Raising an Internet Safety-Savvy Kid in the Digital Age

The Internet holds treasure troves of knowledge, but also complicated, and even unsafe, realities. As even toddlers turn to tablets and technology, many parents wonder what role they should let these tools play in their child’s life.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a parent’s primary technological responsibilities to their child up to age 10 are to:

  • Help avoid exposure to inappropriate content through parental supervision and Internet filtering tools
  • Maintain active parental involvement with a child’s Internet use

The following tips will help achieve those goals.

This article covers Internet safety for children 10 and under. If you are looking for tips for older children, look for our forthcoming piece on Internet safety for preteens and teens.

1. Stay informed.

In this age of fast-paced technology, parents have an unavoidable responsibility to learn the basics of the Internet to keep children safe. If your child already knows more about a certain tool than you do, start researching to learn about the device, software, or social media application in question. Learn its capabilities and the possible ways of regulating its use.

As explained by the AAP, “It’s difficult to set and enforce rules if you don’t understand what a blog is or how MySpace, Club Penguin, or Facebook work.”

McAfee's website on internet safety suggests parents who feel unfamiliar with online platforms can “read articles, take a class, and talk to other parents.” The AAP recommends checking NetSmartz for content and ratings about games and other information. Consult your phone service provider about limitations on smartphones, potentially blocking certain applications. These resources will help you ensure that your child navigates the Internet safely.

2. Talk to your child about Internet safety early and often.

One of your best resources when it comes to learning about technology may be your own child. Ask what she likes to do online and what she is learning. Together, take time to visit the sites your child spends time on. With her as the guide, you’ll both be learning as you go.

In addition, explain these basic safety rules to your child, incorporating an age-appropriate amount of reasoning behind each point:

  • Don’t post personal photos. You never know who will find them or what purposes they may be used for.
  • Don’t respond to anything scary or threatening, and tell a parent right away if you receive a message that makes you uncomfortable in any way.
  • Introduce your parents to any new “friends” you meet online right away.
  • Never agree to meet someone you’ve met on the Internet in person without your parents being there.
  • Never share your password with anyone, except your parents (not even your best friend).
  • The Internet lasts forever, and you can’t take back what you share. Don’t post or text anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face, or that you may regret later.
  • Don’t give out personal information without permission from your parents. This last rule is so important it bears further discussion.

3. Explain she shouldn’t give out personal information without consulting you.

This may be a good time to begin talking about the danger of online predators and stolen identities. Try to avoid scaring your child by emphasizing that you will be there to support her in the event that she encounters a problem.

Talk to your child about the scope of “personal information” and what that includes: name, age, race, gender, school, location, phone number, and friends’ names.

Even if it’s a legitimate business requesting the information, parents should be cautious about allowing children to share it. According to education tech developer, Britt Carr, owner of the application SmashFact, free apps often draw users’ attention to paid apps — a type of in-app advertising — which may transfer your personal information over an ad-network far beyond the location where you originally agreed to share it.

A federal law, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), prohibits a website operator from obtaining personal information online from kids under 13 without parental consent. But don’t rely on the law to the exclusion of a parent’s supervision.

4. Supervision is key.

While parents may not be able to watch kids every minute they’re online, there are ways to minimize risk. Most important, always keep computers in a common area, never in a room with a closed or locked door, which would inhibit a parent from monitoring computer use.

Once you’ve at least partially caught up to your child’s understanding of the Internet, surfing the Web with your child can be a positive and fun learning experience for both of you, and is an important part of supervising her Internet use. As you discover her favorite sites online together, bookmark them for easy access.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours per day total screen time for children over the age of two (and none under the age of two), including television, computers, and video games.

In a 2012 survey, more than half of American parents admitted using a tablet to distract or “babysit” their young children in cars or restaurants. As long as this screen time is considered in the suggested total, this may not necessarily be a problem with the proper parental control tools.

5. Parental controls can be helpful.

Tracking software and filtering devices can also help you control and monitor which sites your child visits. But, according to the AAP, children may learn to manipulate the software, and filtering devices often deny access to too much material. Checking the history on the computer also helps track which sites your child has visited, but savvy users can easily erase this information. Research your options thoroughly, and never rely on these devices to the exclusion of supervision.

6. Multiple-user sites, social media, and chat rooms can pose risks.

Multiple-user sites (like video game hosts), social media sites (like Facebook, Tumblr, and so on), chat rooms, and forums where people discuss common interests, allow people across the world to communicate and interact from behind screens without knowing the identities of other users. These are some of the sites that predators frequent, and they can reach your child by posing as a peer or friend.

Consider whether you want to allow your young child to use these sites. Decide in advance which sites you’ll let her visit, at what age, and with what restrictions. Research them thoroughly (using the list linked above) before making your decision. For example, some video games have a hidden chat room that only appear once a player has reached a certain level.

7. Consider technology at your child’s school and other locations.

A recent survey of early childhood education settings — including school, home, or other center environments — showed a massive increase in access to tablet computers in preschool classrooms — from 29 percent to 55 percent in the last two years.

Understand your child’s Internet use at school. Find out which devices, software, and online protection her school uses. Do the same for any other place your child uses the Web, like a friend’s house or after-school care.

Want to learn more about keeping your kid safe online? Check out: 7 Things Parents Should Know to Help Kids Stay Smart on Social Media.

Sources

An Enormous Increase in Classroom Technology for the Littlest Learners. Retrieved from The Hechinger Report website.

Britt Carr, Owner and Educational Tech Developer, SmashFact, personal communication, August 19, 2015.

COPPA—Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Retrieved from the COPPA—Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act website.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Kids Safety Tips. Retrieved from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Kids Safety Tips website.

Healthy Children. Retrieved from the Healthy Children website.

Internet Safety. Retrieved from the Internet Safety website.

KidsHealth. Retrieved from the Kids Health website.

National Children’s Advocacy Center. Retrieved from the [National Children’s Advocacy Center website](http://www.nationalcac.org/prevention/Internet-safety-kids.html{: target="_blank” rel=“nofollow” }.

NetSmart. Retrieved from the Net Smart website.

Phys.org. Retrieved from the Phys.org website.