How To Teach Internet Safety To Children

Chances are your children are computer literate and are more confident than ever when it comes to using the internet. They might use it to watch videos, play games, connect with friends and family, or do their school work. What is more, they will use the internet over a variety of devices from smartphones to PCs. 

As your children, age, and their digital confidence grow they will become more independent online. They will be using the internet without supervision, which while they are perfectly capable of doing so could pose a potential risk to their online safety. To help put your mind at ease and to better educate your children on how to stay safe while online consider the below practical precautions you can take. This should help limit their exposure to potentially harmful content or activities all the while allowing them to get the most out of their online experience.

Knowing the risks 

First and foremost it is crucial to fully understand what potential risks you are seeking to protect your children from. 

  1. Communication 

There is a potentially serious risk to children when it comes to communicating online. Typically this is a result of children connecting with and communicating with other people that they do not know. As a result, children may be inclined to trust the words of the stranger behind the screen and overshare information that could put them in danger.

  1. Content 

Children may inadvertently or purposefully stumble upon content that is inappropriate for their age with potentially harmful consequences. 

  1. Behavioral 

Children could become the victim of inappropriate or harmful behavior of others or they could find themselves behaving in inappropriate or potentially unacceptable ways to others. They could also put themselves or you at financial risk by spending money unknowingly on games and in-app purchases, or signing up for contracts without fully understanding or consideration. Finally, another behavioral risk is not practicing or being aware of basic internet safety such as being aware of suspicious links in emails or inputting personal information on untrusted sites. 

Knowing where these risks occur 

Once you know the risks out there, it is a good idea to understand where your children are likely to be exposed to these risks. There is more to internet safety than avoiding ‘bad or untrusted websites. Children need to understand that exposure to risks can happen when they least expect it. Playing online games, chat rooms, and social networking sites all pose a potential risk to online safety. Further, children with email access or smartphones need to be aware of the risks that a suspicious email or unknown text could pose.

Protecting children from risk 

There are lots of different ways you can seek to protect your children online and here is a list of some of the practices you can adopt. 

  • Be an expert yourself or at least learn as much as you can. The more you know about the internet, how it works and the potential pitfalls the better placed you will be to not only understand the risks but to be able to talk to your children about it and advise them. 
  • Set boundaries. While children may want to push boundaries and not be subject to the limitations they impose the ironic truth about boundaries is that children need them. Not only do they need them, but they will also (eventually) respect you for setting them and the boundary itself. It is important that your children know the rules, what is expected of them and what their online limitations are. Don’t wait for something bad to happen before you impose any restrictions. When it comes to setting boundaries, imposing limits on screen time is another beneficial boundary to help keep your children safe online.
  • Teach them the importance of private information and basic safety precautions. As an adult, you know the importance of keeping some information private. You know the risks that are associated with your credit card details falling into the wrong hands or hackers gaining access to your passwords or online accounts. Your children are never too young to know the importance of this either. If they know how to use the internet they should know to create a strong password or that they shouldn’t disclose personal information such as their address or date of birth. Spend some time educating them on the importance of privacy and look for the best password managers to help protect their (and your) online accounts).
  • Use child-friendly search engines such as Kiddle and child-friendly content providers such as YouTube Kids. These should only allow for age-appropriate content to be provided, limiting the exposure of your children. If they want to use messaging services then opt for child-friendly messaging apps such as Messenger Kids. These are all designed with keeping your children safe online as the priority.
  • Vet your children’s online activities. Talk with your children about the games that they are playing, the websites they are visiting, and the videos they are watching online to gauge whether it is age-appropriate for them. 
  • Where you can be near or with your children when they are online. This may be harder the older your children get, but while they are still young enough if they are using it in your presence it will be easier for you to keep an eye on what they are exposing themselves to.
  • Check the privacy and location settings on your children’s devices and accounts. If they have parental controls be sure to use them.
  • If you have family accounts for streaming services then allow your child their own account. Usually, you can set parental controls and age-appropriate restrictions on streaming services such as Netflix. This should then limit the potential for exposure to inappropriate content. 
  • Ensure your children know and understand that the people they talk to online may not be who they say they are. 
  • Block in-app purchases and disable one-click payment options. Some devices and software providers have limits on downloads for children’s accounts. Apple for example has an ‘Ask Parent’ function which means that your child is unable to download anything without first sending a notification to your devices asking permission.
  • Promote conversation. Always try and talk openly with your children about what they are doing online and encourage them to talk to you should they have any questions or concerns. 

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