Internet Safety 101

How do I keep my kid safe on the Internet?

Internet safety goes way beyond protecting kids from strangers or blocking inappropriate content. It's about helping your kids use the Internet productively and practice safe, responsible online behavior -- especially when you're not there to answer their questions or check in on where they've ventured. Keep in mind that what may seem like basic knowledge to parents is new to kids just getting started in the digital world. Having a conversation before your kid embarks online helps set expectations and establish ground rules. Here are the basic guidelines to share with your kid:

  • Follow your family's rules about when and where to use the Internet.
  • Be polite, kind, and respectful.
  • Understand a website's rules, and know how to flag other users for misbehavior.
  • Recognize "red flags," including someone asking you personal questions such as your name and address.
  • Never share your name, your school's name, your age, your phone number, or your email or home address with strangers.
  • Never send pictures to strangers.
  • Keep passwords private (except from parents).
  • Never open a message from a stranger; it may contain a virus that can harm a computer.
  • Immediately tell an adult if something mean or creepy happens.

How can I make sure my kid isn't sharing too much on Facebook or Instagram?

Take a two-pronged approach. First, probe a bit to find out if your kids might be at risk for oversharing. Reserve judgment until you've heard your kids out; a heavy-handed approach can lead to them shutting you out. Ask about what types of things they and their friends share. Make sure they're not feeling pressured to post things they're uncomfortable with. And discuss the risks of oversharing, which include damage to one's reputation and regrets about sharing personal information.

Second, check in about privacy settings. Kids don't always think through the consequences of their actions. That's when privacy settings really matter. Even if kids do think before they post, if their privacy settings aren't enabled (or aren't strict) they may be sharing more than they mean to.

How do I keep up with the latest social apps and sites teens are using?

Take a little time to do your research. Our reviews and parenting advice can be an excellent starting point. Other parents also can be great resources. Ask around, and keep your ears open during parents' night at school for any cell phone or social media issues the school is dealing with.

Most importantly, talk -- and listen -- to your kids. They might tell you everything you want to know or at least drop the name of an app or a website you can check out on your own. Even if you can't stay on top of every new app, concentrate your efforts on keeping the lines of communication open so kids will come to you if a problem arises. Make sure kids know it's OK to make mistakes and that they don't need to hide these from you -- that you can actually help them through tough spots.

Beyond that, here are a few more ideas:

   Have your kid use your app store account or an account linked to your email, so you'll be notified when an app is downloaded. Consider making a rule, at least until they're older, that they can't download an app or sign up for an online account without asking you first.

   Ask which apps and sites are popular with your teen's friends. Kids may open up more when they're talking about someone else.

   Share what you're using. Show them your Facebook page, favorite videos, or a game you're obsessed with. They may be inspired to reciprocate.

Should I friend or follow my teen on social media?

You can ask, but don't insist on it. Some families are connected on social media and it works for them. Some teens don't want their parents seeing everything on their pages (and will block you from seeing things, which kind of defeats the purpose of being friends). Following your teens online opens up a can of worms, and you'll have to figure out how to negotiate that new relationship. If your teens let you friend or follow them, stay in the background (don't comment or "like" their posts unless they want you to), pick your battles, and make sure to address anything important face to face, not on their pages in front of their friends.

How much screen time is OK for my kid(s)?

It really depends. Although the amount of time kids spend on screens has been a big news focus, what's even more important is the quality of kids' media and how it fits into their -- and your family's -- lifestyle.

Pay attention to how your kids act during and after watching TV, playing video games, or hanging out online. If they're using high-quality, age-appropriate media; their behavior is positive; and their screen-time activities are balanced with plenty of healthy screen-free ones, there's no need to worry.

If you're concerned about heavy media use, consider creating a schedule that works for your family. This can include weekly screen-time limits, limits on the kinds of screens they can use, and guidelines on the types of activities they can do or programs they can watch. Make sure to get your kids' input as well so the plan teaches media literacy and self-regulation, and use this as an opportunity to discover what they like watching, introduce new shows and apps for them to try, or schedule a family movie night.

Finally, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) -- one of the only established organizations to make recommendations on screen time -- discourages screen time for kids under 2 and advises limiting daily screen time to one to two hours for older kids. Studies have shown a link between heavy media use and issues such as obesity, lack of sleep, academic challenges, aggression, and other behavior difficulties. The reality is that most families will go through periods of heavy and light media use, but, so long as there's a balance, kids should be just fine.

If my kid needs to use the computer for school, how do I make sure he's not wasting time on other stuff?

First, make sure he's really "wasting" time. Kids can be pretty adept at multitasking, and what looks like wasting time might be a complex formula of managing music, homework, and socializing that doesn't negatively impact academics.

Discuss your concerns and talk about ways to structure homework time that work for everyone. Consider asking your kids to write down assignments and have them check each off as they finish them.

If your kid is really having a tough time blocking out distractions and staying focused, you might need some technical assistance. If your kid's school uses a 1:1 device program, ask the teacher if it comes with some time-management software or other controls that allow you to restrict access to non-homework-related sites. If your kid is using your home computer to do work, you might consider a parental-control program such as Skydog, OpenDNS, or KidsWatch that lets you separate homework from playtime.

How do I prepare my kids for an online world where cyberbullying is a risk?

No parent wants to see his or her kid get hurt, online or anywhere else. But the reality is that, if kids are online and interacting with others, there's a chance they will encounter mean behavior and maybe even cyberbullying.

The most important step you can take is talking to your kids about responsible online behavior. Next, you can make sure they know what to do if they encounter cyberbullying or mean behavior directed at them or another person.

Beyond these steps, you might talk to your kids about their online experiences so far. Ask them if anything has ever happened online that made them uncomfortable, angry, or sad. You also could ask them to tell you about a friend's experience -- kids are often more open to discussing someone else's issues rather than their own.


I will…

Stay Safe

I will not create accounts or give out any private information – such as my full name, date of birth, address, phone number, or photos – without my family’s permission.
I will not share my passwords with anyone other than my family. I will ask my family to help me with privacy settings if I want to set up devices, accounts, or profiles.
If anyone makes me feel pressured or uncomfortable, or acts inappropriately toward me online, I’ll stop talking to that person and will tell a friend or family member I trust about it.

Think First

I will not bully, humiliate, or upset anyone online or with my phone – whether through sharing photos, videos, or screenshots, spreading rumors or gossip, or setting up fake profiles – and I will stand up to those who do.

I know that whatever I share online or with my cell phone can spread fast and far. I will not post anything online that could harm my reputation.

Whenever I use, reference, or share someone else’s creative work online, I will give proper credit to the author or artist.

Stay Balanced

I know that not everything I read, hear, or see online is true. I will consider whether a source or author is credible.
I will help my family set media time limits that make sense, and then I will follow them.
I will be mindful of how much time I spend in front of screens, and I will continue to enjoy the other activities – and people – in my life.

I will . . .


In exchange, my family agrees to...

  • recognize that media is a big part of my life, even if they don’t always understand why.

  • talk with me about what worries them and why, before saying “no.”

  • talk to me about my interests and embrace my world, including helping me find media that’s appropriate and fun.

Aileen Pagtakhan,
Oct 20, 2014, 10:41 AM
Aileen Pagtakhan,
Oct 20, 2014, 10:41 AM