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7 Tips to Keep Children Safe Online

With children’s screen time at an all-time high, as a parent or caregiver, you need tools to keep your child safe online. Too much screen time has risks for physical, mental, and development health. Predators also lurk online. Without proper safeguards, children can easily be lured into risky behavior by these online predators.

Too much time on the tablet can be detrimental to physical and mental health.

Here are 7 tips to help you keep your child safe online:

  1. Limit screen time, but be realistic.
    •  When it comes to limiting screen time, you need to achieve a balance. Your child likely does a lot of her or his socializing online. While this is different from how previous generations socialized, it is today’s reality. First, monitor the amount of time your child is spending online without setting a limit. After a week, take a look and ask yourself if this is a reasonable amount of time.1 If not, talk to your child about their screen time. 
      • Ask your child what she or he thinks about their screen time. Do they feel like they are online too much? While some children might deny this, others might know their behavior is out of control and ask for help.
      • If your child is a teen, involve them in setting screen time limits. This approach will give your teen a sense of independence and will increase likelihood of compliance. However, remember that you are the parent. If you find that whatever limit your teen chooses is not enough to keep them safe, be authoritative and set an appropriate limit.
      • Try a cut down approach. Your child is spending 10 hours online a day? Don’t cut it to 30 minutes right away. Instead, cut it by an hour or two a week. You could choose one day a week as a digital detox with no screen time or only 30 minutes of screen time. See point 7 for more tips. 
  2. Know the risks of too much screen time.
    • Too much screen time isn’t just an annoying Gen Z behavior. Overusing smartphones and social media is associated with mental health problems such as “anxiety, depression, stress, and low self-esteem.” It also increases the likelihood your child will be approached by predators
    • All of the risks associated with too much screen time are subject to numerous studies and books. For sake of length, I recommend searching online for “too much screen time risks.” You will find an abundance of studies, news articles, and websites talking about the harm too much screen time can cause children (and adults). 
  3. Teach your child how to stay safe online.
    • If you are familiar with our work at Global EP, you will know that education is the foundation of our mission. There are numerous platforms where predators can and will attempt to approach your child. While you might sleep better at night if you could monitor all of your child’s online interactions, this is not possible in most cases. And even if it were possible, it is better to teach your child what warning signs to look out for. One day they won’t be children anymore and you won’t be around to monitor all of their activities. In other words, eventually your child will have to learn to independently stay safe online, so start now. 
    • A useful place to start is the 10 Kids’ Rules for Online Safety. Also, InternetSafety101 has a lot of helpful articles for parents.  
  4. Use a web filter.
    • A disclaimer: a web filter is a great tool, but it is not the be-all and end-all solution. As criminals, predators can still find a way around these filters, but it is a lot more difficult for them. In addition to blocking harmful websites, web filters can set screen time limits and block certain apps. But please, again keep in mind that the web filter will not do your job for you. Regardless, a web filter is still a vital online safety tool.
  5. Build trust and openness.
    • As you know, you are the parent. Your job is to keep your child safe. Sometimes this instinct to keep your child safe can elicit emotional reactions. Imagine you found out something concerning or scary about your child’s web activity. How would you approach this? While your first instinct might be to take all electronic devices and ship your child off to Timbuktu, this solution won’t solve the problem. Instead, gather more information. Make a plan to sit down and ask your child about whatever you found. The situation might be different than what you initially thought, or it could be worse. Whatever happens, plan to stay calm to make a rational plan going forward. Also see tip 6. 
    • Trust is a two-way street. If your child demonstrates safe online behavior for an extended period of time, allow her or him more privacy. The main thing is keeping them safe and teaching them how to stay safe, not knowing every detail of his or her life.
  6. Know your limits. Seek professional help and advice as needed.
    • If your child seems withdrawn, depressed, is always online, and/or tries to conceal his or her online activity, your child could be using the internet as an unhealthy coping method. Seek professional help in these cases. You will need a counselor who can help you set boundaries with your child and your child will need a counselor to help her or him address the behavior and its causes.
    • In the case of pornography addiction, find a counselor who specializes in this addiction. Also consult resources such as Fight the New Drug.  
  7. Encourage activities offline.
    • Yeah I know, this point technically isn’t happening online, but it will still encourage your child to stay safe online. Too much time on social media and online games can make relationships there feel more real than those existing offline. Prevent your child from getting sucked into this warped reality by encouraging activities in the real world.
      • With your child, create a list of fun offline activities. It might be tempting to make all of these activities educational and productive, such as chores and school work. However, you need to include unstructured activities that are purely fun for your child. Otherwise, they won’t have an incentive to replace online activity. Calling a friend, making art, and playing outside are all healthy activities that are simple and fun. 
      • Be a good example. Be honest with yourself about your screen time. If you find you are spending a lot of time online on non-work activities, then limit your screen time too. It might be obvious, but your child isn’t going to take your limits seriously if you don’t keep them. 
Setting limits will help your child stay safe online.

By working with your child to implement online safety limits, you will drastically reduce the chance that they will develop an online addiction, health problems, or be trafficked by a predator. By moderating your own screen time, you will encourage your child to practice safe online behavior. With so much going on in our world, both online and offline, it is inevitable our children will run into danger. By educating ourselves and our children on online safety, we can prevent heartache, addiction, and modern-day slavery.

Are there any online safety tips that have worked for you? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Note:

  1. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not set a specific screen time amount set for teens. However, AAP “recommends avoiding digital media – except for video chatting – for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months. And limit screen time to one hour a day for children ages 2 to 5. The American Heart Association recommends children older than 5 only use screens for two hours a day.”

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