Talking to Kids About Internet Safety
Many adults today grew up with access to the internet in its infancy, and through experience, they have learned that the web is not always the safest place. While many websites put great effort into offering accurate information and eliminating threats to users, most websites are partially if not completely at risk of corrupting the users who visit them.
Unfortunately, people are not born with an innate sense of online risk. Parents need to teach their kids about the dangers of the internet — but they need to do so without scaring their children away from the web, which is an undeniably powerful and important tool for the future. Here are a few tips for talking about internet safety with little ones, so everyone can enjoy the benefits of the web.
1. Start the Conversation Early
When kids start thinking and behaving a certain way when they are younger, they are more likely to continue thinking and behaving in the same way as they get older. This is why many cultures introduce household chores during the toddler years; it gives little ones a sense of responsibility and ingrains in them that cleaning and tidying is a fact of life.
Parents might apply the same logic to internet security. As soon as a young child begins using devices connected to the web, parents should talk about online risks and how to avoid them. Parents might introduce rules about using devices, to include where children are allowed to navigate online and whom they are allowed to talk to. If kids get in the habit of following these rules from a young age, they are less likely to question them when they use the web more intently as they age.
2. Continue the Conversation Often
Most people learn information by encountering it over and over again, and the same is true for young children, who tend to need repeated exposure to new information to understand it fully. Especially when it comes to teaching internet safety to older kids, parents need to feel comfortable repeating themselves about online risks to make certain that children are absorbing messages about safety and security and acting appropriately.
3. Explain Threats Honestly
Many parents like to shield their children from the ugly aspects of the world, but kids need to know the truth about what could happen to them if they behave improperly online. Using age-appropriate language, parents should be honest about online threats, to include child predators, cyber-bullying, malware, phishing scams and more. The goal is not to scare kids away from using the internet entirely; rather, it is to open their eyes to the possibility of negative consequences in digital spaces and to encourage them to make better choices while navigating the web.
4. Use Examples They Understand
Many aspects of the threats lurking around the web are not exactly intuitive to young minds. The idea that people are working to trick young children and steal their money or private information is a difficult one for little kids, who usually assume that everyone has good intentions and does their best to be kind. What’s more, the methods used by online fraudsters can be complex, utilizing technology that even adults struggle to understand.
Therefore, when parents are explaining online risks, they should try to ground their conversation with examples appropriate to their kids’ ages and experiences. For example, when talking about passwords, parents might use the analogy of keys; they shouldn’t give out their home keys to every stranger they meet, and they should mimic this behavior with their passwords.
5. Model Safe Internet Practices
Children learn best by watching adults in their life and mimicking those behaviors. Thus, while parents are using the web, they should be careful to model the practices they hope to see their children employing. It is important to utilize a premium security suite to block connections to compromised websites or malicious downloads, and parents should avoid posting embarrassing or sensitive information on social media sites. Not only will this encourage children to adopt safe online behaviors, but it will help parents avoid lurking threats, as well.
Children need to be taught how to use the internet safely, and the sooner parents introduce lessons about secure browsing, the better. Fortunately, most kids are so eager to use the internet that they will swiftly adopt the appropriate behaviors.