If you are reading this as a millennial parent, your parents probably never had to worry about you getting cyberbullied or sending someone images you will one day regret.
But today's kids are digital natives. They know how to operate a smartphone before they know how to speak. And the internet can be a dangerous place for a kid.
A recent survey found that almost 3% of kids used the internet to access some combination of adult content, profanity, or gambling.
So how can you ensure your kids are safe online? The first step is simple: talk to them. Nothing beats talking face-to-face to make sure they stay on the right path as they navigate this exciting and permanent new world.
But we also know that kids are starting to interact with the online world at a very young age before they can really protect themselves. A study from Sweden (2018) found that 31% of the 2-3 year old toddlers and 41% of 4-5 year old kids were using a tablet to access the internet on a daily basis.
So it is really important that you can ensure that your kids are safe while online starting from a young age.
There are some tools like parental controls that can help you set your children up for a safe and fun online experience. Here is a simple run down.
Why You Need Parental Control Tools & Software
Parental controls are the technological tools that help you check up on your kids' online activity. This includes what they see, who they talk to, and how much screen time they get.
You might be surprised to hear that the internet is actually overall a great place for kids to learn and socialize. There are many wonderful educational and entertaining digital resources that engage children in learning new things.
Researchers are beginning to study the positive effects of spending quality time online for kids. One study found that digital play develops a range of abilities in children, including subject knowledge and understanding, digital skills, and skills related to social, emotional, cognitive and creative development.
However, children are often unsuspecting and naive, which makes them unable to protect themselves against cyberbullying, inappropriate content, scams, and even predators.
One of the most important things you can do to keep your child safe online is to make sure they're using age-appropriate websites and apps. If your child wants to play a game, check out the app store or website's rating system before downloading it.
For example, if your kid is 8 years old, you'll want to avoid games with an ESRB rating of Teen+. These games typically feature violence, alcohol use, and drug references that may be inappropriate for younger kids.
How to set up parental controls on your router
If you’re concerned about your kid’s online activity, the first thing to look at is your router.
Routers are the devices that connect your home network to the internet and allow devices on that network to communicate with each other. Routers come with default settings that don’t offer any sort of parental control options out of the box. In order for these functions to be available on a router they must be enabled as an option by an administrator or parent.
You can log in to your router's administrative console using a browser on your computer and scroll to the bottom for more detailed instructions on this step. Then you will need to locate the Access Restrictions page or the Parental Controls page if you have one. Here you will see options for blocking websites by URL.
There are several different types of parental controls available from many different brands, so you might need to do some online research for your particular device.
How to set up parental controls on your kids' devices.
If you chose to set up controls through the router, that will mean any and all devices connected to home wifi will be under control. But as they get older kids might use their own data to get around it.
You can set up parental control tools on your kids' mobiles. You can look at some of the options here. Keep in mind that some brands offer family plans. If you have more than one kid whose device needs such software, it might be a better investment.
These are pretty straight forward applications that your children should not be able to get around. Again don't opt for any free options, which are typically less trustworthy.
Web filtering software
Web filtering software is a good way to keep kids safe online by blocking inappropriate content, ads, pop ups, and malware.
The software should be set to allow or block certain sites according to your preferences. For example, you can add sites that are not appropriate for children in the "Allow" list, or add websites like Youtube that have inappropriate videos in the "Block" list so that your children are not allowed access to them.
You can look at different options here. These are paid-for services but with online security, you don't want to look for anything free.
Reputable brands have transparent business models that are charging for their services. Others often use a combination of ad revenue and data sales (yep - that's your data being sold.)
Social media guidelines for kids
You’ve got to teach your kids about social media and how to use it safely. You can set rules for them, like not sharing their first name or location online, and explain that they should never let anyone take pictures of them without their permission.
Talk about what constitutes cyberbullying. This can include sending mean messages or posting mean comments about someone on social media sites. Tell your child that if any of this happens to them, they need to tell you right away so you can get help from an adult who knows how to handle these situations effectively (i.e., the police).
There have been numerous studies that link extensive use of social media in teens could have adverse effects. A 2019 study of more than 6,500 12- to 15-year-olds in the U.S. found that those who spent more than three hours a day using social media might be at heightened risk for mental health problems.
Kids are easy to manipulate. Misleading peers or mal-intentioned adults can take advantage of their innocence. Things can get quite overwhelming for a child if someone is pressuring them online to do things that they are not comfortable with. Sadly accounts of self-harming and suicide attempts caused by cyberbullying are not uncommon.
Be aware of predators online! Predators are people who want to hurt children by talking with them over the internet in order to find out personal information or tricking them into meeting offline under false pretenses (like claiming they're a child's friend). If you suspect someone is trying this with your child, contact law enforcement immediately.!
The best thing parents can do when it comes to online safety is to talk to their kids about it.
We hope this list has helped you get started with your parental control strategy.
There are some wonderful free online resources for you to learn more about how to empower your kids to protect themselves from harmful content and people. One of these is a UK based international non profit called FOSI, short for Family Online Safety Institute. You can visit their website here.
The cooperation of your children is the most comprehensive protection you can hope for. You should also make sure that your kids know how to recognize inappropriate content and report it if necessary.
Technology is constantly changing, and your kids will be using a variety of devices throughout their lives. You need to be in constant conversation with them about their life online as well as offline, their online friends, places they visit often on the internet, what's appropriate and what isn't, how you can keep your device safe, and how you report inappropriate content.
Nothing can beat the good sense of a smart kid with a great relationship with their parents.
Keep safe in 2023 and beyond!