10 Ways To Protect Your Kids Online

Proverbs 27:12 says: “A prudent person foresees the danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.”

I have started reading this verse a new way, “A prudent parent foresees the danger ahead and takes precautions. The simpleton parent goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.” As parents, we need to see the dangers ahead, and we must take precautions.

What can you do to protect your child online?

1. Use Internet filtering software on your computers.

Your kids may not be looking for inappropriate content, but if they spend enough time on the computer, it will come looking for them. An ad or pop-up alert may get their attention, and before you know it, they are off and running. A simple Google search for a project they are researching for school may return a successful search for what they are looking for, but occasionally it will also include undesirable sites.

Internet filtering software or content control software can help. With the most basic level, you can control what content is viewed online, and some software packages will send an email, text or alert to a specified email account or cell phone number so that you are kept aware of what is happening or has happened on one of your home devices.

Here are three Internet filtering software options worth looking at:

  • Bsecure: Endorsed by Focus on the Family, Bsecure (www.familyisafety.com) provides social networking protection, online media filtering, and text and email alerts to parents’ phones.
  • Social Shield: Offering you a total view of the social networking your kids are doing, SocialShield (www.socialshield.com) will alert you to potential dangers and will give you information to keep your children safe and protect them online.
  • Safe Eyes: An award-winner, Safe Eyes (www.internetsafety.com) will make you aware of content that is being accessed and other dangers that pose a threat to your children on the Internet.

2. Use parental controls on your computer and tablets.

Parental controls differ from filtering software in that you can regulate screen time as well as block sites and record what content your kids are viewing or trying to view on one computer in your home. Both PC and Mac computers have built-in parental control screens that allow you some control over the use of the computer.

3. Know your child’s privacy settings on social media sites.

Before your kids jump on the social media highway, you should prepare them for the occasional emotional fender bender that will undoubtedly accompany them on their journey. That being said, there are a few things you can do to minimize their accident risk as they drive along their digital highway.

Once your children join a social media site, the first thing they should do is send you a friend request. You will want to be a part of their social media circle, not necessarily as a participant, but certainly as an observer.

Here are the current minimum age requirements for a few of the most popular social media services and applications:

  • You must be 13 before creating an account on Facebook.
  • You must be 13 before creating an account on Instagram.
  • You must be 17 before creating an account on Vine.
  • You must be 13 before creating an account on YouTube.
  • Currently, there is no minimum age for a Twitter account.

4. Spend time together with your child online.

Sit down with your children and spend some time with them online––showing them and modeling for them how to use cyberspace in a healthy way. Talk about what they should do if something inappropriate comes up on their screen. You don’t want them to hide anything from you, and you don’t want them to cover their digital tracks. By spending time together with your child online, you can help them understand the importance of exploring a healthy digital space.

5. Sign an Internet safety agreement with your child.

I know that not all parents like using behavioral contracts or agreements with their kids, but in regard to protecting your children on the Internet, I’m not so much pushing a contract as I’m talking about accountability. Whether it’s a contract or agreement you sign, or a set of reminders you post on a wall where your kids can see them, the point is that you and your children share and follow a set of expectations of how to responsibly use the Internet. If you would like an agreement to review with your child you can download one here.

6. Teach your child to never give out personal information.

Free! That’s the word. It’s captivating. It’s intriguing; and it’s free! Usually, sites that are trying to get information start by asking a simple question. Maybe it’s your first name, your age, or the last grade you completed in school. This may be followed up by a few more seemingly innocuous questions, like the name of a favorite animal or the name of a pet.

Continue to remind your children that when they are online, they are not to give out any personal information, for any reason, at any time. This applies to the personal information of other people as well.

When someone on a social media site asks your children about their friends, your children should be taught to say, “I don’t know; why don’t you ask them personally?” Go over with your children examples of personal questions: “Where does your mom work?” “Are your parents at home right now?” “What school do you go to?” These questions are all examples of personal information that should not be given to an unknown person.

7. Explain why your child shouldn’t chat with anyone he or she doesn’t know.

Explain to your children that there are people who hide behind the anonymous mask of the Internet. Explain that just because someone says her name is Tiffany and appears to go to their school doesn’t mean that it’s really Tiffany at the other end of the chat.

Online gaming with an Xbox or PlayStation is a bit more difficult to deal with. When our kids played online group games that involved players from around the world––all chatting and talking together during game play––we would simply have them play with the sound on so we could hear the conversation. It’s safe to say that our values as a family are not always the same values of other families. With that said, how do you respond to a few four-letter words that are dropped throughout the game? Do you have a strict “Turn that off” policy? At a certain age, we did.

However, as our kids got older, we decided to help them navigate their world by asking them questions. “What did you think about that guy’s language?” “Why do you think they use that language?” “Why do you think that gal was threatening the other player during the game?” Giving our children this additional freedom not only built trust between us but also helped them to think through and develop their own healthy online boundaries.

8. Discuss the appropriate use of the Internet with your children.

Why do your kids use the Internet? To study? To play? To interact? Yes! It’s a one-stop shop, isn’t it? Some people may say, “Craig, you are ‘harshing’ my digital world. Why are you so negative about the Internet.” Easy answer, I’m not! I love the Internet.

As an author, it has made my life easier in a hundred different ways––the two most important being research and accessibility to content. Not too long ago, I would have had to go to the library and use the card catalog (remember that?) to look up a book or author. Research was legwork; now it’s finger work. So no “harshing” here, just a few thoughts about how to appropriately use this amazing tool. And, IMHO (in my humble opinion), studying, playing and interacting are all great uses of the Internet.

9. Show your child what to do if he or she stumbles onto inappropriate sites.

As you spend time online with your children, help them understand what they should do if they stumble upon something inappropriate. When they start using the Internet, most kids don’t go looking for inappropriate sites or content, but they may either stumble on it while at home or see it while at the home of one of their friends who decides to show everyone else what he or she has found.

If your children are at a friend’s home when the inappropriate content comes up on the screen, they may stay and watch because they are afraid of being ridiculed or harassed if they were to stand up and walk out of the room. Peer pressure can overwhelm their sense of what’s right. If your children have faith in Christ, they will also have to deal with the guilt of viewing the content as well as the guilt of not telling you about it.

It’s important to have early and open conversations with your kids about what to do when––not if––they come across unhealthy content on the Internet. Keeping open communication between you and your children is extremely important, and it’s something I haven’t always done well. I had to make a conscious effort to move from a lecture style of parenting to a listening style, especially as my kids have gotten older.

10. Frequently check your child’s digital footprint.

What’s a digital footprint? A digital footprint is similar to a regular footprint, which is simply an impression or mark you leave as you physically walk around. In this case, it’s a mark you leave as you digitally walk around. A footprint usually tells you a few things. First, it will always tell you where you have been. And second, it usually tells you where you are going. I believe that frequently checking your child’s digital footprint is a step in a healthy direction.

What about respecting your child’s privacy? That’s another post but I feel it would be parentally irresponsible to not check your child’s digital footprint on a regular basis. Remember what the Proverbs said about being prudent as we look ahead, not regretful as we look back.

Filtering out unwanted content from your eight-year-old son’s browser or blocking certain social media sites for your nine-year-old daughter may be something you find not only useful but absolutely essential as kids engage this modern world their way.  

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craigjutila@churchleaders.com'
Craig Jutila has served in children's ministry for 20 years. He's authored and contributed to 12 books on leadership and children's ministry. He's the founder of Empowering Kids

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