Video Games, Social Media, Websites: How to Keep Kids Safe Online! by Elisa A. Schmitz 30Seconds
With smartphones, tablets and computers, being online has never been easier for kids – even those as young as 2 or 3. While being online offers a wealth of educational opportunities and entertainment for our children, it isn’t without its dangers. Parents should be aware of the potential pitfalls for kids online and what they can do to help avoid them!
Gaming and interactive websites are popular online destinations for kids. However, kids – especially those unfamiliar with online use – can expose your computer or mobile device to viruses or hackers by opening up ads or other links on these sites. Interactive online games can also put kids at risk from social predators if they share personal information while playing.
Social media is another concern. According to a 2010 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, almost three-quarters of kids ages 12 to 17 have a profile on a social networking site, but the American Academy of Pediatrics says that a lack of maturity and life experience may not give kids the tools they need to successfully navigate these waters. Cyber-bullying, sexual predators and posting inappropriate pictures or messages are all issues kids can face with social websites, texting, instant messaging and email.
How do you know if your child is ready for social media? Facebook‘s age requirement is 13 and MySpace‘s is 15, but some kids fake their age and establish a profile even if they’re younger than that. There are social media sites geared toward kids under 13 – such as Togetherville, ScuttlePad and Club Penguin – that offer safety features like text filters and privacy controls. Ultimately, though, the decision of when to allow your child to text, tweet, have an email account or create a social media profile is up to you and should be made not just by your child’s age but by his or her maturity level.
The key to safe online use for kids is communication. First, discuss online rules and limitations with your partner to establish a united front before you talk to your children. Then make these rules clear to your children, letting them know they can always talk to you about online situations they don’t understand or that make them uncomfortable.
Organizations like the AAP, the Center on Media and Child Health and the FBI recommend several other ways parents can help keep their children safe on cell phones and online:
• Supervise kids younger than 10 when they’re online to show them the basics and to learn your child’s interests. Teach them how to navigate websites and apps on mobile devices and explain to them the difference between main content and ads. Provide easy access to kid-friendly sites and games by creating a folder or section on your computer or mobile device.
• Use online parental controls, which offer filters that block pop-ups and certain sites and even allow monitoring of your child’s online activities. Introduce kids to organizations like NetSmartz.org that offer cyber safety education for kids.
• Talk to your kids about safe online practices like not friending strangers or people they don’t know well, and not posting intimate or embarrassing pictures of themselves or anyone else. They should never give out personal information like usernames and passwords, their full name, address, phone number or school name. If sites require a name to play, help kids come up with a nickname they can use online.
• Keep online devices in common areas like the living room or kitchen and limit your children’s computer, cell phone and tablet use to these open areas of the house. Have an online curfew, too, such as no texting or social media after 10 p.m. for teens or no online games after dinner for preschoolers.
• Set time limits for online use. Most organizations recommend no more than one to two hours a day. Establish a system of rewarding online time in 10- or 15-minute increments, which teaches children that being online is a privilege, not a right.
• Learn and use the games, social media and lingo your kids use and lead by example. Create your own social media accounts on the sites your child frequents, and make it a rule to friend each other. Consider friending their friends to have access to the sites and people your kids do.
• Talk to your kids on a daily basis about their online use. Ask “Who texted you today?” “What did you play online?” “Did you friend anyone new on Facebook?” Look for signs of cyber bullying or inappropriate use, such as not wanting to go to school, being upset after online use or avoiding your questions.
• Be up-front with your kids about where their privacy with cell and online use begins and ends. Get their usernames and passwords for email and social media accounts and check their accounts periodically for incoming and outgoing communications.