How to Keep Your Kids Safe Online — From Toddlers to Teens

Age-appropriate advice to help parents
How to Keep Your Kids Safe Online — From Toddlers to Teens

Contributor: David Shafran, MD

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Kids today, even toddlers, are experts with technology. You see them on their parents’ smartphones, tablets and laptop computers — often using them more proficiently than adults do. You want them to know how to use these tools, but at the same time, you need to talk to them early on about online safety.

Online safety: kids under age 10

Here are tips to help keep younger children safe online:

  • Supervise. Children online under age 10 need to be supervised while using the internet. Pay attention to everything they are doing online.
  • Set limits. Take advantage of the many devices and safeguards available for parents that limit content available to children and support only safe websites geared for learning or fun.
  • Talk about it. Have family discussions about internet use. Create an open environment for kids to share if anything online has made them uncomfortable.
  • Be specific. Explain to kids they shouldn’t post pictures online or give out personal information to anyone. They should protect: their last name, school name, address, phone number, practice schedule for extracurricular activities and times when they will be with a babysitter.

Here are tips to help keep kids age 11 to 14 safe online:

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  • Keep computers in common areas. I advise parents to keep computers only in common areas of the house and not to allow their kids to have computers in their bedrooms. This may be more difficult with laptops, tablets and smartphones, but children should not be using these devices with the bedroom door closed.
  • Hold off on social networking pages. Most social networking websites have a minimum age of 13 years old to join, but parents, be aware: this isn’t confirmed by any kind of website administrator. Website users only need to check a box that states they are of age. I strongly urge you to keep a close eye on any social networking sites your child visits regularly. Until you feel secure that he or she understands the rules of Internet safety, I’d advise you to not let your children have their own social networking page.
  • Use shared email address accounts. Many children at this age will want their own email address. Parents may choose to have their child’s email account filtered into their own so they can see all the messages going in and out of their child’s account. This is not an invasion of privacy at this age. But do tell your children that you’re monitoring their emails for their own safety and remind them only to give out their email address to people you both know.
  • Warn kids about Internet predators. Talk to your kids about Internet predators. What may seem like a boy or girl the same age as your son or daughter may be a predator trying to gain information and access to them. It is essential that they tell you about any new people that they have met or have contacted them online. Never let them personally meet anyone they talk to online. It’s important for kids to know that if they get any emails, chats or texts that make them uncomfortable, you are there for them to talk to.

Online safety: kids age 15 and older

Children age 15 and older have more sophisticated online skills. They will need to use online resources for school research and they’ll want to be able to communicate with their peers.

Here are tips to help keep kids age 15 and older safe online:

  • Ask for their password. Adolescents have an increased need for independence and should be allowed to show you that they can be responsible. At this stage, it is likely an invasion of privacy to have their emails go through you. It is reasonable, though, to have them give you their password and make an agreement that you will NOT use the password unless you feel that they could be at risk of harm. It is only a safeguard, not something you would use to invade their privacy.
  • Talk about chat rooms. It is essential to talk to kids about chat rooms, including video chat rooms, as you did when they were 11 to 14 years old, and remind them that people may not be who they seem. Repeat that they are not to meet anyone that they have chatted with online, even if they seem nice, harmless or are troubled and need help.
  • Guide them in social media use. At this age, many teens have Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts. They need you, as a parent, to remind them that any pictures or posts that they make or are about them can be seen by college recruiters and employers, and that they can be damaging, or even cost them admission to college or a job.

As children grow up, they need different amounts of support in using online tools safely. Technology is evolving very quickly, but old fashioned values still apply, especially the need for open communication.

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