There are few topics that raise questions and concern in parents quite like that of how to protect children online. As a parent of younger kids, I haven’t run across many issues when it comes to our children spending time online… but I know those years loom ahead of us. Even though our kids are still young (7, 4 and 2), I have learned that without a plan for protecting them when they’re online, things can rapidly get out of hand. Internet safety starts at home! Our oldest rarely has access to a computer or Internet connection, but when she does, she usually plays games on educational websites like PBSKids.org, Pegglego.com and Starfall.com. One day she was searching images of American Girl dolls and some random and racy pop-up started flashing in her face! I was mortified and quickly hit the “x” to close out the unwanted images. Needless to say, I no longer allowed her to surf images, and I immediately took some precautions on my laptop. Here are some safety tips, as well as our family rules about computer usage, to help protect children online:
1. Install pop-up blockers. Here’s a free article from the “For Dummies” brand that provides step-by-step instructions on how to change settings to avoid pop-ups.
‘2. Install parental control software. There are many different software programs available that you can install to protect your children from pornography, online predators, cyberbullying, and much more. One of the most highly-ranked programs for keeping your family safe online is NetNanny, which filters out the harmful content and other dangers of the internet and keeps ilicit images from appearing on your computer. NetNanny also recently launched a new service called NetNanny Social to monitor the social networks kids use, regardless of which device the child uses to access the Internet (3G/4G, Wi-Fi, home network, or hotspot).
3. Limit screen time. We try to establish set rules about how much time is allowed each day for online activity. Set a timer for 30 minutes (or however long you decide is appropriate), and decide when is an appropriate time (after school, after homework, or before dinner). We give our children a five-minute warning to let them know to wrap things up.
4. Keep computers or Internet access centrally located in your home. We don’t allow our children to do screen time in their bedrooms. Be sure to keep ALL devices that have Internet access (phones, tablets, laptops, and gaming devices) in a central location. Ours are usually in the living room where we can keep an eye on their screens and monitor their activity easily.
5. While kids are young, don’t let them “surf” without supervision. Children don’t need to be surfing the Internet unless they are doing a school research project.
6. Point them toward great Christian websites where they can find scripture and godly tools online. Be sure to check out these free coloring pages from trusted Christian books and other free goodies from TommyNelson.com
7. Teach you kids about what God thinks about the content that they consume. Here’s a great Bible verse that the entire family can memorize:
I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it. – Psalm 101:3 (NIV)
Again, the important thing is to have a plan and to teach and train our children with the foundation of God’s Holy Word. If we can teach our children how to be accountable to God first, and to please Him (even when Mommy and Daddy aren’t looking), they will be well on their way to making wise choices into their teenage and adult years!
What do you do as a family when it comes to Internet safety? We’d love to hear your tips and recommendations for how to protect children online, or your family rules about Internet usage! Be sure to tune in next month for an article on how to protect tweens and teens online. We’ll try to address the additional concerns that come with older kids’ social media and cell phone Internet usage. If you have a question for us, leave it in the comments and we’ll do the research to find the answer!