Technology, interconnectedness and the Internet are now integral parts of everyone’s lives. Being a kid is fundamentally different nowadays from when we were children, and life without the Internet is unrecognizable.
Therefore, traditional parenting methods and the overall ‘fear of technology’ seen in parents is out-of-date and unhelpful. Over 69% of parents are scared of the inappropriate content available online, whereas a whopping 72% say their children are getting too much screen time.
However, too many parents are ignoring the great benefits of modern technology: with the wealth of information and entertainment breeding creativity and joy in our little ones. In this guide, we’ll give parents like you some great tips on helping your kids manage their online use for safety without inhibiting the possibilities for learning and self-development.
There is inappropriate content online, and yes, it’s easy to find
The Internet is largely uncensored. With traditional media, regulators are preventing inappropriate content from reaching the eyes of your children. In the US, the FCC prohibits any “indecent and profane” (swearing, nudity etc.) before 10 pm. On the Internet, there is no such restriction.
Well-educated kids should know not to go searching for anything inappropriate, but sometimes they may stumble across some things by accident. That’s why search filters exist.
With Google, for example, you can turn on SafeSearch. This will automatically filter out any explicit search result. You can do the same for YouTube by resorting to the YouTube Kids app. On YouTube, all creators have to tag whether or not their content is “Made for Kids”.
Should I block websites or look at their browsing history?
The main issue with parental control tools like web filters is that they are easy to bypass and can hurt your children’s trust relationship. The same goes with tracking their browsing history.
Think back to when you were a kid, and your parents told you that you couldn’t go certain places – bad areas or crowded spaces. Using parental controls is like your folks letting you play outside, but only if you or a family member followed you all the time. Yes, it’s safer – but it implies that you don’t trust your kids.
A far more effective method of ensuring your children are safe online is talking to them about what to look out for and educating them on safety.
Educate your kids on the dangers online
Instead of shielding your children’s browsing experience with harsh parental controls, try talking to them on how to avoid potential threats:
Online grooming is a prolific and horrid constant of the Internet – and your children should be told to look out for the tell-tale signs of grooming. Your children should feel comfortable approaching you if they are uncomfortable about something or someone.
Phishing scams are getting increasingly more convincing, and your child should be told to watch out for them. Good advice is to speak to you if anything seems “too good to be true”, or if they get a message about a competition they didn’t enter. An obvious piece of advice is that your kid should never put any banking information in without your permission.
Never give out personal information
Your children should know they should never give their personal information like name, address, school or even city to anyone online. If they’re under 13, no website can hold information about them anyway – and if anyone asks for it, your kid should know how to refuse it.
Nothing is ever truly free
We’ve all heard of the horror stories of little ones spending thousands of bucks on so-called free-to-play games. The vast majority of free games and entertainment comes at some price. Whether that’s advertising like YouTube videos or micro-transactions like mobile games, your kids should know never to be enticed by micro-transactions like digital in-game currencies.
Recognize the advantages and limitations of safe online play
Virtual worlds like kid-friendly MMO (massively multiplayer online) games have swept the gaming market in the last decade. With giants like Minecraft, ROBLOX and Fortnite capturing the hearts and imagination of millions of kids – it’s time to recognize the benefits of online gaming.
These platforms have the ability to let your kids develop creativity and problem-solving skills. They can make friends with new people online and form lasting but anonymous friendships with people across the globe. Balancing online play with safety can be challenging. Here are some good MMO tips:
The platform should be well-moderated
Games like ROBLOX (and formerly Club Penguin) use heavy chat filters to censor any swearing or inappropriate language. Some older kids may find these systems too limited, but they keep younger ones safe from harmful content.
User accounts MUST be anonymous
Their username should never be their real name. Your kids should never give away their location, real name, address or any other personal information. Any online friendships should strictly be anonymous.
If you’re unsure about a platform, try it out yourself (if you have one or two gaming bones in your body) or speak to friends and other parents about their experiences.
Don’t, however, be tempted to buy games that are rated too old for your children. They’re prohibited for a reason. Stick to E for Everyone!
Encourage your kids to tell you about their online activity
To know truly what your kids get up to online without invading their privacy, you should convince them to keep you in the loop with what they do themselves. This is easier said than done, but the key to this is to be excited and authentically interested in what they do.
Are they playing a game? Ask them to show you what they’ve done. Perhaps play the game with them. Innocent questions like “have you made any friends today?” will help you gauge what they’re doing without crossing a boundary.
If your kids feel comfortable sharing their online experiences with you, you’ll know they’re keeping safe.
The Internet is an exciting place for your kids to play and to learn. There are some key dangers, but the best way to keep your kids safe is to encourage healthy conversations about their online activity.
Educating them about the potential dangers is an excellent way for them to ‘regulate themselves’. Harsh filters and screen time limits will only antagonize your children. It’s far more effective to use positive controls that encourage safe use, not force it.
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