Although influenza is reportedly responsible for 200 million days of diminished productivity and 75 million days of work absence, the flu can’t really hold a candle to COVID-19 in terms of unpredictability or interruption of daily lives. And no one knows that better than American families. With millions of children out of school since March, kids and teens have had to grapple with online learning and an increased reliance on screens. And while technology provides us with convenience and increased accessibility, in many cases, there are some concerns to be aware of.
When a web user visits a company’s website, the brand’s main concern is the online experience. Some organizations, for example, use cast routing technology to make for faster site loading times in order to keep customers engaged. But as a parent, you’re probably more concerned about the quality and safety of websites your child might be visiting — and the people they’re communicating with — rather than how quickly a screen loads. To that end, here are a few tips you can implement to prioritize internet safety during the ongoing pandemic.
Because schedules have been majorly interrupted, your child may have an abundance of unstructured time on their hands. While you don’t need to make an itinerary for every second of the day, you should know what your kids are up to online. The scary truth is that there are individuals out there who may try to take advantage of the isolation your child may be feeling right now — whether that’s a stranger or even a classmate.
You should talk openly to your kids or teenagers about the risky situations they may find themselves in when spending time online. Although federal law actually defines any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving someone under the age of 18 as child pornography, some kids may not realize that they could get in trouble for sending and receiving photos of themselves or others in their peer group. They might also fail to recognize when the initiation of contact from an older individual is inappropriate. While it may not be a comfortable conversation, it’s important to talk through these scenarios and help them understand that they won’t be in trouble for saying no or for coming to you for assistance. By building trust, rather than adding to a sense of shame, you can keep your children safe from exploitation and other harms.
Cyberbullying is also a prominent problem online — and without the structure of school, there could be a virtual free-for-all of bullying behaviors happening on social media. While you can’t control what other kids might do, you can influence your children to do the right thing and to come to you if they’re being harassed online. Teach your children the importance of reporting bullying behavior within the apps they use and to not engage with those who want to wage emotional war through a screen.
Of course, you can do more than just talk to your kids about their responses to other people online. You can also take action by investing in internet safety tools, like the parental control settings on various devices or browser settings. You should also ensure your kids are using strong passwords and that any virtual meeting portals they use — whether for class or for fun — are secure. It’s generally a good idea to keep computers within common areas for you to monitor their use, but since many teens have smartphones, that may not cover all your bases. Setting limits on screentime or monitoring internet and app usage can often bridge the gap. You should also be aware of sharing too much about your children online, particularly in photos, as this can present privacy risks.
The real world is a scary place right now — but so is the virtual world. It’s essential to keep the lines of communication open within your family in order to protect your children while they use the internet. In our digital world, the web isn’t going anywhere. But if your kids know how to navigate it in a way that’s healthy, they’ll have a strong foundation to take them through adulthood.