Teaching Internet Safety to Your Kid: From Preschoolers to Teens
In today's digital age, the internet has become a crucial part of our lives. Our children are now interacting with technology at younger and younger ages, whether that’s virtual classes, playing games on their tablets, or watching shows on netflix or youtube.
While the internet provides us with unlimited access to information, entertainment, and communication, it also makes us vulnerable to certain risks, particularly for children and teenagers. That's why teaching young people about internet safety is so important, not just when they get their first computer but through each stage of childhood.
In this blog, we'll share how to talk to your kids about the risks of the internet, online safety tips, and concepts youngsters should be introduced to at each stage, from toddlers to teens.
Why is Internet Safety Important for Children and Teens?
From online classes and research, to educational games, videos, and podcasts, the internet is full of information and resources that can benefit children and encourage learning and connection. However, it can also expose them to various risks, such as cyberbullying, scams, online predators, and inappropriate content.
As access to technology increases for children, and the age they are introduced to technology becomes younger and younger, it’s important to have open and honest (yet age appropriate) conversations with your kids starting from a young age and guide them on how to be safe online.
It’s just as important to continue those conversations as your kids grow up into teenagers. Though cyberbullying can affect people of all ages, research suggests that teenagers and young adults are particularly vulnerable to online harassment. According to a study by the Cyberbullying Research Center, the highest participation rates of cyberbullying occur “between 12-15 years of age (although some research has found that cyberbullying victimization can continue to increase in late adolescence).”
That's why as parents and educators, we have a responsibility to teach our kids how to use the internet safely and responsibly. By doing so, we can ensure that our children reap the benefits of the internet while staying safe from the risks that come along with it.
Staying Safe Online: Tips for Kids of Different Ages
Preschoolers (ages 2-5)
Even preschoolers are exposed to digital devices nowadays, so it's never too early to start having those conversations with your child or young students. Here are some tips on teaching internet safety to preschoolers:
- Set rules: Establish clear rules about when and how the child can use digital devices. Limit screen time and supervise their activities.
- Use child-friendly websites and apps: Make sure the websites and apps they are exposed to are appropriate for their age and interest.
- Teach the basics of personal safety: Teach them to never share their personal information, such as their name, address, or phone number, with anyone online.
Elementary School Kids (ages 6-11)
As kids get older, they start using the internet more frequently, so it's essential to talk to them about online safety. The previous tips for preschoolers, such as limiting screen time and never sharing personal information still apply to this older group, but it’s also an important time to delve deeper into more complex topics. Here are some tips for teaching internet safety to elementary students:
- Talk about cyberbullying: Explain to them what cyberbullying is, why it’s not okay, and how to report it.
- Teach them to be cautious: Teach them to be cautious and never click on links or download attachments from unknown sources. If they have a cell phone, make it clear that they shouldn’t be communicating with strangers or accept calls from unknown numbers.
- Monitor their online activities: Keep an eye on what your child is doing online and who they're communicating with. Use devices with parental control apps that allow you to limit their screen time and filter inappropriate content.
- Report Suspicious Activity: Children should know that if they see something online that makes them uncomfortable or suspicious, they should report it to a trusted adult. This includes suspicious messages, emails, or posts. Reporting suspicious activity can help prevent cyberbullying, scams, and other online dangers.
Middle Schoolers to Teens (ages 11-18)
These days, most kids are already tech-savvy by the time they reach middle school, but start receiving less adult supervision. That’s why it's essential to keep the conversation open about the potential risks they face if they don’t exercise caution on the internet.
Once kids enter their teen years, they are considered the most at risk group for experiencing this form of harassment. Increased use of technology, peer pressure, lack of adult supervision, and emotional instability are some of the reasons why instances of cyberbullying tend to peak in adolescence. Cyberbullying can have severe and long-lasting effects on a teenager's mental health, well-being, and social life, so it’s important to continue conversations with your teen about staying safe online.
Here are some internet safety tips for teens and topics to touch on when teaching online safety to middle school or highschool kids:
- Be mindful of personal information: We mentioned this before, but it’s important to emphasize to your kids that they should never share their personal information online. Personal information includes everything from full name, home address, phone number, or email address, to social security number, debit card info or any other sensitive information. Sharing personal information can lead to cyberbullying, scams, or identity theft.
- Use strong passwords: Encourage your kid to use a strong, unique password for each online account they have. A strong password is at least eight characters long, includes a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, and isn’t easily guessable.
- Be aware of online predators: Pre-teens and teenagers should be aware of online predators who may try to gain their trust and manipulate them into doing something they’re not comfortable with. Teach your child to be cautious when communicating with strangers online, and to never meet up with someone they’ve only talked to online.
- Think before sharing: Most youth are already using social media platforms by the time they reach highschool. As soon as they begin using social media, they should be fully aware of social media safety and know that what they post online can have consequences. They should be mindful of the information they share online, including photos, videos, personal details, or even personal opinions. Once something is shared online, it can be difficult (or impossible) to remove it entirely, and it may be shared with others without their permission. They should also know how to use privacy settings to control who can see their content and who they allow to follow or friend them.
- Encourage critical thinking: Teach middle schoolers and highschoolers to be critical thinkers when using the internet. They should question the credibility of information they find online and verify it before accepting it as true. They should also learn to spot fake news and propaganda.
- Use parental control tools: For pre-teens, it may still be a good idea to use parental control tools to block inappropriate websites for your tweens and set limits on their screen time.
Remember that internet safety is an ongoing conversation, so encourage your children and the young people in your life to ask questions and share their concerns. By staying engaged and informed, you can help your kids stay safe and responsible online from day one.
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