Written By: SafeHome.org Team | Published: October 14, 2021

It can be challenging for parents to monitor their kids online without coming across as spy-like or overly protective. Even keeping track of how much time they spend online may seem intrusive.

The Pew Research Center conducted a survey pre-pandemic. It found that screen time is a definite concern for 71 percent of parents with children aged 11 or younger. The report was published in July 2020, with 80 percent of parents indicating tablet use among their children. Sixty-three percent of parents said their children use smartphones.

Of course, COVID-19 threw a wrench into the works with virtual schooling. This type of setup sometimes goes well, sometimes not. Either way, it highlights the need for parents to protect their kids in cyberspace.

FYI: Thankfully there are useful tools available to protect your children online. See our rankings of the best identity theft protection for children, or read our roundup of the best ID theft coverage for families if you want to protect everyone in your household.

We advise parents to find a middle ground that includes more independence for kids as they get older. Fortunately, there are plenty of good ways to allow your kids to stay connected and socialize. This guide serves as a blueprint to promote safe, meaningful online experiences for children.

Tips for Safety in the Digital Age

The online world can be scary, especially for parents whose children are learning and making mistakes. However, it’s good to recognize the benefits of going digital. In the end, your kids should be able to use cyberspace to their advantage. They can maintain relations with loved ones, learn new things, and access information. What you need, then, is a set of practical internet safety tips that can help you balance the benefits of the internet with a healthy dose of caution.

Be Proactive

It’s easier to address issues before they become actual problems. Here are the top things you can do to be proactive:

  • Block sites – Don’t let your kids stumble upon violence, porn, or other content you don’t want them to see. A common approach is to turn on Google SafeSearch. Do check that your browsers use Google as the default search engine.
  • Using a VPN – Protect your family’s online privacy with a virtual private network. VPNs encrypt data encrypt data and block strangers from knowing where you or your child is browsing from.
  • Use a firewall – Prevent unauthorized connections to your computer and make sure that the firewall is working at all times.
  • Know who your child interacts with – Be aware of who your children hang out with in person and online. Talk with your kids about online relationships and “netiquette.” Discuss issues such as cyberbullying and how in-person friendships may look a bit different in the digital world. Someone could be more confident or meaner online, for example. Discuss strategies on how to deal with someone who is unkind. Maintain an open-door policy for your children to talk to you.

Prevention is the key to safety, but approach parental controls such as website blocking with a grain of salt. They become less effective as children grow older and are easy for kids to hack. Parental controls aren’t a substitute for meaningful conversations. The ultimate path should be for older kids to self-regulate their Internet use without parental controls.

Set Clear Boundaries

Kids thrive when they have structure. To that end, many families draw up media agreements that require buy-in on both sides. Be patient if your children have gone a long time without rules. They may need some time to adjust to new expectations. Issues to think about include:

Amount of time your kids can be on the Internet or use an electronic device
Weekends only?
A set amount of hours a week?
What time your kids can hop online
In the morning before school?
In the evening after they finish homework?
After they shower?
What kinds of things they can look up and do on the Internet
Chat with friends?
Do research for homework?
Listen to music and watch YouTube videos?
Engage on social media?

If you haven’t already, talk with your kids about trolling, online bullying, and sexting (when they get older). Hold conversations on these topics every once in a while. News articles or personal experiences are great jumping-off points. They should spark honest discussion compared with heavy-duty family meetings.

Of course, rules are different from household to household, but these are some things to keep in mind. Stand by the rules you set so that your kids take you seriously.

Teach Your Children Early about Privacy

Children are growing up with social media and smart devices at their fingertips. They immerse themselves in various screens, including TVs, smartphones, tablets, laptops, game consoles, Kindles, and LeapPads. It can be hard to control your child’s smart device exposure, but it’s never too early to educate them on safety. Tips include these:

  • Do not give out personal information to people online, whether they’re strangers or loved ones. For one thing, “Grandma” might not really be Grandma. She could be an imposter halfway across the world. For another thing, there’s never a valid reason anyone needs your child’s (or your family’s) Netflix password, bank account number, or other sensitive information. Even beloved Uncle Charlie doesn’t need to know your child’s Social Security number. Encourage your children to tell you when people request information. Explain that you’ll call loved ones yourself and follow up on these threads.
  • Restrict information shared on social media. This tip loops back to the one above. Identity thieves and cybercriminals gobble up any morsel they can get, including pets’ names, birthdays, location check-ins, and even the identity of the deceased (yes, it’s a thing, read our guide to the top identity theft protection for the deceased to learn more). It helps a lot if you follow by example. Limit your own sharing.
  • Create strong passwords. Of course, you’ll probably be the one setting your children’s first passwords (and helping them remember these passwords). Kids generally aren’t cognitively and linguistically developed enough to create genuinely protective passwords. Introduce basic concepts to them, adding more advanced ideas as time goes on. For instance, you could teach very young children to have different passwords for each account, to sign out after each use, and that passwords shouldn’t incorporate pets’ names, parents’ names, and the like. Children tend to have two passwords for school and three or four for home use, according to a study published in the Journal of Cybersecurity. These are somewhat manageable loads to memorize. By contrast, adults have nine work passwords and 25 home passwords.
  • Ask parents’ permission before meeting someone from online in person. Go with your children to this meeting, and always have it be in a safe, public place. Emphasize why safe meeting locations are essential. Teenagers are less likely to let you know they’re meeting someone online in person, but they can internalize the message to meet publicly.
  • Log out of all accounts when using a public device. Explain that when people use library computers or even friends’ devices, they need to log out. Otherwise, the next people on the device could get into their accounts.
  • Beware of free stuff. Let your children know that criminals use free games, apps, ringtones, and the like as bait to hide malware. Require that younger children get your permission before downloading anything.

Pro Tip: Read our Identity Guard review to learn how this tool combats phishing scams and other nefarious tactics. But keep in mind there’s still hope of recovery even if your child falls victim to a scheme. Our ranking of the best identity theft restoration services can help them get back on track.

Fake Emails

Suspicious-looking emails are sent out every day. Fortunately, email providers such as Gmail do a pretty good job filtering these into the spam folder. Still, awareness goes a long way. Tell your children about these things.

  • If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. You might get an email saying you’ve won a prize and must submit some personal information to redeem it. Don’t fall for this trap!
  • Beware if you get something urgent-looking. An example is a school email requesting bank account information for a field trip. It could be a scam, and children should tell you about such occurrences. Check whether the email address looks legitimate. Follow up yourself rather than clicking “reply” or on any links in the email. For instance, type the teacher’s email address in a new email or give the school a call.

Did You Know? Other than children, seniors are the most susceptible group to become victims of cybercrime and identity theft. With this in mind, our guide to the best identity theft protection for seniors can help to ensure your loved ones stay safe. There you’ll find senior-friendly coverage like LifeLock senior.

Stay Involved

Staying involved means different things, depending on your child’s age and needs. It’s a good idea for parents of younger children to use the Internet with them, keep a close eye on the sites they like to visit, and monitor the apps they use on the phone. This way, you can point out certain concerns as they arise.

Involvement doesn’t necessarily take the form of installing tracking software or parental controls. In fact, older children may feel like their privacy is being violated. They’ll search for ways around your restrictions. Maintaining open lines of communication is the way to go.

Know & Enforce Age-Appropriate Online Experiences

Kids’ online access and experiences should differ depending on their ages. For example, children younger than 10 need relatively close supervision while they are online. Most don’t have the judgment yet to use social media wisely. If your children flock to the newest sensation, check it out. It may be easier (and wiser) to open a shared account rather than flat-out prohibiting access. That’s a recipe for children to go behind your back.

Gradually increase permissions as children get older. Encourage open communication to make the teen years a lot easier.

Be a Good Role Model

Don’t let your children see you on sites you wouldn’t want them to be on. Children often look at their parents and make judgments on what’s acceptable and what’s not. So, disconnect by example. Spend time outdoors. Read, cook, and play. If you maintain examples of being disconnected, your teen will learn from you and follow suit. In short, make good online choices. If you wouldn’t like to see your child do it, then don’t do it yourself.

Focus On Quality Family Time Without Technology

In a day and age where individuals are so immersed in their electronics, it’s extremely important to encourage quality family time without electronic devices and technology. Bond with one another, perhaps through a fun board game, pool night, or hearty family dinner.

Additional Resources

We understand there can never be too many resources for safety! Below are some websites that encourage cyber safety for people of all ages.

Parents' Ultimate Guide to TikTokNo worries if you’re behind the TikTok curve. Catch up with this guide from Common Sense Media. Learn about duets, challenges, parental controls, and much more.

Parents Need to KnowCommon Sense Media offers a lot more than an ultimate TikTok guide. Hover over “Parents Need to Know” to get the scoop on Zoom, Minecraft, Fortnite, Snapchat, YouTube, and even parental controls.

Scams and SafetyThe FBI has resources on protecting your kids, Internet safety, common scams and crimes, and sex offender registry websites. Each tab is worth checking out.

National Cyber Security AllianceRead blog posts on topics such as connected devices, phone number exposure, and Wi-Fi best practices.

Keeping Your Kids Safe in Cyber Space

Technology is an integral part of our world. If used appropriately, electronic devices can have great benefits. For example, students can efficiently conduct research and write papers, peers can communicate with one another, adults can meet their significant other, and so much more.

However, research has shown that face-to-face interaction between kids and parents, teachers, and friends is essential in fostering healthy relationships and development. The Internet can be a potent tool, but it’s important not to lose sight of personal relationships.

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