A study by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education found that 40% of children have chatted with a stranger online and 15% have tried to meet a stranger they met online. Additionally, 53% have given out their phone numbers and 6% their home address. The sheer number of ways children can get online makes it difficult to monitor them all of the time, but there are steps you can take to protect your child.
1. Talk to Your Kids
Have an honest and frank discussion with your kids about the dangers they may face online. Talk to them about malware and malicious websites. Explain that sometimes adults pretend to be children online or otherwise misrepresent themselves to fool children into interacting with them. Discuss the dangers of sex offenders and other predators. Remind your children not to talk to strangers and never to share personal information, such as their home address and telephone number or any other information that could be used to figure out their location.
2. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A virtual private network connects your device to an offsite secure server that uses an encrypted connection to keep your data safe. A VPN can mask your IP address, which makes it more difficult for malicious parties to figure out your children's location when they are online. A VPN can also protect them against their data being intercepted.
3. Place Computers in a Common Area
Don't let your children have computers in their bedrooms and don't let them have portable devices such as cellphones and tablets until you feel certain they can be trusted to use them safely. Place computers in an open area with the screen facing in a direction where you can easily see it. This allows you to periodically monitor what your children are doing on the computer and also protect them when you aren't actively monitoring. The possibility that an adult might be looking at the screen is often enough to deter a child from engaging in risky behavior.
4. Know What Your Child Does Online
When your children first start going online, it is probably best to sit with them and help them navigate the internet. As your level of trust increases, you won't need to constantly monitor your child's activity, but you should still be aware of what websites they are visiting, and who they are interacting with. It may be a good idea to periodically sit with them to see what they are doing and make sure they are still observing safety standards.
5. Set Usage Limits
Too much time spent on electronic devices can contribute to several safety concerns. Children who become overly invested or addicted to device usage may not exercise good judgment when interacting with strangers. Additionally, excessive usage can lead to eye strain, sleep problems, and other health concerns. Set firm usage limits with your children and make sure they follow them. In addition to restricting the amount of time your children can use their devices, consider specifically limiting the type of content they can access. Tell them what types of websites, such as sites with adult material, that they are not allowed to access. Instruct them to request your permission before accessing unapproved sites.
6. Use Monitoring Tools
Because children can access the internet from so many places on so many kinds of devices, it is difficult to physically monitor all of their access. Monitoring tools can help you monitor and control your children's internet access. Installing web filtering software can help you filter out content you don't want your children to have access to. There are also parental control apps that allow you to keep track of which sites your children have visited, how much time they are spending on their devices, set time limits on their internet connection and block malicious sites.
It is not realistic to be able to keep your children away from the Internet forever. However, there are steps you can take and tools you can utilize to help keep your children safe online.