4 Tips Parents Must Know To Keep Their Children Safe Online
The Internet can be a confusing place for children. Parents need to teach their kids how they can “Be Safe, Be Smart and Be Kind” online. It’s a challenging task, but there are simple, effective ways to get you started.
The Internet is an inescapable part of the world your children are growing up in. Children and adolescents under 18 — we know them as the digital natives of Generation Z — account for an estimated one in three Internet users around the world.1 As concerned parents, we know that the Internet is full of both opportunities and peril for our children.
On the one hand, you know it’s a treasure trove of information and educational materials for kids that can foster the development of important skills, which would be advantageous for their future2. On the other hand, you’ve heard of countless nightmare scenarios: screen time harming young children’s brains, a 12-year-old killing a classmate because of the Slender Man video game… the list just goes on and on.
How can parents ensure their children take only the good while rejecting the bad? The answer lies in teaching them how to harness the tremendous opportunities the Internet provides while helping them pick up knowledge and skills to safeguard their privacy. This starts with educating children on what to do when they come across inappropriate content. To moderate Internet use, parents can use the ‘Goldilocks approach’ — which seeks a “just right” amount of exposure to devices3 — while teaching children to be proactive and sensible users online.
How To Protect My Child On The Internet: Things To Teach Your Child to Defend Themselves Online
Researchers have identified three online risks to children.4
- Content Risks — When a child accesses inappropriate and unwelcome content, including content that is sexual, violent, racist or discriminatory in nature, as well as content that promotes dangerous behaviour, such as self-harm or suicide.
- Contact Risks — When a child engages in risky communication with an adult, such as when an adult solicits sexual acts from a child or attempts to radicalize a child.
- Channel Risks — When a child behaves in a way that contributes to harmful content, such as when a child creates hate speech or engages in cyberbullying, therefore becoming a channel for spreading harm online and offline.
All of this can be overwhelming for parents, but it’s important to remember that these are risks, not eventualities. You have the power to protect your children by teaching them how to defend themselves online when you are not around. How To Protect My Child On The Internet
By following these four simple, actionable tips, a better Internet experience is truly just 1 Click Away:
1. Make It Fun
As a parent, you know that when children are having fun, they learn better. That’s why it’s a brilliant idea to teach them good Internet habits by turning it into a game! For example, you can start by telling them that they’re detectives. By teaching children to ask themselves questions about the friend requests they get, or videos, articles or comments that they see, they are put on the path towards proactive and safe digital media use. Children can ask questions like: “Does the video promote harmful habits?”, “Does it go against what I know to be kind?” or “Is it hateful or discriminatory?” Like any good detective, children can also look for clues in the content. “Is there a hidden agenda?” they might ask themselves, or “Is the person in the video trying to hurt someone?”
2. Teach Healthy Skepticism
Children are generally trusting and tend to believe everything adults say. But we know better that not all adults have good motives! It is important to teach your kids that healthy scepticism can be useful. They should question the motives of strangers who try to befriend them online or give them incentives to meet up. Someone’s offering an iPad in exchange for a face-to-face meet-up? That’s suspicious! Stay away!
3. Go along with Your Child’s Interests
Though it may seem like children take to the Internet like fish to water, they often do not understand the risks involved. To educate them on different types of content they might encounter online, you can use their interest to your advantage. For example, if your child likes watching video game streamers on YouTube, use these videos to explain the difference between content that’s positive and helpful, and those that are negative and harmful. Teach them that, just like video gamers, there are those who play nice and those who cheat and bully others.
4. Instil Some Ground Rules
By teaching a few simple rules, you can safeguard your child’s online adventures.
- Never give personal details to anyone, like where you live or the names of family members
It’s all part of being in a safe space. By keeping personal details private, your child can remain unreachable, even if they’re not anonymous online. Global Kids, UNESCO identifies this ability to “access and operate in digital environments safely and effectively” the first of four digital literacy abilities children should have.5
- Don’t give your email address
An email address can be used as an avenue for people to harass your child. Tell your kids that sharing their email address with online strangers is a big no-no.
- Don’t send pictures of yourself to anyone
To your child, it may seem like an innocent request, or even one done good fun. But photos can be misused by sexual predators or could even become an invasion of privacy.
- Don’t be mean! Online friends are people just like you.
Along with teaching your children empathy in their offline interactions with others, teach them to be compassionate in their online interactions as well.
- If something makes you uncomfortable, tell your parents right away
When children are faced with a problem online, they often turn to their peers rather than adults.6 Your kids need to know that you are there to help and protect them, not censure them, in times of trouble.
- Ask your parents before accepting the friend request
Real-world rules also apply to online interactions. Just as you would like to know your children’s friends in the playground, you should also pay attention to who they are interacting with online. Adult strangers who want to be alone with your child, or take too much interest in them, are a red flag in real life and online.
- Never give out your passwords or your data
Teach your kids that their passwords are a secret that should never be shared. With them, people can enter your child’s account and access other private information or photos.
Start Your Child on a Journey to Create a Better Internet
We can’t stress enough how critical it is for your children to be able to protect themselves online. There are many organisations that offer digital resources that you can tap on to educate your children. Google has their Be Internet Awesome program, which teaches children digital safety and citizenship. Closer to home, Singapore’s Media Literacy Council has its Better Internet Campaign, which advocates for a safer, smarter and kinder Internet.
The theme of the Better Internet Campaign this year is “1 Click Away”, which explores the power behind the simple act of a click. What are the consequences of our online choices? How can we effect positive change? These are just a few questions you can ask, to help us and our children become more discerning and emphatic users online.
If you’re interested in teaching your child to be a force for positive change online, we think there’s no better way to start than to teach them that they’re 1 Click Away from a better Internet.
1 UNICEF, State of the World’s Children 2017
2 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Leveraging Information and Communication Technologies to Achieve the Post-2015 Education Goal: Report of the International Conference on ICT and Post-2015 Education, UNESCO, Paris, 2015, p. 22
3 Ferguson, Christopher J., ‘Everything in Moderation: Moderate use of screens unassociated with child behavior problems’, article submitted to Psychiatric Quarterly; and Przybylski, Andrew, and Netta Weinstein,
‘A Large-Scale Test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis: Quantifying the relations between digital-screen use and the mental well-being of adolescents’, Psychological Science, vol. 28, no. 2, 2017, pp. 204–215
4 Livingstone, Sonia, Giovanna Mascheroni and Elisabeth Staksrud, ‘Developing a Framework for Researching Children’s Online Risks and Opportunities in Europe’, EU Kids Online, London, 2015
5 United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Report of the 2014 Day of General Discussion on Digital Media and Children’s Rights, p. 9
6 Byrne et al., ‘Global Kids Online Research Synthesis: 2015–2016’