Never before have children been more exposed to new ideas, innovations, cultures, science, forms of art as they are today. And right at the centre of it all is the big wide web.

The internet can be a wonderful tool for children. It is a platform to research school reports, communicate with teachers and play interactive games. However, while this is a useful tool and standard practice for youngsters, it continues to create another worry for parents. 

Parents should be aware of what their children see and hear on the internet, who they meet and what they share about themselves.

There are many real risks involved when surfing the web, and without education, it is easy for children to fall into a trap. As a parent, it is important to keep your children protected against the many dangers that might lurk in cyberspace.

If you have not already, it is time to introduce some cybersecurity into your lives, to safeguard your family against online gremlins. We share this parenting toolkit to get you started: 

● Talk openly with your children about their online activity. Ask your child what sites they are visiting and/or apps they are engaging with. Know what online games your children are playing and who they are doing it with, and most importantly keep this conversation going as they grow older. Remember, the sites they will engage with, will become vaster and riskier as they get older.

● Know your values. We want our children to grow up with a solid, grounded sense of right and wrong. It is vital to teach them that their online reputation is just as important as their in-person reputation. A time will come when they will access the internet outside the safety of your home and you want them to be prepared for that moment.

How they behave, interact with people, and represent themselves in a public forum will set the stage for their future. Thus, what our children say and do online, will be a digital footprint that will follow them wherever they go.

● Do not underestimate your children. Children are curious beings. They are most likely online more often than you know. It is important to engage with them and learn how to navigate the online web together, making them understand what downloading privileges mean and to create family boundaries.

● Set boundaries. As a family agrees on the family rules and those set by the Internet service provider. Restrict social media access. Always stipulate the terms and conditions of the family rules. Make your children understand that there are consequences for breaking these rules.

● Parental Control. For your younger children, you might consider checking browser history to monitor which sites they are on. Also, set up parameters around your children gaining access to certain websites that you would deem as inappropriate or risky. Many popular internet browsers will allow you to do this and there is software that helps prevent objectionable content and dangerous people from gaining access to your child. Safety apps to consider: Parental Control on Alexa and Google Home Voice Assistant Devices (for Smart Home Environments) as well as Kidgy-Parental Control and Qustodio. Blocking pop-ups can already assist in preventing them from accidentally accessible unfriendly sites.

● Be careful of strangers. Just as we teach our children not to speak to strangers in their early years, we expect them to be safeguarded against cyberspace strangers. Teach your children never to post or trade personal images. Never reveal personal information, such as address, phone number, school name, and/or location. Never agree to get together in person with anyone met online without parent approval and/or supervision.

Teach your children to come to you when a conversation is inappropriate, scary, or hurtful. Something to consider to be on top of this situation is using monitoring and accountability software that captures every keystroke your child makes online, such as those suggested above.

● Respect age restrictions. Do not lie for your child when they want to join a social network, download an app, or purchase a game. These age restrictions are in place to help protect your child from inappropriate content and the dangers that lurk behind the screen.

● Protect them with strong passwords and antivirus software. Teach your children about strong passwords and know your children’s passwords at all times. Always run the latest software and antivirus programmes on all devices. Keep webcams covered when not in use. Secure your home network by encrypting your VPNs.

This is imperative to ensure that basic step-by-step security controls are configured on the Wi-Fi Network Router at home to ensure a safe online environment from intrusion by malicious hackers who may exploit your children’s platforms. Teach your children about secure websites. All website addresses start with the letters “http/”, however, you will know if the site is secure if it includes the letter s, “https/”. Safety apps to consider: Kaspersky Safe Kids, Google Family-Link, YouTube Kids, Life360 to name a few.

● Keep track of your children’s time online. Put a limit on screen time. Experts say that children between the ages of five and seventeen should have no more than two to three hours of screen time a day. They should engage in extra-curricular activities other than that of their screen. Develop good habits to explore their curiosity and encourage them to pursue more active and/or less technology-driven ways to have fun.

● Fake news. Teach your child to look into the content they consume. An inability to differentiate between fake and accurate/reliable news is not something to be overlooked, as it can lead to uninformed decisions and distrust. It is important that we teach our children some basic rules so they can feel confident in the facts they find online. 

● Be honest. One of the most important things about digital etiquette is to cultivate in your children to always ask for help when they are not familiar with the site or content on their screen. If your child asks questions about what they have seen online, make sure to answer those questions as honestly as possible. This is to create a habit and a mindset that they should always have the courage to come to you if they experience or see unfamiliar or harmful content online.

As parents, we can use the tools and educate our children about various online threats. But at the end of the day, how we approach the conversation of web safety with our children is the most important. We can’t always sit with them or keep a watchful eye on them 24/7. So, we need to trust ourselves that through the measures we have put in place and the values that we have taught our children, that it will be their moral compass when they navigate the web.