PixabayteenboysThe internet is a modern marvel. This simple invention has revolutionized our lives in ways we never could have expected. We can order food and products straight to our door. We can video chat with people on the other side of the globe. We can talk to almost anyone in a matter of seconds.

We can play games, watch movies and TV, and keep ourselves entertained for hours on end. We can learn new things and explore new places without ever leaving the comfort of our homes.

But too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Children of the modern age are inundated with data. They’re growing up in a world where tablets, smartphones, and smart watches are readily available. In fact, kids between eight and eighteen years old spend an average of almost eight hours per day using the internet.

The internet can also be a scary place, particularly for young kids. For teens, the internet can be even more intimidating. Many people on the internet feel as though they are anonymous, which means that bullying has become rampant on social platforms. People may feel as though their keyboard is a separate entity, which makes them think they can say whatever they want without consequence. In reality, hurtful comments and messages can have long-lasting, real-life consequences.

Parental restriction locks can help protect your kids from accessing the darker corners of the web, but children should also bear personal responsibility for their internet use. Kids and teens should be taught from an early age how to use these technologies safely and responsibly.

Basic Tips for Internet Safety

These tips may seem like common sense, but a little review never hurt anyone.

  • Never give out any personal information. This includes full names, home addresses, work addresses, school addresses, phone numbers, credit and debit card information, and other security details. You never know who’s on the other side of the screen, and giving out personal information can put your child and your family in danger. Teach your kids the importance of keeping their personal information private.
  • Never send or respond to messages that are mean or hurtful. Your kids should know to come to you right away if they receive a message that is meant to bully or insult them. Responding to messages like these can only make matters worse, and puts your child on the same level as the person who sent them in the first place.
  • Never give out passwords to anyone. Not even to their best friend. All a hacker needs is your password to access your accounts and use your personal information for nefarious purposes. In addition, passwords should always be strong and difficult to guess easily.

How to Teach Your Child or Teen to Stay Safe Online 

Everyone’s parenting style is different, and every parent will have different ways of teaching their children internet safety. All too often, those basic safety tips you try to instill in your child can go in one ear and out the other. Here are some approaches to teaching your kids internet safety lessons that will stick. 

  1. Communication is key. Your child should feel comfortable coming to you with any concerns they have regarding their internet use. Establishing an open line of communication can help resolve problems and prevent them from encountering dangerous sites or people.
  2. Your kids should consult you if they have any doubts. The internet can be unpredictable. Even with parental locks and thorough education on the dangers of the internet, there’s still a chance your child can encounter something potentially dangerous. Encourage your child to consult you if they come across something that’s unsafe or makes them uncomfortable.
  3. Supervise your kids’ internet use. Internet use, particularly for younger kids, should always be supervised. Not supervising your kids’ internet use may lead to them accessing inappropriate material, or may result in them breaking an expensive device.
  4. Educate your children on the dangers of becoming addicted to the Internet. Children under five should not exceed one hour of internet usage per day. Older children and teens should have a maximum of two hours of screen time per day. Excess internet usage can have negative effects on mental health, sleep, educational development, and eyesight. Your kids should know this information and heed it when using the internet.
  5. Let your kids know that using the Internet is a privilege, not a right. If your child or teen breaks any of your internet safety rules, there should be consequences in place for dealing with it. The least of these should include restricted or no internet access for a predetermined period of time. In the event that this does happen, you should keep all devices secured safely so your child can’t access them.
  6. Talk to them about malware and phishing scams. Kids may not know what malware looks like. You should teach them to recognize phishing scams and to avoid them when they pop up. All your devices should have antivirus software installed, and your child should know how to use these programs in case they accidentally download malware.
  7. Teach them how to use privacy settings on social networking sites. This tip may be more useful for older children or teens who have social media profiles like Facebook or Twitter. Your children’s profiles should never be accessible to the public until they are 18 or older. Make sure your child or teen knows how to enable privacy settings so their updates and photos aren’t accessed by anyone they don’t want to see them.
  8. Be honest. Tell your kids exactly what they may encounter while surfing the internet. What you choose to disclose may vary based on their age and maturity level as well as your parenting preferences. Either way, honesty is important when teaching your kids internet safety.
  9. Address online sexual encounters. This one is especially important for teens. In the past year alone, 25% of teenagers younger than seventeen encountered unwanted sexual content. You should teach them what to do in case this happens to them.

Teaching your children about internet use is a relatively new realm for parents, and it can be scary no matter what age your kids are. The most important thing is to be open and honest, and to teach your kids and teens accountability for their internet use.

Contributor: Jim Shaw