Even though it may not be something you grew up with, the Internet has become an integral part of the lives of young children. Besides being used for entertainment and social connection, the Internet has now been integrated into most aspects of children’s lives, from schoolwork to social interaction to building and preparing for their future. Although it is a fantastic tool for both you and your child, a lack of supervision and education can lead to uncomfortable or even frightening situations for you or your child. To prevent these situations, here are some steps to take to educate and protect your child while they use the expansive resources on the Internet.
Step One: Be Honest and Open
Being open with your child about the dangers of the internet and how the precautions you take to protect them are meant to keep them safe is one of the most important steps in keeping your child safe. In the same way you teach your child not to wander into traffic or get into strangers’ cars you have to teach your kids what dangers are present on the internet. Many lessons that apply in the outside world apply to the Internet: don’t talk to strangers, don’t give out personal information, don’t follow or accept anything suspicious, etc. There are, however, other dangers exclusive to the Internet that both you and your child need to be educated on. To be able to effectively protect your child on the internet you should be able to openly communicate with them about dangers you discover, and they should also inform you of any dangers they find. In this digital age, children are becoming more and more tech savvy and possibly know much more than you do about the Internet, meaning you need to play catch up to be of understanding of the Internet as your child to protect them. A good place to start if you are less technology proficient than your child is to ask them to teach you what they know. This will both give you a good understanding of the Internet and begin an ongoing conversation about the Internet between you and your child.
Step Two: Know the Dangers of the Internet
This step coincides with step one as, while you learn what your child knows about the Internet and what experience they’ve had, you need to educate yourself about what possible dangers they could find. If your child is too young to have had any experience with the Internet, then this is where you should begin in planning to keep your child safe on the Internet. There are many dangers that your child may face while browsing the Internet, including dangerous strangers, malicious software/websites, and unprotected marketplaces, among many others. If you know the dangers, then you can find different ways to protect against them. Alongside the dangers, you must also be able to recognize the signs that your child may be in danger.
The danger that is likely most concerning to you is protecting your child from malicious strangers on the Internet. This danger is, unfortunately, far more common than it should be and can be difficult to protect your child against without completely restricting their Internet access. These people, looking to take advantage of your child in some way, can (and will) create fake profiles and make themselves as approachable as possible to lure your child in, gain their trust by showing interest in your child and being friendly, and then begin taking what they want from your child (money, favors, etc.). Some signs to watch for to know if your child is possibly being taken advantage of may include sudden changes in mood or behavior (being more secretive, seeming tense or burdened, etc.), getting on the Internet at the same time every day, and possibly drastic mood swings after using the Internet. This last sign may not indicate danger; if your child is incredibly happy after being on the Internet, they may have just found a great video or finished a project. They may also be on the path to being taken advantage of by someone they’ve met. This is where being open and conversing about the Internet is important, as this allows you to ask your child questions and voice your concerns without causing a defensive reaction. Making sure your child never feels scared or uncomfortable to talk about the Internet with you is incredibly important in keeping your child safe.
Another danger on the Internet concerns malicious software. This software can be designed to steal personal information from your child’s computer, damage the computer’s files and make it unusable, or simply to aggravate whoever downloads the software with popups or by slowing down the computer. These dangers aren’t always easy to spot but are generally avoidable. There are many resources on the Internet documenting dangerous sites to be avoided. Providing this information to your child will greatly help in keeping them safe and keeping their computer in working order. Making sure your child knows to never follow suspicious links on social media or in their email also helps avoid downloading malicious software.
Step Three: Preventing Danger
As you educate yourself and make sure you and your child can communicate openly about the Internet and its dangers, you can begin preventing dangerous situations for your child on the internet. There are many ways to help protect your child on the Internet through prevention, including supervision, blocking websites/content you don’t want them exposed to, and confirming they understand the dangers and what to watch out for and avoid to stay safe. This step is really where the open line of communication becomes incredibly important. Without trust and communication about the internet between you and your child they may want to seek out the dangers you’ve tried to warn them against. Making sure, especially as they grow older and more mature, that your child understands that what you do prevent danger for them is to protect them then they will have a much safer and more enjoyable time on the Internet.
Supervision can range from sitting with your child as they browse the internet to using programs like Net Nanny or Open DNS that allow you to limit your child’s access to different parts of the internet. These programs are available at a variety or prices and manageability levels, so you have many choices when deciding how you want to supervise your child’s internet access. These programs can block access to certain websites, categories of content, and will also report on what sites your child is visiting. Popup blockers and malware detectors, such as Norton or McAfee, are also good programs to install to avoid malicious software.
Some ideas to keep your child aware of the dangers could include quizzing them on different topics before allowing them to us the Internet or giving them more Internet time for each correct answer. Making sure your child stays aware of the dangers of the Internet, especially just before they access it, will greatly help them to avoid dangers and make their time on the Internet fun and give you peace of mind. You will also become educated yourself in the process and not make the same mistakes your child might. Keep in mind: communication is key in protecting your child on the Internet.