Whether you're worried about social networks, texting, apps, video games, online privacy or other growing areas of high-tech concern, it bears remembering: Keeping kids safe in today's online and always-connected world requires a multi-pronged approach. As with any form of technology, the most effective strategies are proactive. Educate yourself on new innovations and teach kids positive computing habits, and they'll be better equipped to make good decisions when they encounter questionable content -- an inevitability every parent must be prepared to accept.
Kids as young as 2 are now being exposed to tablet PCs and smartphones, changing the fundamental family dynamic. But technology and digital citizenship aren't being adequately taught in schools, and increasingly harried parents are finding themselves stretched thinner by work and life than ever, making it tougher to gain these insights at home. Happily for over-burdened caregivers, the following hints, tips and websites can help you keep children safe without causing your schedule to short-circuit.
Internet and Online Safety Tips for Kids
- Homework is for parents too: Always study, research and go-hands on with new technologies to make more informed decisions.
- If time's tight, get a crash course on new offerings, trends and features by visiting popular product review sites or searching for online tutorials, e.g. "How to Turn Off iPhone Purchases."
- Besides employing kid-friendly software, apps and web filters, educate children on online dangers and encourage them to speak up when questionable content or situations are encountered.
- Use the parental controls built into popular entertainment devices, video game consoles and operating systems and password-protect your settings -- but don't employ easily guessable choices like birthdays and anniversaries.
- Activate privacy features built into popular social networks to limit strangers' access to personal status updates, photos and videos.
- Confine screens to common household areas such as playrooms and dens, so usage and play habits can be monitored.
- Establish predetermined times when usage of high-tech devices is permitted or banned (e.g. during dinner), and always shut screens off at least one hour before bedtime.
- Create and enforce house rules: Experts recommend no more than 60-120 minutes of screen time daily, balanced with other low-tech activities. Some families add or subtract time as a reward or punishment for children's behavior.
- If you're worried about children's online interactions, use built-in features in your programs and devices to turn off Internet connectivity, disable digital purchases and restrict interactions to pre-approved friend lists.
- Talk about safe online spending, and if you allow kids to make purchases, consider restricting these abilities to pre-paid cards.
Online Privacy: How to Protect Your Family
Never share personal information on the Internet, including addresses, birthdays, phone numbers, ages, locations and hometowns.
Always avoid mentioning when you'll be away from home... especially when on vacation.
Be skeptical of strangers you meet online: What they say, do and post on their profile may not reflect the real-life truth.
Think twice before posting potentially offensive, embarrassing or controversial content, as it may come back to haunt you -- doubly so in the eyes of college recruiters or prospective employers.
Remain wary when meeting strangers in real-life (and do so only in public places), tell others where you'll be before leaving and always bring along a friend or responsible adult when doing so.
For additional resources, visit:
Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use
Facebook Family Safety Center
Family Online Safety Institute
FBI Cyber Alerts Index
Microsoft Family Safety
Modern Parent's Guide free high-tech parenting books
Web Wise Kids
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