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In this tech savvy world, you can’t keep your kids off the internet — but you can teach them how to use it safely with these tips.

By: Melissa Wagner, director of child safety and advocacy at Geisinger

With kids spending more time at home and having more access to devices like smartphones, tablets and computers, there are many opportunities for them to go online unsupervised. And while the internet can be a great tool for learning and connecting, it’s also filled with inappropriate content — and potential predators. 

As a parent, you can install antivirus software on your child’s devices and arm yourself with other tools to monitor their online activity, but it’s also important to teach them how they can protect themselves. 

Teaching your child how to use the internet safely can go a long way in protecting them from its potential dangers. So, if you haven’t talked to your child about online safety, here’s how to get started today.

Follow these tips to help your child stay safe online:

1. Communicate.

Kids are getting their hands on internet-connected devices at a younger age these days, so start the conversation early and keep the lines of communication open. 

Talk to your child honestly about the dangers of the internet — malware, inappropriate websites, predators and sexual offenders. And be sure to listen to what they have to say. By communicating openly and letting them know you’re here to help, they’ll be more likely to come to you if they run into something that makes them uncomfortable.

2. Educate yourself — and your child.

Do your research, whether online or by talking with other parents, about anything you don’t understand. The Family Online Safety Institute is also a great resource for staying up-to-date on online safety topics for you and your family.

If you decide to give your child a device, go through the setup process with them. Show them how to create a strong password, help them set up approved apps and set some guidelines, like where (and when) they can use their device or access the internet. 

Need ideas? Here are some other guidelines and safety tips.
Young boy using a tablet while sitting on the sofa in the living room

Talk to your kids about online safety

Mom and young daughter using a tablet together

Bonus tip: Remind your child that not everyone on the internet is who they say they are. Often, sexual predators pretend to be a child. So, be sure to tell them not to share photos or personal information, like their name, address or the name of their school, with anyone they don’t know in real life.
 
Better yet, tell them to avoid contacting anyone they don’t know in real life. 

3. Monitor their online activity.

Set limits to your child’s screen time and boundaries for the websites or apps they can and can’t use. And check with your internet service provider about filters that can be used to block access to inappropriate websites.

You may also consider setting up parental controls and monitoring their activity (and letting them know you’ll be checking in) — but avoid micromanaging. The goal is to help your child learn how to make good decisions for themselves.

4. Watch for changes in your child’s behavior.

If your child starts to become secretive about their online activity, withdraws from friends and family, receives letters or gifts from an unknown person or you notice other behavioral changes that seem “off,” these may be signs that your child could be talking with a sexual predator or experiencing harassment or bullying. 

This is where that open line of communication comes in: Talk to your child, listen and help them if they need it.


Worried that your child may have contact with a predator?

If you suspect, or know, that your child has had contact with a sexual predator, report it to your local police right away. And avoid deleting anything on your child’s device — there may be evidence to help the police catch the predator.

While you may be worried about your child having access to the internet, you can’t keep them away from it. By arming yourself with these tips, you can start the conversation and help educate your little (or big) one about staying safe while they browse.


Next steps:

Child abuse: Learn the types, signs and how you can help
A pediatrician’s guide to parenting right now
School’s out, but learning can happen at home. Here’s how.
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