As a mom, you know it’s your job to keep your little ones safe. From the moment you first held them, whether you birthed them or adopted them, you probably felt a fierce desire to make sure nothing bad ever happened to your children.
Then, life happens and, of course, they fall, scrape, bleed, and cry. Shy of wrapping your kids in bubble wrap and grounding them for life, it may not feel like there is much you can do to protect them.
In this technological age, it’s no longer just the stranger on the playground you have to be watching out for. There are seedy characters and questionable content all over the internet, tucked away in apps, messaging through social media, and living in hashtags. Navigating the online world is a bit like navigating a minefield.
Here are some basic ground rules to help keep your kids safe online:
1. Don’t trust your firewalls.
Don’t trust technology to parent your kids on technology. Firewalls, filters, and parental controls are not an excuse to give your child unhindered reign online. Kids are smart, and if they don’t know how to weasel their way around your firewalls, odds are they have a friend who does. If they don’t, there’s no reason a “bad guy” wouldn’t. By all means, enable every parental control, filter, and safesearch feature you can find. You may even install an app like Bark to help monitor what is going on, but know that even the presence of these things doesn’t mean your kid is safe. Even untraceable chat rooms in kid-friendly video games can prove dangerous.
2. Be an involved parent.
Keeping your kids safe online requires proactive parenting. Know your child’s passcode or have a touch-ID set to your finger as well. Be able to access your kid’s phone, not because you don’t trust them but because you don’t trust the world out there. When you express this expectation, that you will have access to whatever they do on their phone, make sure you emphasize it is for their safety. This is no different than not letting them go to Suzy’s house until you’ve met Suzy’s parents.
But being an involved and proactive parent goes beyond “spying” on your kids to keep them safe. Be involved with what they are doing in a positive, supportive, and constructive way. If your child sits down to play their favorite online game, don’t roll your eyes and say, “I don’t get it” and walk away; ask them questions about the game. How do they play it? Are they any good at it? Be interested in what they are doing. Be involved in their world.
3. Know the apps.
As a parent, your app knowledge may not extend past Facebook, Instagram, and your latest food tracker. Today, though, there are social media apps aplenty. Some of them may seem innocent at first glance but may have hidden crevices and loopholes that pose a danger to your child. You might be tempted to create a profile and download the app yourself just to see what it’s like. But you know you’ll end up like one of those parents trying too hard to be cool. When I was a high school teacher, I saw too many of my students creating fake profiles to keep their parents happy. There’s a better way to know what your kids are up against. Check out this resource from the team at Protect Young Eyes. They have gone through most of the popular social media and networking apps looking for the good, bad, and flat out dangerous. This can help you blacklist certain apps or at least know what to be on the lookout for.
4. Involve your child.
Have an honest conversation about online safety with your child. Involve them in their own safety. What rules can you think of together to help keep him or her safe? Here are some conversation starters:
– What will you say if someone you’ve never met wants a picture of you?
– What will you do if someone you’ve only met online wants to meet you in private?
– Should a person you’ve never met say “I love you?”
– Who should you tell if someone online tries to offer you a gift?
– What should you do if someone online threatens you?
– What should you do if you see someone online hurting themselves or someone else?
The important part here is that you involve your child in the conversation. By addressing these points you are letting him or her know 1) these things can happen and 2) if they do, you are here to help them. Give them at least a starting point for each scenario, even if that starting point is only, “I forget what to do. I need to ask mom.” These are the types of safety conversations you want to be having!
If you’re looking for a resource, there are age-appropriate guides available here.
5. Be careful what you share.
There is a point of online safety we don’t often think of, and that is watching what you, as the parent, share about your children online. Yes, your sweet little princess may be Instagram material, but be careful. That sweet little face can draw in some unsavory characters. And keep in mind, when your little princess grows up and gets her own Instagram, she may not appreciate having years of her life chronicled for the world. Be careful what you share online and make sure your social media pages are private for friends-only and that you are following your own advice and only friending people you know.
Keeping your kids safe online is a team effort that involves you, them, and the people around you.
Here are a few more online resources to help:
For more articles on parenting and protecting your children, start here:
Advice on Technology Safety for Kids From a Licensed Psychologist
Is Disney Creating Minefields for Moms?
Sneaky Teen Texting Trends You Need to Know About
5 Screen-Free Activities That Will Entertain Your Teenager
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