February 8th is Safer Internet Day, a day designated for reflecting on delivering a safer internet for all children. After all, the online world can quickly spiral into shady websites, malware, and outright real world danger for children around the world. We’d love to think that the internet is just a place for safe news and information, but in reality, there are many bad actors who prey on the innocence of children.
Nina Rangel has an 11-year-old daughter and reflected on a safer internet by saying, “I think the biggest concern is that things are so accessible, even when she doesn’t have her own device.”
The Danger is Real
Callahan Walsh of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children knows that the internet can be one of the most dangerous places for a child to be. “On the dark web, we’ve seen predators and manipulators giving tips and how to exploit children.” Dr. Rebecca Densley from Trinity University is both a media expert and a parent who recognizes the danger as well.
What can a parent do, then, to make sure that a child has all the bountiful information and good fun online without ever running into predators and exploiters along the way. Just as in life, there’s no surefire way to protect a child from every danger out there, but by applying multiple strategies, you can greatly reduce the chances that your child will be exploited or even pulled into a real life encounter that could harm them physically.
The Golden Rules for Parents and Kids Online
Parents who want to maximize their child’s safety online can follow these few simple but sometimes game changing rules.
If your child wants to download a program like TikTok, then it’s of paramount importance for a parent to understand the rules of that platform. Download it for yourself to get a glimpse into the kind of online world your child is entering. What safeguards are in place? How does your child address problems? Is it truly safe?
Your child faces daily pressures and dangers in real life, too. If you can communicate about these real world problems, it’s just as likely you can keep an open line of communication about the internet, too. Have frequent conversations about what they’re learning and encountering online. When issues arise, communicate.
Most parents have basic rules for every child to follow in the real world. Explain clearly exactly what they can or can’t do and what websites or apps are appropriate for them to use. Be clear about why you’re forbidding a certain platform or behavior. You can also set your browser to restrict the websites that they can access, if you don’t know how to do this, you may call your internet service provider to ask how to do this.
Keep Learning and Persist
Persistence pays off. If you’re worried about your child’s online communications and behavior, going to an online resource like The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children can really help. They have plenty of resources to help you keep the lines of communication open between you and your child.
The more parents know about the best and worst of the internet, the more prepared they’ll be when online behavior or exploitation becomes a problem. It really pays to know your stuff and be able to explain things in a simple way to a child who may be in trouble because of their screen time. Online safety resources are everywhere for parents to explore and learn from.