June is Internet Safety Month and is the perfect time to establish or reiterate your household’s guidelines for appropriate behavior while online.
The Internet has changed much of our lives and the benefits of this connectedness are easy to see. But if not properly monitored, these benefits can cost a family security, especially with younger users who don’t fully understand the potential harm that lurks online. In fact, some of the statistics about Internet behaviors by minors are enough to keep any parent up at night. Consider:
- Statistics reported by Enough.org found 40 percent of kids in grades 4 to 8 said they connected or chatted online with a stranger. Over half of these kids gave their phone number to said stranger and nearly a quarter of them went from chatting online to talking to a stranger over the phone.
- Fewer than 3 in 10 parents have installed software on home computers to prohibit viewing certain websites. Only 17 percent have such software on mobile devices, and just 15 percent have it for gaming consoles. Overall, half of parents do not use any blocking of filtering software on Internet-enabled devices accessible by their kids.
- Studies also show that while 90 percent of teens say their parents have talked to them about online safety, half say parents do nothing to actually monitor their behavior.
Besides the obvious “stranger danger” that comes with unrestricted access to the Internet, children can also experience a number other negative consequences. Among these is cyberbullying of which, as separate 2018 surveys found, 60 percent of children have witnessed online and nearly half have been targets.
Falling for scams is another hazard as is unintentionally opening up the family’s computer and personal information to cybercrimes such as malware and phishing.
But take a deep breath, parents, because there's lots you can do to protect your kids while they are online. And the best part is, most of what experts recommend are common-sense, relatively low-cost strategies requiring only time and attention on your part. Here are four biggies to get you started:
COVER THE BASES – The computer on the desk is just one gateway to the Internet; don’t forget about cell phones and gaming consoles, which often fly under parents’ radar. Install software that restricts their access or better yet, choose an internet service provider that offers this protection. Kinetic Secure, for example, gives you an easy way to control what can be seen and what can’t across all devices.
GET IN THEIR BUSINESS – Parents often struggle with feelings of being snoops or not respecting their children’s privacy. Well, get over it. Check their search history, know their passwords, understand who they are communicating with online. Come up with a usage policy for your household and get them to sign it to show all parties understand expectations. The stakes are too high for parents to worry about not being the “cool parents.”
LIMIT USAGE – Even though everything from homework resources to college applications are strictly online these days, it is possible for you to set and enforce limits on the amount of time your children can be online via the PC or game console. As for those pesky phones, remember to model the behavior you want to see in your kids. Creating no-phone time blocs for EVERY family member puts the focus on one-on-one communication and non-digital activities. And what family doesn’t need more of that?
STAY INVOLVED – Obviously, an engaged parent is an effective parent. For very young children, ages 2 to 7, always sit with the child while they are online. To help monitor older kids, keep the computer in a “public” room of the home instead of allowing kids free rein to surf in their rooms. Be frequent and consistent in your messaging about being responsible online – no matter how much eye-rolling you get, they’re listening.