striking that delicate balance in any situation can be tricky. The first step in that process starts with you.
Make sure your kids know you’re watching
Just like you wouldn’t give them the keys to the car without rules, the web needs limits. Even many adults can tell you it is easy to fall victim to bad influences online. So be honest, and always hold them accountable. This can play out in a number of ways, and we recommend a combination of all (or most) of them. By using as many tools as possible, you have the best chance of keeping your kids safe online.
- Keep your eyes on their screens – You don’t always need to look over their shoulder for them to know you can see them. Keep your kids honest by moving computer and smartphone use out of their rooms. Depending on a child’s age and maturity, it might make sense to keep all web browsing to a central location.
- Don’t give them an unlimited pass – This can apply to both time limits and site blockers. Both are useful tools in limiting exposure — and reliance — on the internet. Your kids are going to get online fast and often enough as it is. While you have the biggest influence, teach them the importance of life offline.
- Follow up – In addition to letting them know you’re watching, you might want to mention you’ll be performing a postmortem. While you can block some problem sites pretty easily, it might not cover everything. Checking a browser history is an easy way to see if your kids are following the rules. While you can always use this information to correct behavior, it can also be an opportunity to reward smart choices.
Use all the tools at your disposal
There are plenty of site blocking software options available. But we recommend using those as a crutch instead of a cure. The point of keeping your kids safe online when they’re young is to see it pay off later. And by setting a positive example early and often, you can lead your kids in the right direction. This will probably mean you will have to adjust your own internet use.
If you’re like most Americans, you’re on some web-connected device throughout the day. If you’re trying to teach your kids not to be consumed, you might want to reflect on your habits. Do your children complain that you spend too much time on your phone or laptop? Be honest with yourself here. In all likelihood, taking your own regular breaks from the web will likely benefit both you and your kids.
But when they are online, make sure you have all the facts. This could include software that gives you a full list of every site your child visited. Our advice is to use these resources sparingly. If your kids are giving you no other reason to suspect unwanted behavior, you probably still want to check. Going to them with every minor issue, though, might make them more likely to go around your site blockers. Let’s face it: Kids are going to test the boundaries. And if you bug them all the time about tiny things, they’ll probably find another way to get online behind your back.
Honesty is the most important thing
Setting clear boundaries and letting your kids know what you’re doing is key. And let them know that there are real dangers behind the screens of their devices. This could include anything from bullying to sexual exploitation. All it takes is one visit to the wrong site or a click on someone’s profile. We don’t recommend scaring your children, of course. They should know that the internet is full of information and entertainment.
The web’s dark side is real, and kids need to understand that. But every child is different and reacts to information differently. That’s why it is up to every parent to respond to individual needs. You’re in the best position to know when your kids are ready to handle the really serious stuff.
Keep things on their level, but being open about the good and bad possibilities of the web will put your kids on the right path. When they start browsing, this might start with lessons about keeping their personal information private. Sharing pictures, names and addresses can lead to danger quickly, and your kids should know that. We already warn them about trusting strangers in the real world. Keeping your kids safe online means you’ll need to be just as vigilant about protecting them from those very real threats.
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