by editorial team and Sophia Ruan Gushée
Children are society’s most valuable and vulnerable demographic. And many parents strive to optimize their children’s lives. From the safest cars to the best schools, we spare no expense to provide our kids with the best.
Unfortunately, even the best security system cannot protect kids from one common portal: The internet. It can be a risky place for children and adolescents.
Keeping kids off the internet is not the answer, however. The internet is becoming increasingly essential in our daily lives.
Frequent conversations about online risks and safety, however, can empower children to use the internet responsibly and safely.
10 Tips to Help Adults Talk to Children About Internet Safety
An important way to minimize online risks is to talk to your kids about responsible digital conduct and content. Kids' online activities include more than social media, so parents should learn about all the things their kids are doing online. Acknowledging the below will help create important awareness and help support your children with wiser judgment.
- Start early. As soon as a child starts using a tablet or a computer, it’s time to start explaining online etiquette, behaviors, and consequences. Tailor the conversation to your children's developmental age and understanding. Even better: just as parents explain a lot to babies and toddlers to teach language, also verbalize responsible technology behavior even before your children start using digital devices. It's never too early to start this important dialogue!
- Be cautious of who you connect with online. Some people—including online—have bad intentions, and some individuals pretend to be someone they are not. When age-appropriate, start talking to your kids about this, and other children who have inadvertently interacted online with predators, bullies, scammers, and hackers. Give your children permission to ignore people they don’t know: texts, emails, and phone calls. This may not be obvious to children who want to be polite.
- Explain that there can be even more transparency of one's behavior online than offline. When using technology at home, kids often feel safe and anonymous. This can lead to risky behaviors, like posting images that they would not post if they felt more accountability. Explain to your kids that there is transparency of their actions online.
- Emphasize that online actions have consequences. Cyber missteps can persist forever, and haunt you later. Explain that many people feel more bold online, but their online actions are not anonymous. They leave a digital footprint.
- Teach kids to safeguard privacy. How we can protect our personal information will be an ongoing concern. Share basic protocols with your children, and continue to talk about this evolving issue.
- Talk about password safety, signing out of accounts, and public wifi.
- Tell them to avoid posting their cell phone numbers, and other personal information, online.
- Talk about phishing, and being cautious about opening emails from unknown individuals.
- Let them know that apps may collect and share personal information.
- Start using privacy control settings that are offered by platforms. For example:
- Facebook privacy controls
- Develop online manners. Kids may act or respond differently when not face-to-face. They can act especially different when interacting with an “avatar.” Children need to be reminded that there is a real person behind the avatar with thoughts and feelings. People interacting with avatars cannot see body language, hear vocal inflections, or body language, and do not receive real-time feedback. For this reason, children may feel free to behave in ways, or say things, that they would not do offline.
- Discuss inappropriate content, and rules to avoid it. Kids are sometimes exposed to pornography, hate speech, and violence online. Therefore, children should be aware of this, and parents can set parental controls to help regulate their children's online exposures. (Parents: Read more about the dark web.) Regardless, children should not be allowed to roam the internet without responsible supervision or rules.
- Communicate your expectations. Detail (and write a contract for children who can read) your rules and expectations for online behaviors.
- Supervise. And be patient and supportive. Kids will make mistakes, and will need clarity and repeated conversations. Expect to continue and repeat conversations about technology rules, and keep learning together.
- Set a good example. Most likely, the greatest influence on your children's digital behavior and safety is what they observe from your example. The tips above are helpful for adults too, and by incorporating them into your own habits, your example will become your children's most influential teacher.
Technology is changing daily, and so are its associated risks. Parents cannot know every nuanced danger, but they don’t need to. Communicating with your kids about how to think critically, and behave responsibility, both online and offline will provide children with a solid foundation for better judgment.