Keeping kids safe online

Learn how to teach your kids to navigate safely through a wireless world.

By Scott Steinberg


Parenting expert Scott Steinberg is the creator of the The Modern Parent’s Guide book series and host of popular video show Family Tech: Technology for Parents and Kids. Scott is hailed as a top voice for today’s high-tech generation by dozens of publications from USA Today to Forbes and NPR. A proud parent and working professional, he claims he'll sleep when they start giving away a free lifetime supply of anxiety medication with each new child.

From smartphones to laptops, tablet PCs and high-tech learning tools, the number of connected devices available at kids’ fingertips continues to grow with each passing day. These devices can provide a wonderful opportunity for children to socialize, share their thoughts, and learn more about the world around them—and a potential panic attack for concerned parents.

Parents concerned about kids’ growing access to the Internet, Web and social networks, need to understand that the best way to protect them is to be proactive. Educate yourself about new technologies and trends, and teach children healthy, positive computing habits, and you’ll not only better prepare them to make responsible choices, you’ll also be better equipped to make more informed decisions—and enable yourself to participate in more meaningful bonding opportunities that children will also enjoy. As we frequently point out in discussions and workshops with parents, going hands-on with new high-tech products and services alongside kids provides families with a shared learning activity that all can appreciate, and offers a great way to bridge the gap between generations.

However, with many children now being exposed to connected gadgets before they’re out of diapers, it’s vital that we not dismiss parents’ growing worries over online or high-tech threats either. The vast majority of kids will enjoy perfectly safe and fun Internet surfing experiences. But it’s crucial that we educate them before sending them out into the wilds of cyberspace—among the world’s most public and potentially exposing spaces.

The following online safety tips can help you prepare your family for life in a wireless world:

  • Think homework is for kids? Guess again. Technologies, software programs, apps and services are constantly being introduced and updated. Always study and (wherever possible) go-hands on with new developments to help yourself, and kids, stay ahead of the curve.
  • Don’t have a lot of time to study up on the hottest new gadgets or social networks? Get a crash course on the Internet. Visit popular technology news or reviews websites or simply conduct an online search (for example, “How to Password Protect Your PC”) to educate yourself. Chances are you aren’t the first to encounter a problem—take advantage of experts’ shared learning.
  • Numerous software makers such as McAfee, Symantec and Trend Micro offer child-friendly apps, software programs and child-friendly web filters. But they’re no substitute for positive parenting: Teach kids healthy computing habits, educate them about online dangers, and encourage them to come to you with questions about suspicious content, individuals or situations.
  • Many popular devices and operating systems come with built-in parental controls, which can regulate access to the Internet, online shopping and even systems themselves. Take advantage of these features as a helpful first line of defense, and be sure to password-protect your settings (hint: don’t use birthdays, first names or other easily-guessed codes).
  • Keep screens out of children’s bedrooms and limit usage of connected devices to shared household areas so usage (and usage habits) can be monitored and regulated.
  • Don’t share private information on the Internet: Addresses, birthdays, phone numbers, ages, locations, school names and other personal details should never be posted online.
  • Limit strangers’ access to personal data including photos, videos and status updates on popular social networks like Facebook and Google+ by controlling your privacy settings. Should you choose to meet strangers encountered on these sites in real-life, meet in public places, bring responsible adults or friends along, tell others where you’ll be before departing, and stay in constant contact with caregivers—including letting family members know when you’ve safely arrived and returned.
  • Concerned about the ways in which kids can potentially connect and interact online? Use software programs’ and hardware devices’ built-in features to disable Internet connectivity or digital purchases, and restrict interactions to pre-approved friend lists.
  • Avoid posting potentially offensive, embarrassing or controversial content, as it may come back to trouble you—and lives on forever online for prospective employers, significant others or college recruiters to see on the Internet. When in doubt, always err towards the side of extreme caution—you can never be too careful, or polite. Teach your children the same.
  • Discuss safe online spending and allowance levels with children before providing them access to digital storefronts or programs which offer in-app or in-game purchases. If you do decide to allow kids to buy virtual or real-world goods, prepaid cards may help you avoid the surprise of unexpectedly hefty bills.
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