Parents spend a lot of time thinking about how to keep their kids safe, this simply comes with the territory. Today with people spending more and more time online or on their smartphones, it only makes sense this dynamic applies to digital safety as well.
What can you do to help keep your kids safe in the digital age? Well, in the following we will attempt to answer this question and provide some actionable tips that you can follow.
How you approach this will no doubt be affected by a variety of factors such as your child’s age, your sense of what is right/wrong and your level of technology fluency. Regardless of these variables all of the following are foundational “best practices” you can apply to help improve your child’s safety.
Without further ado…
Don’t wait for problems to crop up, get out in front of them. How exactly should you be proactive? Well there are many different approaches that can be taken but two fundamental ones are…
- Block sites — Kids don’t even necessarily need to be looking for inappropriate or adult content online to stumble across it. Make sure this does not happen by blocking sites that you don’t want them viewing. You can do this manually, or simply install a browser plugin (recommended).
- Make sure to use a firewall — this is a good idea from a general computer safety perspective, and is a basic first step to protecting your child online. A firewall acts as a protective barrier between your machine and cyberspace. Make sure your default firewall is engaged at all times, and if you’re really concerned you can upgrade your firewall.
- Use a VPN – a VPN is not only handy when it comes to access geo-restricted content, but it also helps to protect your online privacy and makes strangers harder to find out where your child is browsing from.
Educate them from early on
There seems to be no age requirement for parents to plant their kids in front of TV, a tablet or let them play with a smartphone. This means that you should also start early educating them about how to be safe online.
They might still be using the computer with you, as opposed to on their own and this offers a great opportunity to highlight the fact that the online world parallels the real world and in that some things are safe and others aren’t.
Teach them not to trust strangers, especially ones who are offering them something, and to be cognizant of how to create a good password, general conduct, etc. Adults struggle with some of these same things, so starting early never hurts.
Set clear rules
As most parents will know, boundaries are very important. Some kids really like to push them (as far as they can). So setting appropriate ones and enforcing them is important. This can be as simple as the amount of time your child is allowed to use an electronic device all the way to the type of content you want them to be able to see.
Talk about trolling, talk about bullying, and perhaps when they get a bit older sexting. These are all very real issues that need to be clearly addressed by parents at some point.
Don’t turn into a spy
Of course, there is tracking software you could install onto your child’s computer or phone that allows you to know exactly what is going on. We don’t recommend this because it violates the trust you share with your children — and in our opinion this is more important than knowing their every move.
Instead of constant surveillance we’d recommend sporadic checking in and good communication. Kids are going to make mistakes, let them, and make sure they’re learned from. Also, your vigilance will be there to ensure whatever mistakes they do make are not too damaging. Ultimately we want kids to retain their beautiful innocence but where we used to want street-wise kids, what we need now web-wise kids.
At the end of the day we live in an insecure world and this applies to the digital world as much as it does the physical. We cannot ensure 100% safety for our kids (as much as we might want to). But of course this doesn’t mean we can’t take steps to safeguards our kids in the digital realm.
Follow some of the steps above and you’re well on your way to ensuring a relatively good degree of safety.
But the most critical thing in all of this is education. It’s mostly up to us parents to help kids develop good decision-making skills, make sure they know how to identify danger, and perhaps most important instill in them a sense of morals that guides them (and their online behavior).