Internet Safety for Kids – Holiday Tips

December 27th, 2021
Child safe online

Online Safety for Kids During the Holidays

The end of the year means a lot of things: family gatherings, holiday celebrations, and age-old traditions that help us weather the darkest, shortest days of the year together. It also means that your kids are probably home from school and frantically trying to keep themselves entertained.

Nowadays, more down time means more screen time. Not only are today’s kids digital natives, most of their parents were, too. Using the internet isn’t a novelty anymore; it’s simply part of daily life.

But just because your child knows their way around a tablet doesn’t mean that they have meaningful computer literacy, and it doesn’t mean that they can protect themselves from online predators, cyberbullying, and scammers. Trusting your kids (and demonstrating that trust) is important, but so is helping them navigate the world they’re living in. Here are some pointers for keeping your kids safe online.

Use parental controls

Parents have more control than ever over the content that their children see. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu allow you to set up children’s accounts that block out shows and movies with higher age ratings. Video game consoles like Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox and Nintendo’s Switch also let you set age limits on the games your kid can play and purchase.

However, these settings must be activated in order to work. If you’re giving your child any electronic devices over the holidays, make sure that you configure the parental settings on them before you hand them over. It might be a pain in the neck to set age-gating on every app store, streaming service, and game platform, but it’s worth it to have more say in what your children have access to.

That said, parental controls are no substitute for actively being involved in what your child does online. The dark ages of horrible, inappropriate YouTube children’s content may be winding down, but the YouTube Kids app still has some very concerning issues. A company’s sorting algorithm isn’t going to be as good at deciding what’s appropriate for your children as relying on human being’s judgment is.

Teach your kids to keep their location private

Your phone is constantly tracking your location. That’s not an inherently bad thing. Having GPS services on your map can help you get around, especially if you’re young and still figuring the world out. And the “locate my phone” feature can be a lifesaver if your kid isn’t home on time.

Even if you and your child turn their GPS location services off, most devices can tell where they are based on the networks and computers nearby. This information helps companies serve up ads, and it’s almost impossible to avoid in an age where schoolwork, jobs, and every other part of daily life requires a computer.

But you can ensure that this sensitive location information isn’t being broadcast. Make sure that your kids know how to disable location tags on photos. (Most phone cameras store photo locations by default.) Also explain that they shouldn’t use location services on social media, including “check-in” posts. Many businesses offer discounts in exchange for social media check-ins, so it can be tempting and seem harmless. But broadcasting your location to the internet is seldom a wise idea.

Keep control of your family's digital footprint

“The internet is forever.” At least, that’s how the saying goes. The truth is that as websites come and go, titans fall and servers fade away. The internet, on a grand scale, is not as eternal as we imagine it to be.

But in the short term, well, it’s hard to take something back once it’s been said. A huge part of internet safety for kids lies in just remembering that simple fact. From Instagram photos of local landmarks to angry tweets about classes, your kids may be painting a clearer picture of their life than you’d prefer. And beyond that, they may be leaving a trail that could damage their relationships with their friends, families, or teachers.

Even in situations where it’s not a question of sharing life-or-death information, your children need to know that the internet doesn’t forget. Old posts resurface and cause reputational damage. It happens to celebrities all the time, but can happen to regular people too. All you need is one poorly thought-out outburst in your past, and one person mad enough at you to dig through your accounts to find it.

And even if that doesn’t happen, sharing hurtful messages online can be harmful for other reasons. You can delete an angry social media status, but if someone saw it first, and your hurt their feelings, you can’t force them to forget it. Make sure your kids know that their online activity isn’t a diary, even if it feels like one when they’re sitting alone at home. Their digital footprint, the information they leave behind, can have an effect on other people, and even on their own future.

Talk to your kids about not sharing information with strangers

If you’ve spent any time on Facebook, you’ve probably seen memes that assign you goofy stories or names, based on information about your initials and your age. You may have seen posts like “your rap name is the last thing you ate, plus the street you grew up on.”

Those posts may seem harmless, but most of them involve sharing information that you probably shouldn’t share. People are very quick to toss out information that could identify them, if it’s packaged as a game. If adults are vulnerable to this, why wouldn’t your children be?

Make sure that your child knows to protect their full first and last name, social security number, address, birth date, phone number, hometown, and more. Some platforms may require your kid to use their real name. If that’s the case, make sure that they are very aware of the kind of vulnerability the internet can bring, and post accordingly. Just because it’s commonplace to share personal information online doesn’t mean that it’s safe.

Know who your kid’s online friends are

Your kid’s friends are a huge part of their daily life. Safety concerns aside, you should know the people your child interacts with because you’re invested in and care about your child – and they deserve to know that.

Knowing who your kid’s friends are is important. If someone from their school is bullying them on the internet, you should be aware. And if your kid has made a friend that’s age-inappropriate, or who doesn’t have an obvious reason for hanging out with children, you need to know that so that you can monitor it and navigate it with your child.

Just like in the real world, there are bullies and predators online, and nobody gets through life without having to deal with creeps. Know your kid’s online circle of friends well enough to know if they’re in danger of dealing with one now.

Make sure your kids know they can talk to you

All of the safety tips and information monitoring in the world aren’t going to do any good if you don’t have a good relationship with your child. Your kid needs to know that they can talk to you about their disappointments, their concerns, and their anxieties. They need to understand that if someone online has been inappropriate with them, that they can tell you about it, and you’ll be in their corner instead of angry with them. Trust is the foundation of any good relationship, even your relationship with your children. Even when you’re acting in their best interest, it’s important to explain what you’re doing and why, so that they understand your reasoning and know that you’re trying to protect them. The safer they feel around you, the more they’ll let you into their world, giving you the best chance at keeping them safe.

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