Internet Safety Age-Based Quick Tips
In this ever-evolving, technology-driven world, our kids have developed a level of digital proficiency bewildering to most of us parents, and many parents are not adequately educated about the threats that their kids face today. As a result, when we as parents are not informed and involved in our kids’ online lives, we leave our kids at risk of encountering pornography, predators, cyberbullies, identity thieves, and other online threats. As such, we’ve developed these basic, age-based tips to help you parent in the digital age.
Basics for Every Age
- Keep the conversation going and the lines of communication open. Talking internet safety is not a one-time event—kids will need consistent reinforcement, guidance, and help as they grow and learn with technology.
- Create a list of internet rules with your kids regarding what they can do, where they can go, and with whom they can communicate online and through any mobile or gaming device.
- Use parental controls (we recommend Safe Eyes www.internetsafety.com/xxxchurch ) to filter, to monitor, to set time limits and to tailor your child’s online access.
- Remind your kids to come to you if they every feel scared, threatened or uncomfortable by something or someone they encounter online. Remember not to overreact or blame your child—you want to set a strong foundation for future conversations.
- Supervise and monitor use of all internet-enabled technologies. Make sure you keep the computer in a public area of the house, but be aware that your child can access all of the good and bad of the Internet through their cell phone and gaming device.
- Teach your child the golden rule: to treat others as they would like to be treated.
A lot of parents are surprised when they realize just how technology-proficient their kids are. Remember that at this age, even though they may know how to use your smartphone better than you, your kids are not mentally ready to cope with the interactive nature and the potentially dangerous content they might access through the internet. Typically kids at this age don’t have the critical thinking skills to be online alone, and they can be easily frightened by media images and content they encounter. Recognize that it is very easy for kids this young to move from appropriate to inappropriate sites and to click on advertisements or links that could be problematic. As such, the safest way to go it to sit with your child as they use technology, to use strong filters, and to begin teaching the basics of appropriate online behavior through age-appropriate games and sites.
Kids at this age are very capable of using computers, phones, and gaming devices, but they still don’t have the critical thinking skills to be online or use technology without close parental supervision. They are also, unfortunately, often exposed to inappropriate websites (the vast majority of this exposure is accidental, but we are aware of kids at this age that intentionally access pornographic websites). Many kids are required to set up an email account with their pre-school, and they may be vulnerable to online marketers, surveys, contests, viruses, etc. as they use their email accounts and as they navigate the web. It’s still a good idea to sit with your children when they are online and using any technology. Make sure you are using age-appropriate filters and that you start talking to your kids about privacy and protecting themselves online. For the most part, kids at this age shouldn’t be using chat, social networking sites, message boards or participating in online communities. It’s best if your kid uses a nickname while online at this age and that they avoid posting any personally identifiable information.
As our kids move closer to their teenage years, they become much more interested in the activities of older kids in their lives. They begin to develop a sense of their own identity, and they may do a bit more exploring online, but, for the most part, they still tend to be trusting and do not often question authority figures in their lives. While they may be using email, social networking sites, and other interactive sites, they still lack the critical thinking skills to be online alone, and more likely than not, they aren’t really ready to be using highly interactive sites online. Kids at this age are often very curious and will use the internet to seek out answers to questions (they may look up information about sex, for example, so make sure those filters are on!). They also generally tend to enjoy surfing online and enjoy using the internet for its games and videos. Kids at this age are also very susceptible to the media images, videos, personalities, and celebrities they perceive as “cool”—so being aware of what your kids are seeing is very important at this age.
It’s safest if you still sit with your kids or near your kids as they are using the computer or any other internet-enabled device. Don’t allow your kids to instant message, use chatrooms, or set up profiles on social networking sites intended for older audiences (like Facebook and Myspace). Make sure you keep tabs on your child’s online activities and friends, and talk with them about their online friends and activities just as your would about their offline lives. Continue to teach your kids to come to you before giving out any information through email, personal profiles, online contests, or whenever they encounter anything upsetting online.
Kids at this age are generally required to use the internet to help with schoolwork, but they are also highly social online. They tend to email others, connect on social networking sites, chat, play online games and explore new technology with little trepidation. They generally feel in control and as if they know better than their parents about how to navigate the internet. They are highly influenced by what their friends are doing online. They crave independence and may be interested in building relationships online and communicating with strangers online.
Kids at this age are also at a very sensitive time in their sexual development, and boys are most likely at this age to begin seeking out pornography. Girls may try to imitate provocative media images and behaviors and may begin to engage in some risky behaviors while online.
It’s important to keep the computer and all internet-enabled devices your kid uses in the open and out of bedrooms. Talk with your kids about their online friends and activities and instruct your child that they should never meet face-to-face with anyone they only know online. As a parent, you should have access and the passwords to all of your kid’s online accounts, and limit their online and mobile connections to a parent-approved buddy list. You should also talk to your kids about ethical online behavior—they should not be using the internet to spread gossip, bully or harass their peers. Your child should not post pictures or videos without your approval.
Teenagers may push the boundaries of safe online behavior by looking for pornography, gross humor, gore, drug, and gambling sites; they are also more likely to engage with strangers, receive sexual solicitations, and they are more apt to accept requests to meet online friend in person. Kids at this age are craving both group identity and independence from their parents. Remember that although they may begin to show signs of maturity, their prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain responsible for discernment, reason, judgment and emotional maturity—is not fully developed until they reach their early to mid-twenties, so they are still susceptible to making some bad decisions while online.
It’s important for parents to continue to be involved in their teen’s online life. Teach your teens to be responsible with what they post, text, and send, and remind them there are no take-backs online. Talk to them about what they are doing, where they are going, and with whom they are communicating with online. Teach your kids to protect their personal information, and remind your kids that they should not talk with strangers online. Also, oversee financial transactions online and any content and videos they are watching and downloading online.