The Internet can be a truly valuable resource for kids, as it can provide educational material, fun games, and ways to connect with their friends. However, it can also be a playground for cyberbullying, malicious content, and criminals and predators who seek to prey on kids and their families for things such as identify theft, crime, and much worse.
As we go into the winter months kids will have even more opportunity to spend time online.
Below are some things that you can consider doing to help keep your kids safe online:
Talk to your kids about your expectations for them online – Consider setting boundaries that may include rules about how long they are allowed to be on the computer, what sites they are allowed to visit, what software programs can be used, and what tasks or activities they are allowed to do based on age appropriateness, knowledge, and maturity.
Teach them the importance of keeping information private – Posting personal information and photos on the Internet can be dangerous, as it can be leveraged by those who want to do harm. In addition, once information is posted, it can have haunting effects later, as it can be hard to remove once it’s in the public domain. Be sure to also check their privacy settings on social media sites to prevent strangers from accessing personal information. These settings may not always be set up properly by default. Ensure that your kids understand:
- Never give their name, phone number, email address, password, address, school name, or picture without your permission.
- Don’t respond to malicious or hurtful posts.
- Don’t open emails or attachments from people they don’t know.
- Don’t get together with anyone they “meet” online.
Let them know that if they see something, say something – You should also talk to children about the dangers of the Internet so that they recognize suspicious behaviour or activity. Let your kids know that if they see something on a website, in an email, or a chat room that doesn’t seem right or makes them uncomfortable, that they can come to you with their questions and concerns.
Be aware of their computer activities – Know what your child is doing on the computer, including which websites they’re visiting. If they are using email, instant messaging, or chat rooms, make sure you have a sense of who they are communicating with and that your child actually knows the people they are talking to.
Keep computers in a common area – If your computer is in a common area, you will be able to easily monitor computer activity. This can help prevent kids from doing things they shouldn’t do and it also gives you the opportunity to intervene if you notice a behaviour that could have negative consequences.
Leverage your Internet Service Provider (ISP) – Some ISPs offer services (sometimes free) specifically designed to protect children online by restricting access to websites and communications features, such as email, chat, and instant messaging, by age, content, time, and other categories. Contact your ISP to see if any of these services are available.
Consider implementing parental controls – You may be able to set some parental controls within your web browser. Some browsers enable you to restrict or allow only certain websites to be viewed on your computer, a process known as whitelisting, and you can protect these settings with a password. While no technology is fool-proof, there are also commercial software applications available that you can install to add an additional layer of protection by monitoring, filtering, and restricting access to dangerous content.
Since every family situation is different, you need to do what is best for your family. Do your own research, and even consider consulting with an advisor to make the best choices based on your unique situation. To help you get started, additional cybersecurity resources for online safety can be found here, provided by the Information Technology Services department of the State of Mississippi.
You may also want to consider sharing this information with your family, friends, and neighbours so that your children and their friends remain safe as they access the Internet on different devices and Wi-Fi connection points over this break.