More than two decades ago, the World Wide Web became available to the public, linking together ideas, information and technology faster than the world had ever seen and fundamentally changing the way people communicate.
But with great power comes great responsibility, especially as it pertains to monitoring the online activity of young internet users. As beneficial as the internet can be in consumers’ daily lives , it can also present the most potent forms of negativity and danger for children and adolescents when the proper boundaries and restrictions are not put in place.
In today’s world, more and more devices offer internet access and children are becoming acclimated to the technology at ever-younger ages. It’s estimated that more than 45 million U.S. children ages 10-17 use the internet. While it’s difficult for parents to track every press of the key a child makes, there are several ways consumers can ensure children are kept safe from harm online:
- Keep computers in a common area.
By removing computers and tablets from a child’s bedroom, consumers not only reduce the chances of a child stumbling upon inappropriate online content, but also create healthy boundaries pertaining to “screen time.” Having a common area where computers are kept allows parents to be within reach should they need to intervene and also gives children enough autonomy to complete homework and safely browse the internet without parents being too intrusive.
- Openly discuss the dangers of the web.
Open and honest communication is the cornerstone of any relationship, especially the parent-child relationship. While it might be an uncomfortable conversation, it’s important for parents and children to discuss the dangers of the internet, what’s out there and the types of things a child should avoid. Perhaps more importantly, it helps parents become a trusting advocate and encourages children to share any online experiences that make them feel uncomfortable.
- Take proper security measures within browser settings.
In every web browser, there is the option to disable, restrict or allow cookies. Generally, it is best to disable cookies and then enable them when visiting a trusted site that requires them. To reduce the potential of children clicking on malicious pop-ups, it is recommended that parents block pop-ups within settings. Although turning on this feature could restrict the functionality of certain websites, it will also minimize the number of pop-up ads that will be received, some of which may contain spyware, spam or inappropriate materials. Finally, select browsers could provide the option of putting websites into different segments, or zones, then defining different security restrictions for each zone.
- Get smart about social media.
Perhaps the most common place children experience the threat of cyberbullying and inappropriate content is through social media platforms. As a parent, keeping up with social media channels can be a daunting yet necessary process. First, parents of young teens should request login information for their child’s accounts. With older teens, it’s important for parents to maintain trust, so instead of gathering login information, parents might consider adding the child as a friend on social platforms to monitor his or her content and behavior there. It’s also important to become familiar with each platform’s privacy settings; by turning a child’s profiles to private, activity is only visible to a select group of known individuals. Last but certainly not least, parents should develop a list of rules each child on social media must abide by. This list could include:
- Not allowing children to post about where they are.
- Not allowing children to post any personal details.
- Limiting the amount or kinds of photos they post.
- Setting an amount of time they can spend on social media.
- Restricting which social media sites they can utilize.
- Only allowing them to follow or friend people they know in person, like classmates or family members.
- Sharing their passwords for all accounts with a parent.
The internet is a powerful tool, but almost any search of the World Wide Web can result in a child’s exposure to objectionable content, even when filters and parental controls are in the equation. By having an open conversation with children about the dangers of the internet and following the tactics presented above, parents can rest a bit easier at night knowing they’ve reduced the risk of their child encountering malicious content.
Looking for more ways to maximize your family’s internet experience? Check out the FTC News & Blog for regular articles on technology, online security, new FTC products and services, and more!