Many of today’s parents are young enough to have grown up with the early Internet at home, when rules against talking to strangers or revealing your location went a long way in establishing basic safety. These days, knowing how to protect kids from online dangers is more complex — what’s popular online is always changing, and kids often have access at home, school, and on the go.
These actionable tips can help parents stay in the know about today’s online climate and be aware of potential red flags in preteen and teen device use.
Rule 1: Understand just how connected they are
Long gone are the days of a family computer ban cutting kids off from their digital social life. While cell phones are an obvious culprit, today’s kids are often far more connected than we realize. Smart TVs allow them to access streaming media and browse the web, game consoles often have friends list and text and video chat options, and it’s nearly impossible to regulate their behavior when using devices at school or friends’ homes. This means it’s key that they understand how the rules of safe tech use benefit and protect them.
Rule 2: Show them the risks (and how to avoid them)
Sharing personal information online can put kids at risk of grooming, harassment, bullying, threats, doxxing, identity theft, and embarrassment. Though they may feel they’re talking to “friends”, it’s essential that kids understand the risk of personal harm that occurs when too much information is shared online. Teach them to think before they post, disable location settings, enable privacy settings, delete friend or chat requests from strangers, and to never reveal their real name or address.
Rule 3: Know the top apps — some may be inappropriate
These days, entertainment and communication on phones and tablets are app-powered. While you likely know some of the most popular apps, like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, kids often eschew these for platforms where those their age gather. While activities like watching Twitch streams and playing Clash of Clans or Roblox are relatively tame (save a few occasional salty words), chat apps like Omegle, Snapchat, Kick, Wishbone, and Ask.fm can be breeding grounds for inappropriate conversations, grooming, and cyberbullying.
Staying educated about the way kids use technology and the risks that accompany new, popular apps and online trends is the best way to keep them safe. Teaching them about safe and appropriate computer use, limiting device use through parental controls, and maintaining an open, honest dialogue about the risks of unsafe behavior online are all key.