How to make the internet safe for your kids (2022). The internet can be a dangerous place for children. Here’s what dangers they may face and how to protect your kids.
As parents, we generally do everything we can to keep our children safe and well, from getting them to ‘slip, slop, slap’ before going out in the sun, to being careful when crossing a road and always wearing a helmet when cycling. But what are you doing to protect them from bullies, predators, and inappropriate content online?
Being a parent is tough. It’s your duty and responsibility to nurture, educate, feed, and protect your children from harm. But dangers in the online world can be every bit as real as dangers in the physical one, and shielding them from danger can be a full-time job. So what dangers might they face online? How can you protect your children from these threats?
What Threats Do Children Face on the internet?
As your child moves through the online world, they will be talking to people they know in real life—and people they’ve never met before. They’ll be joining groups, espousing hopelessly naive political ideologies, generating and sharing memes, and sucking down deep draughts from the YouTube firehose.
Here are some of the perils they’ll face along the way.
- Dangerous challenges: Kids love to take up a dare or a challenge. Some of them, such as the ice bucket challenge, are relatively harmless and help raise money and awareness for a good cause. Other challenges and trends are more dangerous. The Cinnamon challenge left some kids with severe respiratory issues; the “salt and ice challenge” can result in scarring; and the pass-out challenge, also known as “the choking game”, as reported by the CDC, has resulted in dozens of deaths—mostly of boys between the ages of 11 and 16.
- Unhealthy behaviors: It’s not uncommon for teenagers to have body issues, and to look for help online. If a child who feels they are overweight falls into the wrong online community, they can be encouraged into adopting unhealthy behaviors. Pro-eating disorder communities are among the worst offenders and can support youngsters to the point of anorexia or death.
- Bullying: Kids are mean to each other, and it doesn’t stop at the school gate. Cyberbullying means they can be bullied wherever they are. Relentless social media harassment has led to multiple teen suicides.
- Sexual exploitation: Sometimes, it’s possible to develop deep and meaningful relationships with online-only friends. Sometimes, it’s so deep and meaningful that your child feels comfortable and loved enough to engage in sexual behavior through words, images, and video. The person with whom they share these intimate moments may not be who they appear to be and may share them further. Children can also be tricked into meeting abusers in real life.
- Blackmail: If your child is doing something online that they would rather you not know about, they leave themselves open to blackmail and extortion. Often, children who are tricked into online sexual activity are threatened with the release of the material unless they provide even more.
How to Keep Your Kids Safe Online in 2022
Monitor Network Traffic and Restrict Access to Certain Sites
Keeping an eye on the traffic going in and out of your home network is easy with a tool like Pi-hole. Pi-hole gives you an easy way to block access to any site or web address. If your child is going to dark places online (or even just TikTok), you can detect and block it.
Talk openly with your child about their online activity
As soon as your child starts accessing the internet, talk to them about what they are reading, watching, and who they are communicating with online – and keep the conversation going as they grow older. Ask your child what sites they visit or apps they use, write a list and look at them together. Talk to your child about what you think is appropriate, and remind them that this may be different for other parents and their children.
Listen to your child and reach an agreement about what is right for your family. Remember the time will come when they will access the internet outside the safety of home and you want them to be prepared for that.
It’s vital to teach them about their online reputation, too, and how they must be careful about how they behave, interact with people and represent themselves in such a public forum. They must always remember that the internet isn’t private.
Restrict Access to Devices
Kids don’t typically have much money, so it’s unlikely they can go out and buy their own devices. This means that they have whatever you let them have. It can be access to the family desktop, or it can be Amazon tablets—the important thing is that you’re the administrator of these devices, and they can’t install apps without your permission.
Be ‘share aware’ to protect your privacy
If your child is a regular user of social networks, they must be aware of the risk of personal information or images being made public once they post them. While they won’t fully understand the consequences of revealing personal information online, you should teach them to be cautious and thoughtful about what they post and share. Encourage your children to ask themselves before posting anything if the information (i.e. name, phone number, home address, email, name of school) or photo is something they would give a stranger. If the answer is no, don’t post it.
If your child is sharing photos or posts online ask your child to let you see what they are sharing or ask an older sibling to check any photos before they’re shared.
Restrict Times They Can Use Devices
Wickedness thrives under the cover of darkness, and after bedtime, your children should not be using their devices online. Pi-hole is once again the answer, and with a little technical know-how, Pi-hole can be used to regulate access to sites between certain times.
Talk to Your Children About Online Dangers
Children aren’t stupid, but they can be naive. As nothing genuinely terrible might have happened to them, they believe that they are immune. Alternatively, if something bad is going on, they may be scared or too ashamed to open up about it.
Communicate openly with your children about potential online dangers and make it clear to them that they can talk to you about anything, and that you will help without judging. Make sure you back your words up with actions.