Whether it’s a class meeting in a Zoom room, Facetime with friends and relatives, or checking out the latest TikTok trends, our children have never known a time without the internet or social media. As a school, as teachers, and as parents, one of our most critical roles is to enable our children to make smart, independent choices. The online world is abundantly filled with information and entertainment which can enrich education and engage personal interests. The internet is a powerful and valuable resource, but children need skills, tools, and guidance to use it wisely. Here are some of our suggestions for keeping your kids safe online over the summer and beyond.
1. Limit Screen Time
A straightforward, though simplistic, short-term solution is found by merely limiting children’s screen time. If they’re not online, they can’t run into trouble there. This may be more easily said than done, and, of course, not all screen time is a bad thing. Some parents choose to set strict time limits or use screen time as something earned through doing chores or other tasks. If you choose to set limits on screen time, it can be very helpful and more meaningful if you offer alternative activities — particularly things you can do together!
2. Supervise & Use Parental Controls
Especially for younger children, supervising their time online, whether you check in over their shoulder or monitor their activity, is incredibly important. Never underestimate the power of curiosity, particularly when coupled with no real understanding of potential consequences. Children should be encouraged to explore and follow their interests, as long as it can be done safely. Many online service providers offer parental controls which can help younger children from inadvertently wandering into inappropriate online territory. Google Families and Apple also offer some easy-to-use, powerful tools for controlling access.
3. Talk with Them
Children thrive when they know what’s expected of them and what the boundaries are. “Because I said so” arguments are rarely effective and don’t offer any opportunity for children to understand the reasoning behind them. Gauging your conversation to meet your children’s maturity levels, it’s a great idea to have a discussion about the reasons they (and you) need to be safe online. Explain some steps you yourself take, such as keeping your location private or being very careful about what details you share about your life. Giving your children some guided responsibility to decide what’s okay to do online can be empowering.
4. Share Screen Time
Screen time is easy to use as a pseudo-babysitter during summer’s often unstructured hours. Giving your children a little extra time online while you finish working, make dinner, do some yard work, or whatever tasks you need to do, can be an easy, quick fix. Try finding other activities to occupy kids during that time, and turn screen time with mom or dad into the reward instead. Younger children, especially, will often enjoy showing you around and teaching you about the house they built in Roblox or an app they enjoy. With older children and teens, it can be an opportunity to enjoy some videos together, learn a TikTok dance as a family, or just explore some of their interests together.
5. Keep Devices in Shared Spaces
In conjunction with supervising younger children’s time online, keeping computers and laptops in common areas such as a family room or living room can enable you to keep an eye on what they’re exploring while allowing them some independence. It can also make it easier for them to ask you questions about what they’re doing or seeing online. Some families may also choose to keep children’s devices overnight to help prevent late nights online and overnight temptation.
6. Set a Good Example
More than anyone else in their lives, parents are the most powerful influences. Setting a good example with your behavior online — and letting your kids know and see what you’re doing — is a great way to encourage them to behave similarly. For example, you can explain why you’re not sharing pictures that show your address or the front of your house on social media, what privacy settings you’re using, or how to create safe usernames and passwords. If you’re buying or selling something on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or elsewhere online, you can describe how you’re keeping it safe. Children are watching and absorbing your behavior even when you don’t realize it, so ensuring your time and behavior online align with your goals for their behavior is important.
7. Keep Communication Open
Kids are curious, and they will find answers to their questions in one way or another. Ideally, they feel comfortable enough to bring any concerns or curiosities to you, and you can find appropriate answers together. If they don’t feel they can ask you, they will find other, possibly less appropriate answers from friends or online from strangers. Assuring your children that they can come to you with any problems or questions can help keep them from making regrettable choices online.
8. Make Clear Guidelines
Setting up clear expectations before problems arise is a great way to prevent unsafe behavior online. Depending on your children, this can range from a family discussion about appropriate and safe online behavior to a checklist of what to avoid, such as direct messages with strangers, giving out full names or addresses, sharing personal details, and so on.
9. Learn about Popular Apps and Websites
While Facebook and Instagram may be your speed, your kids are probably well versed in TikTok, Discord, Roblox, Houseparty, Whisper, and Snapchat, among others. Check these apps out. Set up your own account and see how they work, what the content is, and make your own decisions about what’s appropriate for your children’s maturity levels and your own family’s values. Not sure? Have your kids show you around them — even your teens will enjoy being the ones in the know, though perhaps reluctantly and with much eye rolling. Many apps are described and reviewed on Common Sense Media along with details about safety and privacy for many of the more popular ones.
10. Provide Alternatives
For many kids, time online is a way to fill some of the hours that would normally have been filled with school and homework during other parts of the year. Whether you identify some educational apps, schedule summer camps and classes, go on a book-shopping spree, plan family activities, arrange volunteer work, or even a part-time summer job for your kids, a little effort can pay off in less boredom that results in less time to indulge idle curiosity online.
Teaching and modeling safe behavior online can help your children on their road to being prepared for life — one of our central missions at Las Vegas Day School. We hope you and your children will enjoy some fun times both on and offline this summer, and we look forward to seeing you this fall.
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