How we use the Internet has changed rapidly since the days of online forums and chat rooms. Today’s children have less privacy online and greater access to other people, including their friends – and strangers.
While using social media and the Internet have become a large part of your child’s daily life, these tools must always be used in a safe, positive way. Parents need to set guidelines to help their child participate in healthy behaviors online and take actions to monitor their child’s activity.
“These guidelines are something each parent has to decide for themselves,” says Alice Ann Holland, Ph.D., ABPP, a board certified clinical neuropsychologist and the Research Director of the Neuropsychology Service at Children’s Health℠. “You may want to check on what content and apps your child is using. You may also use apps and programs that can monitor your child’s Internet usage at a higher level.”
Internet safety guidelines
To keep your child safe online, you may enforce any of the following rules for Internet use at home, school or on smartphones:
- The computer must be used in common areas.
- Never post or trade photographs on sites without privacy controls.
- Always use the maximum privacy controls on social media sites.
- Never share personal info online, like address, phone number or social security number.
- Never purchase anything online without a parent’s permission.
- Never "friend" or talk to anyone you don’t know online.
- Always tell parents about any scary or negative messages or posts.
- Don’t download anything without asking a parent first.
- Never post negative or private information about someone else online.
- Never share passwords with anyone else.
Signs your child is involved in unsafe internet behavior
Even with guidelines, children may end up participating in unsafe Internet behavior. Social media is often a key culprit, especially for online bullying.
“There’s potential for negative interactions on both sides,” says Dr. Holland. “It’s a lot easier to type something mean than to say something mean to someone’s face. Kids can share mean things on social media without thinking about the consequences.”
If your child is experiencing negative or unsafe experiences online, they may show behavior such as:
- Spending too much time online
- Becoming upset or depressed after going online
- Turning off the computer when you come into the room
- Withdrawing from family life or friends
How to talk to your child about Internet safety
If you are concerned about your child’s safety online or simply think they spend too much time on the Internet, you can talk to them about these behaviors in positive ways.
“Acknowledging your own use of social media is important,” says Dr. Holland. “It can help you connect with your child on that level. If you don’t use social media often, that can start a conversation. Ask your child to help you set up a social media account. Invite them to your social media world.”
By making social media part of the conversation, you can more easily check in on what your child is doing and understand how social media may be used in safe or unsafe ways. You will also increase your understanding of what your child may be doing online.
When you do have to have a conversation about social media behavior, approach your child in a loving way.
“Express your love and concern for the child’s well-being,” says Dr. Holland. “Say, ‘Look I’m not trying to get you in trouble. I’m just concerned.’”
Try to stay calm throughout the conversation with your child instead of responding with immediate punishments. Talk to your child about why these behaviors need to stop, focusing on your child’s safety.
If your child is unable to stop these behaviors, you may need to move on to limiting time online or using applications or programs to block your child’s access. Always allow your child to be part of the conversation about Internet usage so they fully understand the rules, how the rules are enforced and what happens when the rules are violated.