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Even though we can't watch our children every second, we still want to keep them safe. That's not always easy, however, especially when they're not in plain sight. At least we know when they're protected at home, right? Not necessarily, especially if your children have access to a computer. Online predators can be lurking anywhere and what we don't know can hurt us and our children. Below are some tips for keeping kids safe while online.
- Keep computers in a central area of the home — Instead of keeping the computer in a child's room, set it up in a more populated area of the home, such as a family room or kitchen. Children are less likely to do something they're not supposed to if the whole family, especially parents, can see.
- Utilize parental controls — Many online carriers offer parental controls. If your carrier doesn't, it would be wise to invest in parental control software. This will allow you to block websites, email addresses and chat rooms from your child's computer.
- Always know who your child is talking to — With the computer in a central area, it will be easy for you to constantly monitor your child's usage. If your child is chatting, sending email, or typing on an instant message, ask questions. If you don't like the subject matter or the person she's talking to, block that person from your child's buddy list.
- Be nosy — Read emails and blogs. If your child knows you'll be privy to these areas of her life, she's less likely to talk to unsavory characters or do something she's not supposed to. Ask as many questions as you want. Know who she's talking to, what she's talking about and how often she speaks with this person or visits that website. Any person or thing that doesn't sit well with you should be blocked.
- Tag along — Never allow your child to set up meetings with online friends unless you're allowed to tag along.
- Never allow secrets — Your child should know it's never OK to keep secrets. No one, not a friend, trusted relative, child or adult should ask her to keep secrets. If someone asks her to keep a secret, she should let you know immediately.
- Be aware of the signs — Does your child immediately hide what she's doing when you enter the room? Does she exit the page she's viewing or hide her chats from you? Is she erasing her computer history? Watch for suspicious behavior and deal with it immediately.
- Limit computer time — Allow the computer to be used only during a certain time of the day, preferably when you are home. If this means you're the only one who can hold the password to the account, so be it.
It's always a good idea to keep the lines of communication open. Your child should be aware of what kind of behavior is appropriate and shouldn't be afraid to ask any questions about things she doesn't understand. Don't be afraid of asking so many questions you alienate your child. It's better to be a parent and know what's going on, than be a friend and unaware. The important thing is to know everything your child is up to when she's online. If this annoys her, she'll get over it. One day she might even thank you.
One last tip is to teach; if you explain that the reasons for the rules are legitimate, your child is more likely to comply.