How to Keep Your Kids Safe Online

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Editor’s Note: Today we welcome Elizabeth Eckhart for a guest contribution. Elizabeth Eckhart is a freelance writer and entertainment blogger from Chicago, Illinois. She is especially interested in today’s changing technology, and how she and her family can grow along with it – without becoming couch potatoes.

 

We all know that technology is the centerpoint of many people’s lives, including most teenagers. Thanks to laptops, tablets, and cellphones it’s almost impossible to get away from it.

While the internet has opened millions of opportunities and also serves as an educational resource for billions, it has it cons too, from online predators to scammers to cyberbullies. It seems like every week, either on a local or national level, there’s a new story about the dark side of the internet.

While most adults are equipped with the knowledge and common sense of how best to avoid these situations, children and teenagers often aren’t. So what can you do, as parents, to protect your child on the internet?

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

Here are a few steps to both protecting your child and giving yourself peace of mind:

Be Their (Facebook) Friend

There’s no denying that social media is important to many of us. We get to connect with friends and family in ways that have never before been possible. It also gives teenagers and children opportunities to make mistakes that can haunt them and become the target of cyber bullies.

There is, unfortunately, a growing trend of teens posting risque selfies of themselves, bragging about bad (possibly illegal) behavior, and sharing less than flattering information or pictures about their peers. The reality is that if they are doing something that is against the law or school policy and it gets shared on social media, chances are they’ll have to face the consequences thanks to a number of schools and law enforcement agencies using social media as evidence.

The best way to combat this is make your presence known on their social media accounts. Follow them on Twitter or Instagram, friend them on Facebook, and let them know you’re doing it. You’d be surprised at how knowing their parents are watching them can curb a teen’s behavior on these accounts. It’s also a way for you to see if they’re being contacted by people they don’t know or being bullied through these networks.

Be (A Little) Controlling

This isn’t an advocation for controlling your child’s every move or action, it’s more about setting limits and creating boundaries in their online activities. The first step should be to limit their time online. With the growing number of “internet addiction” stories, online predators, and online scams the less time your child spends online is probably for the best. Even when they are online, it’s important to control which websites they can access as well.

We all know even the most innocent of online searches can turn up some shockingly vulgar results. That’s why it’s important to install parental controls on your web browsers or download software which work to keep your child out of those “bad” sites.

Some computer models come with timers for each account, so if you make your child log in under their own account it will only allow them to remain on the computer for X number of hours before logging them out. You could go the extra mile and use a home automation or home security system to control the power to your computer and shut it off using your cell phone for times when you’re not home and don’t want them to spend all day on the computer.

If you don’t feel like going to all that trouble, take the time to check out their browsing history. It’s fairly obvious to see when it’s been cleared and should be a red flag they’ve been visiting some sites they don’t want you to know about.

Talk To Them about It

Before you implement any of these measures it’s important to talk to your child about online safety and what is acceptable and unacceptable in your home. While you may want to shelter your child from all of the ugliness in the world it’s extremely important to explain to them the realities of online predators and scams. None of these measures are foolproof and if your child does come across one of these, the more they know the better.

It’s also important to talk to them about the realities of social media and how what they post now could easily come back to haunt them. Show them stories like this teacher from Alabama who’s experiment in the power of social media spread a letter she shared on Facebook to all fifty states and internationally. Every word and image they post online should be something they’d be comfortable showing you.

Also explain to them that even images they share “privately” through text messages and Snapchat aren’t really private and can easily and quickly get spread like wildfire.

Stress to them that if they do get in some sort of sticky situation online or if they’re being targeted by cyber bullies, the best option is to come and tell you. Many kids try to handle these situations on their own or keep it to themselves, ending all too often with disastrous results.

What tips or tools have you found?

Read more of our Tech Talk columns.

Copyright 2015 Elizabeth Eckhart

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