It can be incredibly difficult to be a parent in this day and age. Parents today are faced with several issues, including the fact that children are inundated with unhealthy examples. They are able to connect through a variety of different screens. The question for many is exactly what they're connecting to. Are they getting in touch with their peers, with bad influences, or with predators? The internet can be compared to the Wild West, an open expanse with so many different dangers available and ready for children to be confronted with.
With that being said, the risks are high when children browse the Internet unobserved. They can break laws without even realizing it, putting themselves at great risk. Additionally, they can learn and get involved with behaviors that they aren't ready for. A lot of kids become sexually active via the internet far before they become sexually active in the "real world". Additionally, many children put themselves at risk of running into predators without even realizing it. Their best friends on the internet could very well be adults attempting to trick them. Some children are also bullied on the internet, even to the point that they are pushed into self-destructive behaviors.
The reality is that you can't stop your child from browsing the internet. It's impossible to keep your child under watch all of the time, and the internet is so readily available virtually everywhere. Even historically rural areas now have better access to the internet than ever before, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture investing $85 million in 2015 to improve the internet connectivity throughout rural America. To cut your child off from the internet would also mean cutting them off from cell phones, computers, and even television. Additionally, many children are expected to use the internet for school, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic forced many schools to offer virtual classes.
Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to ensure that your children are as safe as possible on the internet. They don't mean keeping your children behind lock and key. Rather, they're tips that you can incorporate into your everyday life and your approach to parenting.
1. Use Parental Controls
Parental controls are so readily available in this day and age, and they often don't require an additional cost to use. Parental controls can be applied to different programs, as well as devices, and indeed the internet at large. You should take advantage of these tools, at least when you have young children in your house. Many internet service providers, or ISPs, allow parents to set controls that would keep children from browsing the web without restrictions. If you'd like to become more strict, you can actually buy software that will keep your children from accessing certain prohibited websites. In many cases, you can choose these websites yourself, ensuring that your web access caters to your needs and those of your children. These programs can also stop your children from sending personal information across the internet, and furthermore will track online activities.
Of course, you should remember that a lot of these restrictions will only work for younger children. Older children can find it easier to circumvent these programs. With older children, you may not find parental controls as effective. This means that you'll need to use these controls as tools for establishing rules and healthy attitudes for your children. Eventually, they will need to make their own choices. You'll just want to make sure that they are making responsible choices.
2. Establish Rules About Personal Information
As your children grow into teenagers, it's incredibly important that you establish limitations regarding personal information. A lot of websites will require basic levels of information in order for a person to make an account. These will include, for example, the name of the person registering and their birthday. While this is not inherently a bad thing, you need to make it clear to your children that the more personal information they give out, the greater the risk you'll be taking.
A lot of the time, children and teens give out personal information without even thinking about it. Just giving out your address to the wrong website could put you more at risk of experiencing a home invasion. Although home invasions carry a potential maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison in the state of Michigan, this doesn't always dissuade distracted teens from making mistakes. A routine must be established with firm rules in order to prevent such mistakes.
3. Be Honest About Predators
So many children and teens interact and share personal information with people that they think are friends their own ages. Unfortunately, the internet is teeming with adult predators that want to take advantage of children. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of people prosecuted for the commercial sexual exploitation of children almost doubled between 2004 and 2013. A lot of these predators met their victims on the internet.
Be honest with your children about the risks of online predators. You need to be understanding; your kids just want to make friends, after all. But they can't make friends unless they really know who it is they're befriending. You don't want to scare your children, but rather educate them.
4. Establish Openness
The last thing you want is for your children to be secretive because they're worried about what your reaction will be to their activities. This level of secretiveness means that when your child is in trouble, they might not feel comfortable reaching out to you for help.
Discuss with your child what they like to do on the internet. Don't judge, and answer questions they may have about things they find interesting, to the best of your ability. The more open you are, the less your child will feel the need to rely on the internet for help.
There are a lot of issues to consider regarding the internet and your children, and these tips just scratch the service. But with the right approach, your child doesn't have to be at risk. By educating yourself about the internet first, you can ensure that your children are as safe as possible.