With coronavirus quarantines in place, kids across the country are now home all day (and night… and all day again…), and chances are they’re spending a tad—okay, a ton—more time online. Distance learning also frequently requires the use of electronic devices, and many parents are relaxing screen time limits to help kids fill their time at home. One thing that should never be relaxed, however, is our efforts to keep kids safe, and those efforts are more important than ever during this precarious time.
The sad fact is that predators will see this increase in online screen time as a time to increase their efforts to prey upon children. The FBI recently released a warning that school closings may increase the risk for child exploitation.
That doesn’t mean we have to fear letting our children online, but it does mean we must remain extra vigilant and take steps to help protect our kids online and promote safe digital habits that will last long after the quarantine ends.
1. Think Before Clicking
“Think before clicking”—this is the mantra parents need their children to absorb. Not all sites are safe, and no matter how many filters and precautions you take, some bad ones will likely find their way to your child. Speaking with your kids about the real dangers out there openly and honestly is one of the best tools parents have to keep their children safe. While you don’t want to scare them, you do want them to know that there are people out there who actively prey on children, and that people and places are most certainly not always what they appear to be online. Teach them to inspect urls before clicking and to come to you with anything that seems suspect. For smaller kids, tell them to always check with you before clicking links within emails.
2. Verify domain names and email senders
Make sure kids know not to open links or attachments from anyone they don’t know and that they never respond to emails, texts or online pleas that ask for their personal information or a credit card number without checking with a parent first. There are far too many scams out there that appear to be from legitimate people and companies, but are not. Telltale signs that they might be bogus include spelling errors and altered graphics and logos. You probably see them in your own inbox regularly, and you can illustrate your point by showing your children some of them and sharing how you knew they were bogus.
Also, teach them how to verify that links are legitimate. First, by explaining to them the difference between those that begin with https as opposed to http—that extra “s” equals extra security. They can also enter a URL after the following address: http://google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?site= . It will let them know if there has been any malware associated with the site in the last 90 days.
3. Use better passwords
While it’s a lot easier for kids to remember only one password or pick those that are simple, that makes them vulnerable to hackers and other dangers. Encourage them to set strong, unique passwords for each individual account they have. That means choosing those that are at least eight characters long, containing a mix of numbers, letters and special characters and that aren’t their name, the name of their dog or anything obvious. If they need help keeping track of their passwords, a password manager, like Dashlane, can help.
4. Enable parental controls on phones
A phone is a big responsibility for kids, and it gives them access to all sorts of material—both good and not-so-good. Fortunately, parents don’t have to leave kids to navigate it all on their own as there are parental controls built into phones that parents can use to help control how and how much time their children are spending online.
5. Enable parental controls on computers
Like phones, computers open access to a world of information and opportunities, but many of them aren’t appropriate for children. While you can install various products to help you keep tabs on and limit your child’s online exposure, there are also built-in controls on most computers that parents can easily employ with just a few clicks.
6. Enable parental controls on apps
When it comes to apps kids spend time on such as Tik Tok, Netflix and Roblox, you can take extra precautions by enabling parental controls on the apps themselves. Many take just a few clicks and allow you to monitor what your child sees as well as who sees what your child posts.
7. Monitor your kids’ online activity
No matter how many parental controls you set or how much protective software you install, none of it is fail proof. This isn’t a case in which you can simply set some controls and forget them. Rather, consider them tools to help you in your job of monitoring your child’s online use. It’s easy to get complacent, but unfortunately, that’s what predators are waiting for, and they’re constantly working to take advantage of that complacency. There are also issues like cyberbullying, pornography viewing and other things which you want to be on the look for.
How you monitor their use will likely be determined by the age of your children and their behavior. In many cases, keeping online use limited to common areas of your home, rather than behind closed doors, is a good idea. You may also want to let your children know that you’ll be regularly logging into their device (s) to see exactly what they’re doing and talk to them about any issues you come across.
Check out our picks for the best parental control apps
8. Don’t be afraid to take away their online access
If your kids don’t follow the rules or are sneaky and try to find ways around the filters and limits you set, don’t be afraid to take away their phone, computer or internet privileges. They may bemoan the fact that they need them, but the fact is that plenty of people survived for many years without them, and they can too. Their safety comes first, period.
The coronavirus quarantine brings with it unprecedented challenges for parents. Between virtual schooling and attempting to fill the hours at home, an increase in the time kids spend online is understandable, but it’s also a time for parents to make sure they understand how and where their kids are spending their time and to remain extra vigilant in our efforts to keep them safe online.
This article has been reviewed and approved by Officer Banta.
Officer Banta is the official SecurityNerd home security and safety expert. A member of the Biloxi Police Department for over 24 years, Officer Banta reviews all articles before lending his stamp of approval. Click here for more information on Officer Banta and the rest of our team.