Do you remember when you first got online? If you were like me, it was probably some AOL disc that came in the mail and you had to wait until your parents got off the landline so you could dial in and hear the “You’ve Got Mail” announcement. Odds are there was a centralized family computer, a desktop, with some giant bulky monitor and no privacy. Sure you could dodge the “a/s/l?” chat room request and maybe you would peruse some message boards here and there. But that was really the extent of your time online.
But today…everything connects to the internet. Everything has an online presence. Odds are you probably aren’t reading this from a computer right now. You’re on a mobile device of some sort. Not too long ago, we were at a relative’s house and the phone rang…and I had to explain to Addy what a house phone was. She just could not wrap her brain around someone needing to speak to the house.
Nope. Phones today are not made for *just* speaking with people. When Addy asks for my phone or for the iPad, it’s to play a game or watch a movie and send all pertinent notifications that may come in, into the trash. Kids have their own email addresses from birth. And I recently saw a story on ABC13 that the average age of kids when they get their first cell phone is six years old.
SIX. YEARS. OLD.
So here are some simple things to remember about keeping children safe online.
1. Start With the Basics.
Remind them that the Internet is a public space. Remind them to be wise with the usernames and passwords they choose. Remind them to LOG OUT when they are finished. Remind them that nothing is ever really gone from the web and to think wisely before they share.
Yes, we were there at the beginning of Live Journal and MySpace and Facebook. Odds are, you have old profiles floating everywhere out there. These were lessons that had to be learned by everyone at some point. Don’t take for granted that because your kid can help you set up a WiFi network and control the TV from the iPad that they are mature enough to know Internet Safety 101. We all need refreshers every once in a while.
Google yourself. See what comes up. And show your kids how the Internet is 4Evah.
2. Set Boundaries.
Know what sites your kids are visiting. Know what they are watching and what kind of people they are talking to. Most devices come with a kid safe mode or passwords and time limits that can be set. Learn how to work the devices that are in the house. Get some virus protection that works. Links are so easy to click on and malware is rampant.
If you want to lock up cell phones at night time, so be it. If you are okay with devices being in your kid’s rooms, that’s fine too. Whatever works for your household works for your household. But be aware of what’s going on.
3. Be The Example.
Parenting has shown me how hypocritical I can be at times. I get mad when Addy can’t make it on a short trip without wanting to watch something on Netflix, but I can’t go ten minutes without checking Twitter notifications. That’s my bad, right? If you want your kids to spend less time online, spend less time online yourself.
And on the contrary, spend time online with them. Sit right by their side, share a device, and show them how to use the internet effectively and appropriately. Teach them internet etiquette and model good behaviors. And if a problem arises, use that as a natural teaching opportunity and troubleshoot together.
I do not subscribe to the notion that the internet is horrible and full of awful. But I also try not to read the comment section on most articles either. It’s wonderful and full of information and yes, entertainment. It’s necessary. Things are always changing. I’m fluent in Twitter and Tumblr but haven’t even began to dive into Snapchat. There will be a new thing in a few months. And another new thing after that. And so on and forever. But the basics will always, always apply.