Keeping Your Children Safe Online – 10 Digital Security Tips to Protect Your Child on Social Media, Online Games, E-Learning Platforms and the Internet

3 Part Mini Series - Blog 1

The horse has bolted. Your ambition of keeping your children away from using electronic devices, playing electronic games, being on social media and so forth until they reach at least the middle teenage years probably has now gone out the window. In fact, it has been thrust upon children worldwide as education has moved online during this pandemic period. Using online platforms of Zoom and Google Classroom may be with us for the foreseeable future well after home-based learning has ended. Protecting your child on social media, online games, e-learning platforms and the Internet is now something every parent needs to think about, ready or not. In addition to using computers for home-based learning, a lack of options for children to entertain themselves at home during the holiday period, coinciding with parents working from home, has inevitably led to more compromises being made on when and for how long our children can use devices, and the platforms that can be accessed by those devices. During the last few long months of lockdown, I’m sure many families have grappled with this. So, if our children are entering the online world earlier than anticipated, we need to get a jump on what protection we can we set them up with.

I am by no means an expert on this but I wanted to explore it for you and see if I could offer some help by laying out information to view in a few different ways. Mainly because there is so much to wrap your head around on this topic! Many parents are already aware of things you can do to secure accounts for your children, and I’ll include these tips here first, but I also want to address how to help your children advocate for themselves and be responsible in their online habits. Because you simply can’t watch them all the time!

So, this is the start of a 3-part mini-series on Keeping Your Children Safe Online. In this first blog, I thought I’d tackle Digital Security. Then in the following 3 articles, I’ll look at Digital Landscapes - or the 4 main online territories that I see where children might wander off to – and Digital Citizenship. However, I cannot stress enough the importance of open and honest communication between your child and you. Do not set rules without explanation. Discuss and empower your children so that they feel they have some say in all of this. So, let’s get started!

Digital Security

There are a few simple things you can do to lock down devices and access to sites and accounts. But first and foremost, this needs to be backed up with education. Take the time to discuss guidelines on usage with your child before they commence their foray into the online world. Children respond well to knowing what the boundaries are, so this enables them to enjoy the experience they want while appreciating the parameters of that experience. Ultimately, just like you would probably give your child guidance about how to conduct themselves if they use public transport alone, and what to do if they run into trouble, they will feel safer knowing that there is some backbone to how they should handle themselves in the vast online world.

  1. Set an age limit for applications

Instead of saying that yes, you can now use the internet, agree on an age limit for accessing specific applications. Some may be appropriate for right now, while others may not.

  1. Make their account as a private profile

If you allow your child to have a social media account on any of the various platforms available, ensure that their account is set to private. Many social media platforms have preset age limits with regards opening an account. Explain to your child that these rules are in place to protect them. Yes, they could cheat and forge their age to open an account but explain to them that these big social media companies have these age limit rules in place for a reason and that is to protect the children.

  1. Check privacy settings

Check-in with your child from time to time to make sure nothing has changed with their account settings. Applications and platforms update their security and you and your child should update each other along with them.

  1. Create a strong password

Help your child select a robust password that does not involve their birth date or a general numeric and alphabetical sequence. Oh, and, make sure you know their password! Be upfront and open on that point. Of course, as they get older and more internet aware then this will not be necessary.

  1. Don’t share personal details

Set the ground rule that contact and location information is not to be shared. Your child may not appreciate the potential for harm that can come from sharing a check-in.

  1. Don’t accept friend requests from strangers or adults

Unfortunately, you will need to explain to your child that not everyone on the internet is who they say they are. That means they could possibly accept a friend request from someone pretending to be a child who is actually and adult. Also, instead of having to explain the nuances of how even adults you know can have mal-intent, you might decide it’s better to have a blanket ban on accepting friend requests from any adult carte blanche, whether they are known to the family or not. Ask that they accept your friend request (but NEVER comment, “Like” maybe but avoid the urge to comment and don’t try and use their modern lingo. That would be just so embarrassing).

  1. Have an open-door policy

Make sure your child knows that they come to you with anything they see or hear online that makes them uncomfortable or seems a little off, based on your own family’s moral code. This is a very wide area that could stretch from revealing bodies to bullying. And it could be things that are targeted at them or that they witness happening to others. So it could be helpful to ask your child what they consider unacceptable behaviour so that you are aware of how aware they are when infringements are perpetrated. Again, keep it out in the open and the conversation going.

  1. Define appropriate content

This goes hand in hand with point 7 really. Outline what you consider to be appropriate and inappropriate content. You will need to revisit this as they grow older. It’s inevitable that they will come across inappropriate content, so all you can do is arm them with how they can handle that situation. What helps is ensure the computer screen faces into the room and if they are using the computer in their bedroom the door is not closed so that if you walk past unexpectedly, the screen is visible to you.

  1. Set time limits

Allocating a certain time each day or each week when your child can access social media, online gaming or other internet activities, and stipulating the duration for use can not only take the heat out of arguments, it ensures that your child is available to pursue other activities outside of online time. Having said that, be aware that some interactions don’t follow a set timeline. So you might want to give your child responsibility for completing the task they’re on, even if they’ve exceeded their allotted time. It’s worth considering that exposure to screens just before bedtime may lead to some sleep trouble, so pick and choose your times for access.

As they get older, they may feel the pressure of replying to social media within a set time which could be within a minute or so. Yes, that’s a thing apparently. And if they do not, then they perceive this as making them look really bad in the eyes of their friends. What I did was to play the ‘Mum” card. I asked for the mobile phone to be left in my room every evening to charge from a set time (for you to set) and I told my child to let their friends know that “Mum has made me put my phone in her room to charge overnight. She won’t let me use it. Sorry guys.” This gave my child an out, an excuse that was believable and didn’t make him lose face in front of his friends.

  1. Discuss their experience

It’s very tempting to just leave them to their own devices, so to speak - you can get some things done while your child is occupied online! And that’s fine. After all, this is a good opportunity to build trust and you can’t do that if you’re looking over their shoulder to watch what they’re doing. But after their daily or weekly online experience, it’s a good idea to chat with your children about what they did, how was it etc. In the early years, this might be asking about how to play a particular game. But for older children, this might be hearing about exchanges your child has with other children. By showing an interest in their online experience you may gain valuable insight into their friendship groups and topics they’re dealing with.

Well, I hoped this helped. I’ll be back with the second blog in this series on Digital Landscapes very soon.

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