Technology has been a way of life for today's generation, exposed to online content practically since birth. By the age of 10, most own smartphones, which is why teaching digital safety at home to kids is paramount.
Yes, you can monitor their screen time and usage. But you also want them to make smart decisions when you leave them on their own.
How to Start the Conversation
Before you sit your kids down about online safety rules, Family Online Society Institute (FOSI) advises reflecting on your take on fair and appropriate digital use. Picture your version of a healthy online environment when your kids' education, social interactions, and entertainment involve screen time. Then, talk to your chikitings about what theirs look like.
Digital safety must be a collaboration between you and your child. You need to involve them in the process, so they’ll buy into the safety protocols. Discuss technology's role in their lives with these conversation starters:
- Can you show me your favorite social accounts or sites to visit?
- What are the required times of day you have to be online?
- How do you know when to take a break from your devices?
Talking about “rules” can make anyone feel tense or nervous. But the stress becomes less for everyone when the kids see how the guidelines account for their digital reality.
The Fundamentals of Online Safety at Home for Kids
Kids aged 9 to 11 seek friendships to belong and feel accepted. Consequently, they also face peer pressure. Thus, they need your help to understand the rights and wrongs in the digital space. Start with these fundamentals.
1. Ask your child to pause before clicking the share button.
Sharing photos with friends can be fun, but what if a friend forwards the image to others? Remind your kids about the possible consequences for their reputation. Healthy Children of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends kids (and parents) ask themselves these before sharing:
- Would I mind if everyone saw this information/photo?
- Have the people in the photo given consent to post it online?
Besides photos, ensure your child knows they cannot share private information, like passwords, home addresses, and dates of birth, without your permission. Explain to them the dangers when these details get into the wrong hands.
2. Help your child recognize predatory behavior.
Predators can approach children on online game platforms or lure them into a conversation on instant messaging apps. Besides telling your child to avoid strangers online, teach them to avoid answering risky questions such as:
- "Are you a boy or a girl?"
- "Where do you live?"
- "What are you wearing?"
- "Do you want to have a private conversation?"
Make sure your child knows to bring situations like this to your attention. Designate a trusted adult for them to run to if you’re not available.
3. Show your child how to report inappropriate content.
Parental controls and privacy settings will help prevent your child from seeing something inappropriate, but they are not always foolproof. Instruct your kid to close the link and tell you or a trusted adult if they encounter dubious or abusive content. It can also be helpful to show them where to find the reporting tool of a favorite platform and how to use it.
You can also educate them on how to spot deceptive or misleading information. For example, in a FOSI parenting video, two sisters share their dad’s clickbait description: “If you see something cool and then after you click on it, the thumbnail is actually different from the actual video, [it’s] clickbait.”
Any time your child sees inappropriate content, follow it up with a discussion about why it’s wrong. Children who become aware of negative messages learn to be more alert and know when to ask for help.
4. Tell your child to run virtual playdates by you first.
Obligate your kids to set a schedule for Zoom chats or playdates. Make sure you also know who they invited. These activities often happen with the camera turned on, so it's ideal if you can still see what's happening on your child's screen. Let them know you'll peek now and again, or encourage your child to let you join them.
Joining or watching your child interact with friends is an opportunity to see how they treat each other. Everyone can learn kindness, but the same goes for mean behavior.
5. Provide your child with a digital safety card.
Once you and your children agree on the digital safety rules, print them on a card and give them to your child along with the phone or tablet. You can include the following information:
- Time limits: “You can use this device __ hours per day unless we agree otherwise.”
- Restrictions: “You should not use your device without permission at these times, places, or situations.”
- Apps: “You agree to ask me before downloading new apps or making in-game purchases. Or, we may decide on a pre-approved amount for purchases.”
- Content: “I want you to learn and have fun with technology, so it matters to me what you're doing online. I may ask where you're going, who you connect with and what you're doing on your device. I'm excited about the opportunities technology gives you, but I also want you to stay safe.”
You should add a line where you and your child can affix your signature, so it acts as a contract. This way, kids can appreciate what it means to be responsible and accountable.
The Importance of Life Offline
Part of online safety is discussing with your kids the necessity of taking breaks from screens. You and your child will likely disagree when these breaks are necessary. So, Child Mind Institute (CMI) recommends using a “developmental checklist” instead of figuring out how many hours is excessive screen time.
Your child’s screen time is still within reasonable limits if they are:
- Sleeping enough and eating well
- Engaging in physical activity every day
- Spending quality time with family and friends
- Keeping up with homework
- Putting in time for extracurricular activities
If their well-being reflects the opposite for most of the above, then it may be time to limit their time online. Make this less of a punishment by asking your child to list their favorite non-screen activities, CMI advises. Then, draft your own, keeping it simple and specific to entice your child to choose them. For example, “Prepare a sandwich with Lady’s Choice Tuna Spread for dad with mom just looking!”
Screen-free activities are a terrific opportunity to talk about responsible technology use. Just remember that actions speak louder than words. Digital safety at home for kids starts with you setting a good example. How you model good manners, kindness, and safe behavior can go a long way in teaching your children how to navigate the online world.
Children’s use of mobile phones: An international comparison. 2015. Available at GSMA_Report_Childrens-use-of-mobile-phones-An-international-comparison-2015 [online PDF] [Accessed on 22 March 2023]
Healthy Children. Family Media Plan. [online] [Accessed on 22 March 2023]
Healthy Children. 2018.Available at: Kids & Tech: Tips for Parents in the Digital Age. [online] [Accessed on 22 March 2023]
Nemours KidsHealth. 2022. Available at Teaching Kids to Be Smart About Social Media. [online] : [Accessed on 22 March 2023]
Common Sense Media. 2019. Available at 5 Myths and Truths About Kids' Internet Safety. [online] [Accessed on 22 March 2023]
Family Online Safety Institute. 2019. Available at: Good Digital Parenting video series (Episode 2). [online] [Accessed on 22 March 2023]
Family Online Safety Institute. Available at Online Safety Card for Tablets. [online] [Accessed on 22 March 2023]
Family Online Safety Institute. 2022. Available at Talking With Your Kids About Online Safety. [online] [Accessed on 22 March 2023]
Child Mind Institute. 2021. Available at: How to Set Limits on Screen Time. [online] [Accessed on 22 March 2023]
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