The Goal: Prevent Exposure to Online Dangers
When it comes to parents of younger children and the Internet, we should have a singular goal – preventing premature exposure to online dangers.
What are these dangers? Pornography, graphic violence, and mature content in general. Since kids are online from a very young age these days, we have to be on our toes to make sure we know how to protect them.
How do we do this?
First of all, since there are so many ways for objectionable content to find our kids, the best way for us to make sure every device is safe is to do ourselves a favor and limit the number of devices our kids have access to. In our house, mom and dad’s phones (with parental controls set) are not public resources for kids to play on, and our kids don’t have their own devices yet (ages 8 and 11). That leaves two computers for us to focus on keeping current with parental controls and security profiles. For us, that’s a manageable amount. If you have several children at several different ages, this will be more challenging, obviously. Allow your kids to demonstrate responsibility on family devices before giving them their own. Also, we strongly advise not to allow devices accessing the internet into unsupervised, private, or bedroom areas. It makes things so much safer and less tempting in an open room with mom or dad around.
When your kids are in elementary school, they will start using the Internet to research for school projects. Make sure they are searching safely by using search engines like Kid Rex, Kiddle, and also by locking Google or Bing safe search on your browser. Also, consider filtering your entire home’s Internet use (every device) through technology like Disney’s Circle. In addition, YouTube has a “Restricted Mode,” but we highly recommend YouTube For Kids as an alternate. For more information on this, visit our TIPS page.
If your kids are like mine, they are asking for their own Internet enabled devices by kindergarten. As parents, we have to resist the urge to give into this constant plea. All devices in our home belong to Mom and Dad, and you can have a turn on them when you help with chores, display respectful behavior, get good grades, etc.. Screen time is a privilege, not a right. There are scores of families living regrettably with consequences they did not expect before the teenage years because unrestricted access to devices was given at too young of an age.
Additionally, we strongly advise against children having premature social media accounts like Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. Although these apps have a 13+ age rating from their developers, many parents have allowed their tweens to wade into these waters at ages much younger. We must remember that all of these social media profiles would allow our children to interact with strangers online, and stranger danger is real. (Plus, it’s not cool to sanction your kid lying about their age online!)
You can read more about why these apps are dangerous for children here.
Monitoring Anything You’ve Already Said YES To
If you’ve already given your children devices they communicate to others with either through social media or messaging, we strongly encourage monitoring through third party apps like Covenant Eyes, Teen Safe, or MamaBear. (You can try Covenant Eyes free for 30 days with the promo code: parentswhofight.) Monitoring your child’s phone, messaging, and app activity saves kids from potentially dangerous situations every day. Recently, one mom discovered 100 texts to her 11-year-old son from a teacher’s aide at his school who was grooming him for sex (read: grooming him in order to sexually abuse him). Trusting your kids is one thing, but trusting the unsafe people they have access to through devices is another.
Preparing Them For An Emergency
Chances are you’ve talked with the kids about how to get out of your house if there is a fire inside. Have you talked to them about what to do when they come across pornography or something that makes them feel scared online? We strongly recommend the read-aloud book Good Pictures, Bad Pictures as an essential tool to facilitate conversation with young children about what to do if they see something that makes them feel yucky inside.