How can I keep my kids safe online?! The internet is an invaluable resource; full of useful knowledge, but it can be a perilous place for our children. Viral challenges like the “momo challenge” that surfaced recently are only one of the many dangers that face our young, impressionable children. Though many are now saying it was a fake viral media scare, the idea that someone may be able to get access to our children and encourage them to engage in increasingly harmful behavior, even self-harm or commit suicide it is in fact, the stuff that parent’s nightmares are made of. Even if Momo was a hoax, who actually knows what are kids are being exposed to online, right?! Our kids are using Instagram, Finsta or Rinsta, Snapchat, Fortnight and other online gaming, while most of us parents are still “tweeting” or on Facebook. The disconnect between the new and the old leads to parental anxiety and at times, panic and misinformation.
As an adult, you are probably aware how to protect yourself, your privacy, identity and how to avoid predators. But generally, a child or young adolescent is focused on connecting and relating with friends and safety is usually their last priority. With kids getting smartphones, ipads and other devices at younger ages, it’s more important than ever to teach them how to be safe online. Whether it’s social media, gaming, or anything else, they should have a basic idea of how to protect themselves online.
Talk to your kids early and often
. Children may have a natural aptitude for online technology, but they can also be naive and trusting on social media. There is a generational difference in the definition of a “friend” and not to mention; “catfishing” is real. It is important to educate them about the risks and how to stay safe online- The same way you would teach them about keeping their bodies safe… and if you are not doing this then that’s another conversation to start having!
Consider parental controls
. While talking to our kids is vital, the truth is that a backup won’t hurt. Parental control tools can help, allowing you to filter content and programs or monitor usage remotely. There are family share programs, apps like BARK and security companies like Trend Micro Service.
The world is a crazy place! Momo challenge, Tide Pod Challenge, the Blue Whale game or children’s YouTube videos being spliced with instructions on how to kill yourself - it’s enough to seriously consider moving to the remote wilderness with no internet access or perhaps considering, “is it possible to raise my child in an actual bubble?” But we can’t… despite our best intentions we can’t control everything and most likely our kids will eventually come into contact with the internet whether we like it or not. Children need to learn to navigate the world safely and that includes online. What you can do to help your kids is encourage an open dialogue about social media and the internet. This will make them more likely to see something like Momo and not fall victim to it and to talk with you about things that they encounter that don’t feel right or scare them. Be a safe space for your child to talk to you. Don’t be reactive and let them know they can talk to you about anything.
Written by Kathleen Jeffery LICSW at PAGS