This generation of kids spends more time online than any generation before it, which makes it increasingly hard to protect them from online dangers. According to a 2010 study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 93% of teens use the Internet, and the National Crime Prevention Council found in 2008 that on average, adolescents 18 and younger spend around 18 hours per week online. So how do you protect your kids without spending all your time standing over their shoulder? Here's a quick guide to keeping your kids safe online:
The biggest thing parents can do to help keep their kids safe online is to talk to them about what they do, see and experience there. Keep the conversation open, and be sure they know they can come to you if they see or experience anything that worries them. If you explain your rules and worries, kids will be better prepared to help themselves stay safe online.
Filtering Inappropriate Content
Many parents worry about the material their kids are able to access online, and with good reason. There are hundreds of millions of websites online, and some are full of information that may not be suitable for young kids or even older teenagers. In a study by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 2006, 34% of young people reported seeing sexual materials online that they did not want to see. Many parents use parental control software, at least while kids are young to block some of the less appropriate material. Most operating systems (like Windows or Mac OSX) including filtering capabilities, or you can add on a separate application like Net Nanny to help out.
Social Network Safety
Though kids under the age of 13 are not allowed to have profiles on most large social networks, including Twitter and Facebook, it's fairly easy to get around this rule, and many kids do. Consumer Reports projected in 2011 that around 7.5 million of Facebook's users were under the age of 13. We encourage parents to enforce the sites' rules about underage members if they can. There's plenty of time for Facebook later. If you're concerned your pre-teen has a profile he or she's not telling you about, you can check your computer's history or use parental control software to track activity.
Facebook also does its best to filter out underage profiles, flagging users who mostly have much younger friends to be sure they're the age they claim to be and responding when other users flag underage profiles.
For teens between 13 and 17, Facebook automatically imposes stricter privacy settings than those it uses for adults, so be sure your child is using the correct birth date on signup. According to Facebook's customer service department, the profiles of minors are automatically hidden from public search and Facebook restricts tagged photos and posts to just your child and his or her friends, at the most.
Sharing Information Online
This brings us to the importance of talking to teens about sharing information online. As many people have learned in the last few years, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other websites are public places, and information you post there can and will be seen. Even after a post or a photo is deleted, it can be hard to wipe it completely. For the sake of their online reputations, it's important that kids and teens understand that what they share online can form a permanent record. If they'd rather a parent, grandparent, teacher or employer not read something, they shouldn't post it online.
If you'd like to see just what your child's profile looks like to a stranger or a specific friend, just ask your child to log in and then use the "View As" link at the top of the timeline to see what shows up. We also recommend that parents "friend" teens on Facebook and check in to see what they're posting regularly.
While it's impossible to completely monitor everything your kids do online, these steps will help keep your kids safe and informed while they are on the web.