What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
For many of us, we grab our phone and take a quick glance at the home screen to see any news headlines we missed or important messages. You are checking for information from the internet. Checking the internet is what our kids do first thing in the morning, too.
It’s hard to believe how quickly technology has changed. I completed high school and college without the internet. Back then, Cell phones were still big, clunky and expensive. When I was in college, “the internet” was just beginning to be talked about. From the super slow dial-up connections my kids can’t imagine (and we all prefer to forget) to lightning fast 5G Internet in the palm of your hand, we have a generation of kids that were born knowing nothing but life with cell phones, tablets, and internet-connected computers. With the explosion of information on the internet, internet safety for kids is more important than ever.
For our kids, the internet has replaced TV as a top entertainment and information source. One of my children rarely watches TV and hardly ever watches a full movie. The internet and the massive amount of information available are overwhelming for kids who are not able to filter this information and don’t always know online safety for kids.
I could write many rules and online safety recommendations, but I am going to focus on 10 key ways to keep your kids safe online.
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Smart Mom Guide to Internet Safety for Kids
Never Share Your Personal Information
Younger children don’t understand personal information should not be shared online or on websites. They just visit a website or app and it says enter an email address to play the game.
At what age should kids have their own email is for another blog post, but if your kids use one of your email addresses or have their own, they still need to understand when it’s okay to share this information and other personal information like their name and birthday.
Teach your kids to protect personal information and to get permission before sharing any type of personal information on the Internet even to play a game or download an app.
Don’t Talk to Strangers
Kids love to play interconnected video games on their Xbox, PlayStation, tablets and cell phones. Many times they will be playing with a group of friends, but often these games are open and other people they don’t know will be playing too. Just like we teach young children to never talk to strangers in stores or public places, we need to remind our kids not to speak to strangers on the internet.
Understanding who a stranger is on the internet can be challenging. Because, you can’t see your friends, just their avatars. Remind them to recognize screen names from talking to each other in person, not guessing screen names online. Teach them bad people might pretend to be their friends when they are not their friends.
One additional category of “strangers” online are friends of friends. Many times we think it’s okay to friend someone because they are the friend of a friend. But we don’t know this person and we don’t know that our friend actually knows them. I teach my kids do not speak to or be friends with “friends of friends”. If you don’t know the person “in real life”, you don’t know them. Never agree to meet a person you have only met on the internet.
Everything on the Internet Lasts Forever
Kids don’t realize that everything they write or say on the internet stays with them. Forever. Most comments are connected to a social media account or email account and can easily be traced back to the person who said them.
Remind your kids that if they are commenting online, everyone on the internet can see what they are saying. Don’t say things you don’t want your mom reading (trust me, she probably will read it).
As your kids move into high school, it’s important that if they have an internet reputation (i.e. they have social media accounts), they have strong accounts with good, clean information and comments. Some colleges and universities review this data when considering students for admissions.
Learn Safe Passwords
As kids get a little older, they might use apps and programs that require passwords. From the beginning, teach them to use strong and safe passwords. Help them understand passwords like 12345 or Password123 are not safe.
We don’t want our kid’s accounts to get hacked. If they are using accounts with passwords, they need strong, safe passwords.
Additionally, they need to secure these passwords. Keep them written in a notebook or secure place.
Last, don’t use the same password for every website and app. Ideally, every app or website would have its own unique password.
Don’t Believe Everything You See
You won’t believe the “big promises” your kids can find by accident on the internet. Promises to make the top models or popular Youtubers.
Kids don’t have the discernment to recognize these are scams. Help your kids learn to recognize scams and lies. When it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Sometimes these sites will have countdown timers to make kids think they have to act right away. Just the other day, my son wanted to buy something on his Xbox, it said he only had 10 minutes to make the purchase at a special price. He wasn’t able to finish the purchase, the timer ran out and guess what, the price was still available.
Of course, if your child does stumble onto one of these sites, remind them of rule #1, never share personal information.
Additionally, help your kids recognize real news and facts from fake news and made-up stories. On the internet, it can be so hard to tell the difference. Teach your kids to question all claims of fact they see.
Never Download or Install Programs Without Your Parent
Kids frequently will click a button that says install now. When this happens, it’s usually a parent’s worst nightmare, frequently these “install now” programs, not only download the game your child wanted to play but a ton of other junk software and frequently a virus and malware too.
Teach your kids do not download anything just because it says, “click here to install” or “install now”. Parents and grown-ups should be involved when programs are added to your computers.
You can also create profiles on your computer for your kids. Then, don’t give your kids admin rights, so they can’t download software or unwanted programs.
Place Limits on Screen Time
Kids hate screen time limits. They want to play on their devices when they want to play. Sometimes, it becomes necessary to have screen time limits if your kids are not limiting their time well.
You can set all different types of limits. You could say only 2-3 hours of total screen time per day. You could say no screen time during the week (because school needs attention), you could say only after homework/schoolwork is done.
You could also use screen time to motivate your child to do what needs to be done. For example, screen time is only allowed when homework is done or chores are completed.
If you struggle with controlling screen time in your home, I suggest a device like Disney Circle to manage all your devices and all your home screen time.
Focus on Hobbies, Activities, and Interests that Don’t Involve Screen time
Too much screen time is bad for anyone, especially for kids. Help your kids have interests outside of their electronic devices. Encourage them to read books, go outside, enjoy nature and develop hobbies that don’t involve screen time.
Create Screen-Free Areas and Times in Your Home
Every family should have set times that are screen-free time or no electronic devices allowed. Dinner time at our home is one time when electronics are not allowed. No tablets, phones or computers are allowed at the dinner table. I am so strict about this rule I have even asked guests to put away their devices at my dinner table.
In addition to dinner time, you could set mornings before school and afternoons after school as screen-free times.
I would encourage a few times a week that are designated as screen-free time in your home.
Be the Best Example
The truth we all know is that kids learn by example from their parents. They learn what their parents teach them. If we constantly have a phone or electronic device in our hand, then they will need an electronic device constantly too.
Be the example you want for your kids.
Have set times you are not on your phone or tablet.
Be intentional with your time. Focus on your kids and family, not your device.
The Smart Mom Guide to Internet Safety for Kids gives you 10 simple ideas to teach your kids to be safe on the internet. With a focus on understanding the importance of privacy and not talking to strangers, creating safe passwords and keeping this information private. We also have to teach our kids the internet is forever. Once you have information on the internet, it’s hard to erase it and anyone can find it.
How do you keep your kids safe online?