The Internet is here to stay. We know this. And as parents we need to embrace the fact that the online world is an everyday space that our children and teenagers need to interact in.

Kids playtime, social time and learning time all take place online.

It is brilliant that our children have access to such a wealth of resources at their fingertips. However, there is a scary reality that we need to protect our children from as well. There is a sinister and concerning side to our kids interacting online that we must carefully support them with.

The very real threats of cyber bullying, sexual predators and online grooming are the most prominent of online concerns. However, exposure to pornography, thinspiration and other inappropriate websites, along with online and social media addiction, and the reality of having a lifelong digital footprint are additional issues that we must support our kids with.

Here is a list of ways you can keep your kids safe online:

1) Supervise

Keeping your kid’s computer and other devices in a public place ensures you are actively supervising and parenting your children online.

Not only does this keep them safe, but knowing that you are keeping an eye on them, means they are less likely to browse inappropriate websites and stay up all night chatting or gaming.

2) Communicate

Just as you ask your children about their day at school, it’s important to talk about their online experiences.

This brings their online world into the public, family realm. By communicating regularly about their online interactions you know whom they are chatting to or gaming with.

This open communication will mean they feel safe to talk about the good, the bad and the embarrassing exchanges that may happen online.

3) Limit use

It’s very easy for kids to clock-up loads of screen time each day. Limiting the amount of time they are spending online will help reduce the chances of them experiencing online dangers.

Agreeing on a daily quota of online play, entertainment and chat, and enforcing these set daily online hours.

This will help to keep your kids safe, as well as encourage outdoor play, exercise and ‘real life’ social interaction beyond the screen.

4) Educate about stranger danger

Talk to your children about the notion of ‘stranger danger’.

It’s important that your children understand that people aren’t always what they seem and that they shouldn’t be too trusting when chatting to people they don’t know online.

Ensure your children never organise to meet-up with strangers they have met online.

If they really want to meet up, encourage them to talk to you about it first and insist on going along with them.

5) Talk about cyber bullying

It’s important to talk with your children about how they are interacting with their friends and acquaintances online.

Manners apply to the online world too, and they should only say something online if it’s true, nice and necessary.

Make sure your children’s social media accounts are set to private so they can only interact with their friends. If they do feel bullied online, discourage them from responding and always save or screen-shot the abuse.

Help them to block the person from being able to contact them, report the bullies where possible, and make sure they feel safe to tell you or a teacher that they need help.

6) Use a filter

Using a filter is particularly useful for protecting younger children and preteens.

Internet filters block inappropriate websites to protect your children from seeing explicit or inappropriate content. This can include pornographic images, and websites featuring thinspiration, violence, gambling, drugs, hate and racism.

7) Monitor behaviour

Keep a close eye on your children’s day-to-day behaviour and look out for warning signs through any subtle or obvious behaviour changes.

Your child may be experiencing a problem that you need to investigate if you notice any of these behaviours:

  • They are tired and withdrawn from constantly being online talking in chat rooms or instant messaging.
  • They go straight online after school until very late at night.
  • They seem unusually quiet, troubled or upset and are reluctant to explain why.
  • They have an unexplained income or gifts that come from “a friend you don’t know”.
  • The child starts being secretive about what they are doing online –minimising screens as you walk past, not letting you see their blog, chat screens, Facebook or Instagram feeds.

8) Trust

As much as there are genuine risks around your children interacting online, it’s important to have trust in your children’s ability to do the right thing.

Have family rules and routines about acceptable amounts of online use, and regular discussions about appropriate and inappropriate ways of behaving online.

Show your children that you trust them by giving them a safe amount of space online.

This can help prevent them from rebelling through acting out online, and prevents the breakdown of trust and open lines of communication between you.

9) Know their passwords

As much as it is important to be trusting of your kids and respect that older children need a degree of privacy, it is vital to be able to access their accounts in cases that you are concerned.

You can trust your own children but can’t always trust the people they are interacting with.

Having the passwords to your children’s accounts and monitoring them from time to time is an important safety mechanism to have in place.

You should be able to access their computer, phone, email, Facebook and other social media accounts. However let them know that you would be doing so.

10) No inappropriate photos

Facebook, Instagram, Kik and Snapchat are all social networks that children use that encourage photo sharing.

Make sure your children understand the types of photos they should be sending online, and that once a photo is shared in cyberspace it is forever up for public viewing.

Your children should not post photographs of themselves in their school uniform, as this identifies themselves to strangers and where they can be located.

And most importantly, it is never OK for them to send nude or sexual photos of themselves, no matter how much reassurance they receive that it will remain private.

11) Protect their digital footprint

It’s not just their own photographs that children need to be cautious of sharing online.

Conversations, links, videos and images they share that reflect their opinions and personality are also in the public domain permanently.

Before making something public there is a series of questions they should ask themselves:

  • Is this something I would want everyone to read?
  • Is this something I’d feel proud about next week, next month, or next year?
  • Is there anyone in the world who I don’t want to see this?

Children should always think before they click send to a message or email, because once it’s online it’s public. Many blogs and websites maintain information as part of cyberspace forever.

By publishing without thinking, your child’s online footprint may be something they regret into the future as it impacts on their career and personal life.

12) Never reveal personal information

It’s easy for children to be naïve and trusting with the information they share online.

They should understand that it’s not OK to share personal details to strangers, or even with their friends, especially if it’s in a public forum.

They should only use a nickname when signing up for new sites and never reveal personal information including the following:

  • Full name
  • Birthdays
  • Phone numbers
  • School
  • Address
  • Credit card details
  • Passwords

Hopefully these tips have helped you to identify ways to keep your kids safer online.

How do you keep your kids safe online? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com
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