With the holidays right around the corner, there’s no doubt that many laptops, smartphones and tablets will soon be wrapped up and placed under the tree. And while these devices are sure to delight their recipients, the digital world unfortunately can present a range of dangers for child and adolescent users. But with the right precautions, parents can keep their children safe from any online predators or other dangers that might be lurking.
Those who have decided their child is old enough to use an internet-connected device should consider these five tips for keeping young users safer while navigating the online world:
- Be involved. While parents don’t have to hover 100 percent of the time, keeping a close eye on what their children are doing and where they are going online are the best ways to steer them clear of danger. Parents should take regular looks at their kids’ browsing history and block any potentially problematic sites. Parents also should talk with their kids about why certain sites on the internet are off limits. They should also make sure their kids are aware of the dangers of responding to unsolicited messages online, especially messages sent by strangers. All the while, parents should try to ensure that their kids feel safe and comfortable talking to them about any concerns they might have or encounter while using the internet.
- Utilize internet filtering/website blocking. Parents can, through specific equipment, block certain website to users on their home network, much like is done with public networks at libraries and schools. The drawback is that parents have to be aware of those websites and name them specifically.
- Control kids’ internet schedules. Another possibility available through specific devices, internet providers’ security apps or via individual devices’ parental control functionality (or, more simply, by implementing house rules), parents can designate what days of the week and what times of day children can go online. In addition to keeping the amount of time kids spend on screens within reasonable limits, parents can better monitor their kids’ online activity.
- Teach privacy protection. Parents should talk with their children about the dangers of sharing information with strangers online plus make sure they follow these rules:
- Never give out their name, address, phone number, email address, password, picture or any other personal information without a parent’s approval.
- Never open emails or respond to messages from strangers.
- Never get together with anyone they “meet” online.
- Be app aware. Parents of younger tech users should be on guard against apps that make it easy for sexual predators and other ill-wishing adults to gain access to underage people. A few apps that parents should be especially aware of include:
- “Snapchat” and “WhatsApp” — Both apps are for sending and receiving messages, photos and videos. Although they are incredibly popular and widely used, it’s critical that parents personally check the privacy settings on their youngsters’ profiles. They could potentially send/receive photos to and from users they don’t even know and can even share their live location.
- “MeetMe” — This app with an emphasis on dating could allow ill-intentioned adults to easily meet teens much younger than them.
- “TikTok” — This app is currently enjoying an explosion in popularity, but parents should be warned that the user-created content can contain explicit language and adult content.
- “Whisper” —A social confessional of sorts, this app allows users to anonymously share their feelings. More harmfully, it can reveal a child’s location for a meetup.
- “Calculator#” — If there’s one app to totally ban, it’s this one. It’s a camouflage app that “hides” several other apps within it, giving kids the chance to hide their photos, videos and even browser history.
The most import step parents can take to keep their kids safe online is to open an ongoing, honest conversation about the dangers posed by internet strangers and to regularly discuss the responsibility required of those who independently use online devices. With the right precautions in place, combined with some safe-use awareness on the part of young users, the internet can open a world of knowledge and fun to users of all ages.
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