As social restrictions lift, many kids may be soon returning to classrooms and in-person activities. But they’re still likely to be spending plenty of time online, visiting social networking sites, chat rooms, virtual worlds, and blogs, or playing games or browsing the internet. It’s more important than ever that parents be aware of what their kids are doing online and help them navigate the cyber world safely. Here are some smart suggestions:
Have an ongoing conversation, setting boundaries and limits. Heavy online use cuts into real-time socializing, exercise, sleep and other activities that help keep kids healthy. Model other ways to use down time. Agree on screen time rules such as “no devices allowed at dinner or at bedtime.”
Know the harms of social media. Become acquainted with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, WhatsApp, etc. Be aware that pre-teens can get around the age 13 limit to sign up for these apps. This means that all young kids are vulnerable to seeing posts, status updates and photos that can make them feel unpopular. This may have a negative effect, particularly on those with low self-esteem or who may be troubled.
Review what respectful communication is, and how your child’s words and actions can affect others.
Use and review privacy settings one by one. Also explain that passwords should not be shared with anyone, not even a best friend—nor should they share suggestive photos or other private information. Remind them not to “friend” strangers.
Use safety tools. Use the Safe Search option on browsers, parental controls on Facebook, and other safety tools on social media accounts. Make sure your child’s computer and devices have the latest software updates and anti-virus programs.
Monitor their internet use. Use timers, check the cache or browser history or the log of sites kept by your router, and/or install monitoring software.
Talk frankly about cyberbullying. It can happen in an email, a text message, a game, or on a social networking site. It might involve spreading rumors or images posted on someone’s profile or passed around for others to see, or creating a group or page to make a person feel left out. Ask your kids to let you know if an online message or image makes them feel threatened or hurt. If you fear for your child’s safety, contact the police.
Check out your kid’s page to look for mean-spirited comments. Don’t react to the bully, and tell your child not to respond in kind. Instead, work with your child to save the evidence and get them comfortable with talking to you about it. If the bullying persists, share the record with school officials or local law enforcement. You can also help your child delete the bully from their friend list or block their username or email address.
For more guidance on reducing risks and helping kids make safe decisions, visit: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/protecting-kids-online