By Kate Halim

Being a parent means being responsible for your children’s overall well-being. Parents teach their children how to stay safe while going about their normal day-to-day activities.

Parents do everything possible to keep their children safe and this also includes keeping them safe online from sexual predators, bullies and inappropriate content as they use the internet to connect with other people. 

Yemi Dabiri, a child protection advocate told Saturday Sun that the internet is here to stay and instead of parents banning their children outright from surfing the internet, they can introduce some cyber safety know-how to their parenting skills and help their children stay safe online.

Dabiri outlined 10 tips which can help parents keep their children safe online.

One: Communicate honestly with your children about their online activity

As soon as your children start accessing the internet, talk to them about what they are reading, and watching and who they are communicating with online and keep the conversation going as they grow older. Ask your children what sites they visit or apps they use, write a list and look at them together. Talk to them about what you think is appropriate, and remind them that this may be different for other parents and their children.

Listen to your children 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 their 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. Also, teach them to always remember that the internet isn’t private.

Two: Keep screens and devices where you can see them

Always monitor your children’s time online, particularly younger children. Keep the computer in a central spot in the home where it is easy to keep an eye on what they are doing and viewing online. For mobile devices, you can set them to forget Wi-Fi passcodes so your children cannot go online without you knowing. You can also try to make an agreement that there are no tablets, laptops or gaming in bedrooms.

For younger children, you might also consider checking browser histories after your child has been online to see what sites they are visiting. This approach obviously gets harder as children grow older and work out how to clear histories, which is the more reason to open the lines of communication about internet use at an early age.

Three: Teach them to be cautious of strangers

Online chatting should be primarily with friends and family. Remind your kids that people online might not be who they say they are. Let them know that they should never give private information, like a phone number or address, or send pictures to strangers. Discuss what topics are okay for them to talk about online and what are not. Make sure your children know that they can come to you if something creepy happens, and encourage them to block and ignore anyone who makes them uncomfortable.

Four: Know your parental controls

Innocent searches online can lead to not-so-innocent results, so it’s wise to know how to use the parental controls/search restrictions offered by web browsers, internet service providers and devices. Although this may not be 100 per cent accurate, parental controls can help prevent your children from seeing and accessing the most violent or sexual material. Paid security tools and features will also offer extra protection and control.

Five: Set limits

It is important for parents to establish appropriate limits on the amount of time children may spend online and what kinds of sites they may visit. As a parent, you should have control over the amount of screen time your child has available each day and how much is too much for each child.  Once that time limit is met, you may have to remove the devices from your children’s room. Parents should also explain to their children that online downloads are not always innocent. They should know that free videos and games seem like a good deal, but they can have spyware and viruses. Also, warn your children not open email messages from people they don’t know.

Six: Know your children’s online friends

As adults, parents know that some people online aren’t who they say they are, but children and young people can be naïve about who they are chatting with if they are not taught to be cyber-wise from an early age.

Parents should make sure they become friends and contacts within their children’s social media circles and ensure that they monitor their posts and interactions with other people. Your children may resist but tell them that is one of the conditions for you to allow them internet access

Seven: Teach them how to create strong passwords

Teach your children how to come up with strong passwords that aren’t easy to guess. They should know how to create passwords that are memorable but difficult to hack. Warn your children never to share passwords with anyone (except mum and dad). This also includes their best friends and boyfriends or girlfriends.

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Eight: Teach them how to protect their privacy

If your children are regular users 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 some vital questions before posting anything if the information, including name, phone number, home address, email, name of school or photo is something they would give a stranger. If the answer is no, then they shouldn’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 are shared.

Nine: Keep control of your family’s digital footprint

Every picture and personal detail that is posted and shared on social media and the internet contributes to someone’s digital footprint. The big risk with this is that once information is shared publicly, it can be used in ways you may not expect and cannot control.

As a parent, you should also assume that anything that is put online is permanent even though it can sometimes be deleted. But before you delete them, some others could have seen it and saved it.

For this reason, children and young people need to be smart about protecting their images and information. Teach your children to stay in control of their digital footprint, by only sharing with people who they know and trust. Rather than posting to all their friends on social media, encourage them to be selective and use the privacy settings on the social media platforms they use.

Ten: Teach your children to keep their location private

Most apps, networks and devices have geo-tagging features which make your whereabouts public and can lead someone directly to you. These features should be turned off for obvious privacy and safety reasons. Digital photos also contain metadata which is information about the time, date and GPS coordinates which may reveal more than you want to. Some social media platforms automatically hide or remove this data, but not all, so do your homework and know how much info your children are sharing online so that you can keep them safe.

Eleven: Keep track of online time

Professionals recommend children between the age of five and 17 should have no more than two hours of screen time a day. So, it’s important to monitor your child’s online time, particularly younger children, to ensure they do not develop bad habits.

Get your children to agree on a period of time, say 30 minutes per session, and set a timer to go off – don’t forget to make this a non-negotiable finish time. You should also switch off the home Wi-Fi at a set time each night, ideally before bedtime so everyone has some time out from the internet.  You can also try making some days screen-free in your home to encourage everyone to pursue other more active and less technology-driven ways to entertain themselves.

Twelve: Be social media savvy

Parents need to educate themselves on ways to be safe on social networks so that they can give the best advice to their children. Sign up for the social networks and apps your children are using and find out how to use the privacy settings and reporting mechanisms.

Talk about how they can stay safe on social networks, including talking to a trusted person when they are worried and being aware of what constitutes online bullying both as a perpetrator and a victim.

If your children use social networks, educate them on how they can report inappropriate and offensive posts, block someone from attacking them or bullying them and keep private information about themselves away from people on the internet.

Thirteen: Lead by example

Lead by example and always model the kind of positive online behaviour you would like your children to exhibit. If they see you being cautious and respectable when you are online, they are more likely to follow in your footsteps. And, yes, this includes limiting your own screen time.

Ultimately, you don’t want to instil fear in your children or prevent them from experiencing the many educational, entertainment, social and other benefits of the internet, but rather, you should be focused on giving them the skills and knowledge they need to know so that they can make the most of social media and avoid the dangers.

Fourteen: Keep the lines of communication open

It is pertinent for parents to continuously have age-appropriate conversations about their family’s values, and share why children should avoid content and conversations that they find objectionable. They should make sure their children know that they can always come to them for support and comfort if something happens that makes them uncomfortable or hurt their feelings online.