As parents, we’re ready, willing, and able to make sure that our children are safe. So, as we start to plan for our kids heading back to school, we may worry that we can’t monitor their surfing habits or prevent them from becoming victims of cyberbullying.
Worry no more: Here are tips on how to ensure your kids are safe online (including this video dedicated to back-to-school tips).
Create a Digital Safety Plan Together.
According to a study by Salesforce on children’s internet usage, a shocking 40 percent of kids have connected with a stranger online, with 53 percent of those having revealed their phone numbers. (You can also study the results from an internet usage study we did with kids).
Sit your kids down and explain the dangers of giving identifying information, such as phone numbers and home addresses, to people they don’t personally know. Tailor the discussion to your kid’s age, but it’s really not too early to tell them that many people online claim to be someone they’re not and, while pretending to be someone else can be fun, some of these people may be pretending for all the wrong reasons.
Set aside time with your children to learn about internet safety, particularly cyberbullying and safe internet practices. (We have videos and other resources—including comic books!—that will make it fun for everyone.) By doing this together, they can ask questions along the way, making it easier for them to absorb why and how they can protect themselves online. They’ll also be invested and more likely to stick to safety guidelines they’ve had a hand in creating.
Help Them Understand Cyberbullying.
Ensure your children know that cyberbullying can happen to anyone. They need to understand this so cyberbullies don’t have any power over them.
Teach your children the signs of cyberbullying so they know what to do if it happens to them or a friend. Cyberbullies might threaten their targets, publish embarrassing pictures without permission and call people names as part of their attack on someone else’s well-being online.
Teach your children that if they ever encounter cyberbullies, cyberstalkers or other dangerous people online, they should report these incidents immediately so the proper authorities can be contacted and investigations started.
You can also discuss any way they might have bullied someone in the past. Then you can make it clear that name-calling, insults, or mocking are never okay. And now that they know better, they can do better.
Limit Screen Time and Encourage Other Interests.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers specific recommendations for screen time limits by age. Children under 13 should be limited to no more than two hours of screen time per day, while teenagers can have up to eight hours on a weekday and ten hours over the weekend, but they need at least three days off from screens each week for their health and well-being.
Children and teenagers should also be encouraged to take breaks from screens, go outside, get exercise or do other activities. Encourage their interest in sports or simply being outdoors. Spending time on their creative interests like art or music can also help them flourish as individuals and keep them out of digital harm’s way. Plus, kids who feel confident they’re good at something have better self-esteem and are not easy prey for bullies or predators.
Keep Up With Their Social Media Activity.
Practice continuous internet safety education in your home as the digital channels your kids visit frequently will change over time. Currently, the most popular social media outlets kids use the most are Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and Facebook.
Find out how long they’ve been using each site, and if they’re using the cyberbullying features on these social media platforms. Discuss why they should never post sensitive information, including their school location or name, without approval from a parent first. Agree with your kids that they should seek your permission before downloading any new apps.
It’s helpful to get detailed and walk through what’s appropriate (and inappropriate) to post on social media with your kids: Address, no; the ice cream they had last Sunday, yes, etc. Let them ask questions about this or that, and occasionally ask whether they think they should post that and why or why not. Establish an open-door policy—today, tomorrow, and beyond—for questions as they think about what they’re sharing online and in games.
Make it a house rules that your kids never share their password or other personal information online, even if it’s “just with a friend.”
After a great conversation about good ideas and bad ideas, you’ll feel better about sending your student back to school this year—and they’ll feel better about talking through their questions and experiences with you!
Written by the experts at the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, a nonprofit dedicated to educating children, adults, and seniors on how to be safe online