On Safer Internet Day, the company I work for, Disney’s Club Penguin launched an internet safety program with resources for parents and kids. We also embedded an online safety quiz for kids to take in the game over 1 million kids have taken the quiz!
In my previous post on this topic, I gave tips for parents to talk to their tweens about Internet safety. In this post, I answer the question: What’s your responsibility as a parent?
As a parent myself of a 10-year-old, there’s already a lot on my plate. Adding tasks to the never-ending list is daunting. What I’ve come to realize though is that it’s a must-do, like you would speak to your kids about the other tough topics in life. With an estimated 95% of kids in the United States online, it’s no longer a question of whether a parent will let their child go online. It’s a question of when they are online, what are the rules and what do I need to do as parent?
Here’s a checklist we’ve come up with:
1. Be Aware
- Install filters on all of your devices to protect your child from inappropriate websites. Top Ten Ratings rates software and under their “Internet Filter Software Review” you can read about some options. Software needs to be installed on every connected device — your phones, tablets, computers etc. Secondly, you can add a filter directly to your in-home web access through a service like OpenDNS. It won’t help when the device is used outside the home like the software you install will, but any device brought into the home (including your kids friends) will be covered. Finally, check with your internet service provider. Sometimes they’ll offer filtering as part of their service, but this will only help for devices being used in the home.
- Keep tabs on your child’s internet usage. Filters may be the first line of defense, but your job isn’t over with the installation of them. Make sure you know what sites your child visits, how often and with who they connect with. A good friend of mine discovered her 12-year old son exchanging inappropriate texts with friends. And this is a mom on any given year I would nominate for “Mom of the Year.” Her bonus tip: No matter what happens, try not to freak out if you discover something your child is doing online is inappropriate. If you feel overwhelmed with how to monitor, you can use an internet accountability tool like Covenant Eyes. This tool will send you a report of how your connected devices are being used providing a conversation starter with your child.
2. Be Curious.
- Set limits for screen time to have a balance with real world connections. On Club Penguin, we have parental controls we encourage parents to use including a timer to set the amount of time a child may play the game. Discuss with your child what they think is appropriate. I was surprised when I asked my son what he thought, and he told us no screen time during the school week unless it was for school homework. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for kids under the age of two.
- Put the family computer in a public place in your home, such as a kitchen or family room, to encourage an open dialogue and discourage unwanted online behavior.
- Consider not allowing your child to have any connected devices, such as a smartphone, laptop computer, or tablet, in private areas of your home, like a bedroom or bathroom. It’s just easier to keep an eye on what’s happening when your child is in the same room as you. I’ve found it also takes the pressure off your child when a friend is over making it easier to follow the rules.
3. Be Engaged.
- Keep the conversation going. Start talking with your child at an early age about online use and continue the dialogue as your child gets older. I use the stories I hear as a conversation starter with my son — not to scare him, but to open up the dialogue with him through questions like, “What would you do in a situation like that?”
- Know your child’s passwords. Know any passwords that your child uses, and explain that they shouldn’t be shared with anyone — including friends.
Some final thoughts on a parent’s role in keeping their child safe online …
NetSmartz, a charity we support, says parents must pay attention if you notice any of these signs with your child: they avoid being online, become withdrawn, are sneaky with their online usage, appear stressed-out online, become depressed, change daily habits like eating or sleeping, or become withdrawn or isolated from friends and family. It could just be your child going through normal developmental stages. However, it could be something much more serious. Predators, cyberbullying, or accessing inappropriate content are all real issues your child could be grappling with. Don’t ignore it — let your child know you are there for them and then take action. Download our Parent Safety Tips and feel confident with your ability to discuss internet safety with your kids!
Do you have any tips or stories to share about online safety? We’d love to hear from you below!