This digital safety guide is a sponsored post
Over the past ten years, technological advancements have dramatically impacted the way we live. When I first started blogging almost 10 years ago, the iPhone had been introduced just 6 months before. Apps and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook were in their infancy. Online safety was a concern but as our homes have become filled with a wider array of devices, the conversation has shifted from online safety to the more encompassing digital safety.
The gateway to the internet now includes smartphones and tablets, in addition to computers. According to recent research conducted by Trend Micro, 30% of homes have three or more smartphones, around a third have two or more tablets, and close to half have two or more computers in their household. An increasing number of devices means more points of entry for malicious attackers to enter our virtual worlds.
As parents, it’s our job to protect our kids at every age and stage. While we may not need to hold those cute chubby hands as they cross the street, we do need to protect them from cyber threats by making sure they know the risks and rewards that come with being a digital citizen.
Here’s a helpful guide of the digital safety issues that come up at various ages, things to consider, and helpful resources to provide your child with the ability to make sound decisions regardless of what new device, app, or social media tool might come next.
Digital Safety for Toddlers and Preschoolers
There are wonderful learning opportunities available for young children through educational website and interactive apps that captivate their attention and motivate them but now is the time to take a close look at your own use of mobile devices because kids this age mimic parental behaviors and also keep an eye on what they’re doing so you can talk to them about what they’re doing. Creating open lines of communication about digital safety topics when kids are young means they’ll be more likely to talk to you during the more difficult tween and teen years. It may seem like a long time away but just trust me on this!
Digital Safety Issues for Parents of Toddlers and Preschoolers:
- screen time
- in-app purchases
- navigating websites
5 Tips for Raising Digitally Safe Toddlers and Preschoolers:
- Know what your kids are doing during their screen time. There are a wealth of learning opportunities available for young children including educational website and interactive apps. If your toddler or preschooler is using a computer, tablet, or smartphone to access content, be sure that you have screened the content first.
- Talk to kids about what to do if they get to a site with inappropriate content— In a recent survey, Trend Micro found 34 % of U.S. respondents claimed their children have viewed inappropriate content online. As parents, we know this can happen accidentally but Trend Micro advises us to explain the dangers of clicking on links and opening attachments in unsolicited emails. While talking to them about cybercrime will be over their heads, you can let them know to be cautious and to come get you if they click on something that takes them to a site that isn’t where they want to be.
- Examine how you’re using your devices in your home. If you feel like you’re battling with your child about screen time. Chances are your child has noticed how often you’re on your smartphone, laptop, or tablet and is emulating you. Provide concrete examples and model the behavior that you expect so they will become responsible digital citizens when they get older.
- Teach them about in-app purchases. Screen apps that your child wants to play, show them where they may be tempted to tap for in-app purchases, and discuss why they should always check with you before tapping before handing them your smartphone to play a new game. Let them know why you require a password for new downloads to your device.
- Discuss the importance of being wary of ads. We know that kids are drawn to online offers for popular products, apps, YouTube videos, music, and games that can be easily spoofed but it’s important for them to avoid clicking or tapping on them. With just a click or tap on a professional looking ad, a cybercriminal can intercept where the ad is stored and put a hoax on your credible site to extract your information. Lynette Owens, Founder and Global Director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families advises parents to require a password before kids can download an app to protect them from cybercriminals. This can help spark a conversation between you and your child about an app before they start using it so you can do your research to ensure that it’s credible and safe.
Digital Safety Resources for Parents of Toddlers and Preschoolers:
- Internet Safety for Kids & Families— Trend Micro’s long-running initiative was created to offer support and advice on these topics that parents are concerned about. Internet Safety for Kids & Families blog is a great place for parents of preschoolers and toddlers as well as parents with older kids. The topics are real and relevant and I appreciate Trend Micro’s philosophy of encouraging everyone to embrace the online world because “the internet and all things tech is a huge part of our future.”
- Common Sense Media—I love Common Sense Media for their robust and unbiased reviews of apps, websites, movies, and video games because it provides parents a lot of information in an at-a-glance format. Of course you can dive deeper into any review to learn more and I always encourage families to visit Common Sense Media before downloading any app, visiting any new site, or even seeing a movie to determine if it’s right for their family.
- Smart Apps for Kids— If you’re an iOS user who is looking for a great math practice app for your first grader, chances are Smart Apps for Kids can help. This site features iOS features app reviews that are searchable by grade and subject to help you find great apps faster.
- Mobile Security Solutions— Trend Micro’s Mobile Security Solutions are designed to help you and your family stay safe no matter where you are and what you’re doing. Their Mobile Security Solutions are designed to provide protection, maintain your privacy, stop threats from reaching you, and also help boost performance of your device.
- Screenwise by Devorah Heitner— For today’s generation of moms and dads who are parenting in the digital world, Screenwise (available via Amazon) is a must-read that assists parents navigating this complicated space with kids of all ages in an approachable way that doesn’t make us feel guilty any gaps in our knowledge. Instead the book empowers all parents through its thoughtful nature to help our kids survive and thrive in the world that they’re growing up in.
Digital Safety for Early Elementary Ages (grades K-2)
Kindergarten through second graders are pretty screen savvy because they use digital devices at home and school. They are pros at navigating favorite apps, love to explore online worlds like Minecraft, and are getting into gaming consoles. It’s still important to maintain a healthy media diet for this growing age group and ensure that screen time is only one piece of what they do on a daily basis.
Digital Safety Issues for Parents of Early Elementary Ages:
- modeling screentime expectations
- what it means to be a good online friend
- importance of parental controls
- the importance of maintaining a healthy media diet
6 Tips for Raising Digitally Safe Kids in Grades K-2:
- Explore sites together. Kindergarten through second graders now go online for homework purposes but this doesn’t always mean that you should automatically trust the things that the school recommends. Sit down with your child and explore a site that was suggested by a teacher so you can be involved in their learning and get a sense of how these sites are being used to reinforce classroom learning at home. Also keep an eye out for chat features on private educational sites that allow kids in the class to talk online. If chat features are present, take some time to talk about how it’s important to be nice online as well as in person.
- Teach them good search habits. The internet is a treasure trove of answers for kids with endless curiosity and cybercriminals know this. Trend Micro’s Lynette Owens says when there is big news or an event that kids are anxiously awaiting, this is prime time for cybercriminals who use this to their advantage. They create fake websites and links related to the surge in traffic to get people to click, download, and open files. Owens advises parents to teach kids to think twice before clicking on a search result. She recommends showing them how to hover over a link and verifying it through the browser. Have kids match the URL that is shown to the URL they think it is and encourage them to stick to the first page of search results which tend to be the safest.
- Establish trust. According to Cox Take Charge!, “Your kids need to know they won’t get in trouble if they tell you or another trusted adult if anything suspicious, mean, or scary happens.” It’s important to create open lines of communication and listen for those little nuggets in the conversation that can be used as teachable moments that can be used as conversation starters about the good and bad things that are part of a child’s daily life. Let’s be honest- talking about topics like porn and bullying, whether on or offline, aren’t fun but can certainly be more difficult when you don’t make time to talk on a regular basis.
- Continue the conversation about screen time limits and the importance of a healthy media diet. Discuss how balancing screen time, time playing outside, and time spent reading is just as important as making sure you eat a balanced diet. Also discuss that screens include television, computer, tablets, gaming systems, and smartphones. Figure out how much cumulative screen time is right for your child and family and decide whether you’ll be evaluating each day’s time or looking more at the cumulative time over the course of a week.
- Create age appropriate conversations. While kindergartners may not be ready to hear about cyberbullying quite yet, you can lay the groundwork for the future by talking about the importance of being nice to others and being a good friend since these are important concepts to build upon for that later conversation.
- Check parental control settings and have a conversation about why they’re important. New devices may have parental controls but the default settings may not be right for your family. Open up the parental controls to ensure that the settings are age appropriate but then also talk to your kids about why they’re important. It’s also important to set up passwords to control downloads. Trend Micro advises to tell kids why you’ve done this. Be honest. It goes a long way with kids to talk to them about this as a necessary digital safety precaution.
Digital Safety Resources for Parents of Kids in Grades K-2:
- A Platform for Good’s Digital Citizenship Back to School Guide is a helpful read that reminds us “responsible and appropriate behavior that should be used when technology is in the picture, and it’s applicable in almost anything.” It features 9 ways for you and your kids to responsibly engage in the modern world and a great piece to refer back to throughout the year.
- Looking for ways your kids can search safely? Take a look at Google Safe Search and Bing Safe Search to set filters, the number of results that appear on a page, and more.
- Parents of YouTube loving kids will appreciate the free YouTube Kids App that lets kids watch playlists of curated content. If you have YouTube Red, your child can enjoy ad-free viewing on the YouTube Kids App.
- The Family Online Safety Institute has a free downloadable Family Online Safety Contract with parts for kids and parents to review. It’s a realistic contract that can serve as a good conversation starter for parents who aren’t quite sure how to bring up topics like cyberbullying in an age appropriate way.
Digital Safety for Tweens (ages 8-12)
Many parents of tweens ask me about when to get their child their own digital devices. It’s the age when kids may start to want their own laptop for schoolwork or feel a little more confident about being dropped off at activities if they have a phone to get in touch with you. While every family is different and the right age is a very personal one, there is a great deal of responsibility that comes to being an owner of a phone, tablet, or laptop.
Owning a device comes with the responsibility for taking care of it and using it responsibly. According to a study done by Cox shared on Take Charge!, 1/3 of tweens admit to being dishonest with parents about their online behavior. Make sure those lines of communication are open so you can talk about the fun stuff as well as the more difficult topics that begin to come up at this age both about digital behavior and in real life concerns. Also be mindful about how much time they’re spending on their devices because extended exposure to blue light that radiates from screens can harm eyes.
Digital Safety Issues for Parents of Tweens:
- preparing for your child’s first cell phone
- properly caring for your digital devices
- family policy about social media accounts
- the importance of being digitally respectful
- how to maintain privacy online
5 Tips for Raising Digitally Safe Tweens:
- Be willing to learn with your tween. As hard as it is to admit, there’s a chance that tween knows more than you about today’s technology and apps. Ask your kids about what they’re doing and have them be the experts to teach you about the hot new app or social media tool they’re using.
- Address when and how the cell phone should be used. Kids need to know what they’re getting into and what you expect, when they get a phone. Working together to develop a contract like the one from The Smart Talk can structure a conversation and keep you on track.
- Help your kids manage their first phone. Having a conversation with your tween about what is agreeable is more beneficial than throwing down the gauntlet and it’s always a good idea to talk about why you’re using locator services to help keep your family safer. Locator services like Sprint Family Locator, AT&T FamilyMap, and Life360 show you everyone’s location on a real-time map, and services like Sprint Mobile Controls or Verizon FamilyBase show you when a kid is texting or using apps, with whom, for how long, and lets you limit all of it. If you talk to your kids about how locator services help keep them safe then they won’t feel like you’re always looking over their shoulder if even you really are.
- Be mindful of publicly shared content. Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and other social sharing sites make it so easy for us to share. But how much information do you really want to share about yourself or your family? Teach your tween about being mindful about maintaining their privacy and how what they’re wearing in photos and what appears in the background could give away their location. Also be sure to read Seven Simple Steps to Protect Your Family’s Privacy on the Internet Safety for Kids & Families site and make sure your family is using in-app features and services as privacy controls.
- Talk about the scary stuff. If you’ve created open lines of communication, you should be able to talk about more difficult topics. Even if they don’t seem like they’re listening, they are. Since survey results from Cox and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children demonstrated that 42% of tweens have received messages from people they’ve never met, now is the time to begin the conversation about not talking to strangers online, especially through gaming platforms. Teach them to recognize signs of grooming and reinforce that they won’t be in trouble if they come to you if anything suspicious, mean or scary happens.
Digital Safety Resources for Parents of Tweens:
- Preparing yourself for getting your child a phone— Chances are if your tween doesn’t already have a cell phone, they will want one soon. Getting a phone is more than going to the store and picking one out. There’s lots to know and it’s best to read advice from trusted sources first. Connect Safely has a great list of resource that provide advice for getting a child that first phone. Read it and then prepare yourself to have a conversation about the risks, rewards, and privileges of having such a device. Parents’ Guide to Smart Phone Safety is helpful since it outlines risks and provides 5 ways to be smarter than the smartphone.
- Develop a mobile phone contract—Over the years I’ve reviewed many cell phone contracts, guidelines for home technology use, and other tools for families to facilitate conversations about online safety but I honestly have to say that I love The Smart Talk. The Smart Talk is a customizable contract designed to inspire conversation as parents and kids sit down together to answer a series of questions about topics like safety & privacy, screen time, social media, apps & downloads, texting & calling, reputation & respect, online videos & cameras.
- Locator services and mobile controls for their first cell phone— Every carrier has their own type of locator service and mobile controls that you can add to your family’s phone contract. Ask about Sprint Family Locator, AT&T FamilyMap, Sprint Mobile Controls, and Verizon FamilyBase to keep your family safe. Also look at the Life360 app. I love that I can see where each member of my family is at any given time using the free app. Paid users can set geofences to get text alerts when their kids arrive home, to soccer practice, etc.
- Social media resources— If your child has a phone, it’s only a matter of time until they start using social media even if you have told them “no social media accounts until age 13.” Things that are forbidden are always more appealing so rather than forbidding your child from getting an Instagram account, read my post: Important Conversations to Have with Your Kids About Instagram. Then make them read my daughter, Emily’s, post, Hey Tweens! Here’s What My Tween Wants You to Know About Instagram. It’s far better to have a conversation now than to find out later they have been using Instagram behind your back or have a Finsta. Not sure what Finsta is? Ask your child!
- Know the lingo— If you don’t know what your child is talking about, find out! NetLingo’s List of Chat Acronyms & Text Shorthand provides a very helpful list so you can really know what your kids are talking about via text and messaging features on social media accounts like Snapchat and Instagram.
- Teach kids to defend their digital domain. With tweens on social networking platforms that they may not be mentally ready for, it’s important to encourage them avoid digital drama and be digitally respectful. MTV’s A Thin Line does a great job addressing the issue of digital disrespect and avoiding digital drama plus so many more topics that resonate with tweens and teens.
- Know how to help correct oversharing— While we try to have our kids be mindful of what they’re sharing, the brain of a tween and teen are very in-the-moment and sometimes have a hard time seeing the big picture. I love the advice by Dr. Devorah Heitner in this piece called When Texting Goes Wrong: Helping Kids Repair and Resolve Issues. If your tween comes to you for advice when something happens, know that you’ve done a good job parenting and creating a culture of trust in your family.
- Aim to reduce your tween’s exposure to blue light— Raed my 5 Tips to Help Combat Digital Eye Strain and Reduce Blue Light Exposure.
Digital Safety for Teens (ages 8-12)
You’ve worked to lay the groundwork of trust and open lines of communication and while it’s hard to relinquish control, it’s important to trust your teen to a certain degree but maintain conversations about their online reputation, the content being shared online and through their smartphones, the dangers of texting and driving, and the effects of blue light that comes from the screens of digital devices.
Digital Safety Issues for Parents of Teens:
- preserving your online reputation
- texting and driving
- avoiding digital drama
- exposure to blue light
3 Tips for Raising Digitally Safe Teens:
- Discuss the importance of taking charge of your online reputation. Teens can be impulsive but it’s important for them to try to think about how what they post today can affect them long into the future. Cox’s Tips to Take Charge! of Your Online Reputation is a handy guide with 6 tips for parents including explaining that nothing is ever private and what they say online can come back to haunt them in more ways than they may know. Stephen Balkam, Founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, also recommends having kids Google themselves to see what comes up. Also have them perform a Google Image Search.
- Be mindful of your digital presence to create a positive digital reputations— If you have concerns about how the years of being on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social platforms might look like to admission officers or potential employers, it’s time to sit down with your teen to talk about their digital reputation and how to manage it. Teens who are applying to colleges or jobs need to ensure that their digital footprint reflects who they are in the most positive way. They also need to know the importance of being authentic online.
- As your child to teach you about what they’re doing if you’re intimidated by the fact that your child knows more than you. It’s a humbling experience that is incredibly empowering for your kids. Chances are they’ll give you a fabulous tutorial and you will have given them an ego boost that will do wonders for your relationship.
Digital Safety Resources for Parents of Teens:
- Clean up your digital footprint— Teens who are getting ready to apply for college and jobs don’t need to have everything online. While it may be hard to retract what’s already out there, now is the perfect time to be more mindful of the digital footprint being left behind. A Platform for Good’s Clean-Up Your Digital Footprint is a helpful free downloadable PDF available in English and Spanish with seven tips that range everything from checking your privacy settings to thinking before you post.
- How to build a positive digital presence— Last year I wrote this post about Important Conversations to Have with Kids About Managing their Digital Reputations. It’s full of age appropriate tips for parents of toddlers to teens like creating a personal blog or website. The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) recommends this strategy in Idea For Building Your Online Presence for College and Domain.ME has is a great resource that will help your teen brand themselves in a positive way.
This post and giveaway is sponsored by Trend Micro. All opinions are my own.