Since its birth in the 1960-1980s, the Internet has grown tremendously. What started as a limited communication tool for academic, military, and research institutions has evolved into a primary way for people to connect. As one of the biggest sources of entertainment, the internet has also become one of the scariest places for children to venture. Many amazing and uplifting stories show how the internet has brought people together who would otherwise never meet. It has shown people of various groups they are not alone. It has been the medium through which great social change has occurred.
Unfortunately, the internet has also become a way to prey on vulnerable groups of people, like children. Today's children have never known life without the internet, and they have the entire world wide web at their fingertips. Schools give out tablets with full internet access so kids can work on school remotely. According to the American Community Survey published by the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2019 about 95% of children ages 3-18 had internet access in their homes. When so many children have access to something as big as the internet, it is important for adults to know what they can access. Knowledge is power and leads to more informed decisions.
In this article, I won't tell you what is appropriate or inappropriate—that is for you to decide—rather, I'll help you find the tools you need to make the right decisions for your family.
Kids primarily access the internet through websites, apps on phones, and video games. If you do a quick search, you can look up the most viewed websites in the United States. Most won't surprise you, some will, and some you may have never heard of. I can almost guarantee that your children (depending on age) will have heard of all of them!
Experience it for yourself.
One of the best ways to learn about specific apps or websites is for you to experience them yourself. Learn the apps, websites, and games your children use and try them out. By experiencing the content yourself, you'll not only see the content they can view, but will be better able to tell them how to remain safe in that space. Perhaps you are okay with them using certain apps/websites, but don't want them using a certain feature. You might not know that feature even exists until you try it out yourself. Who knows, you might find the website fun or useful too!
Another way to stay informed, especially if you don't have time to explore the website or app, is to do your own research. Google the website or look it up on YouTube to find someone who is much more well-versed on the platform to teach you what is great, what is risky, or how to monitor your child's activity. Looking up "parent's guide to __________" is a great way to research specific online platforms.
Some specific websites that have been helpful to parents include:
- Surprising Things You Should Know to Keep Your Kids Safe Online
If you want to know more about your children's online activities, ask them! This is a great way to promote healthy communication between you and your children while talking about something they are interested in. I recommend you come to these conversations with an open mind and a willingness to learn. Be honest about your concerns regarding the internet and ask them to help you understand how they stay safe on the platforms they use. Some things to ask include:
- Can you communicate with strangers? Is there a chat feature or private messaging feature?
- How do you keep your information private? Who can see your account? What can they see?
- What's your favorite part of the platform?
Seeking to understand (without judgment) your children's online activity will give you some insight into what they like and why they use different platforms. It can also lead to an ongoing conversation about internet safety and allow you to put some rules and tools in place to keep your kids safe online.