The global coronavirus pandemic has lead to many important lifestyle changes for all of us. More people are working from home or working remotely, business and entertainment all take place virtually, and, significantly, our kids are no longer attending full time in-person schools. With so much learning taking place on the internet nowadays, it is very important that we keep our kids safe from the many potential dangers lurking online.
Luckily, there are many simple and straightforward tools available to help smart parents in these endeavors. From online safety school to protective measures you can add on to your home Wi-fi network, let’s take a look at why online safety is so important today and how to keep kids safe while learning virtually.
Kid-Proof Your Internet
Before your children are given free reign to surf the net, there are some steps you can take that will pre-empt most unwanted interactions with cyberbullies or potential online predators. First, you can try installing parental controls.
Download a computer monitoring software that will allow you to block certain apps or games, prevent your kids from downloading inappropriate content, screen and restrict access to certain types of website, and limit online purchases so your kids can’t make any payments without parental consent. Parental controls can also allow you to limit screen time, monitor social media activity, and prevent harmful ads.
Keep in mind that the type of controls and restrictions you put in place may be different for younger children (who are more likely to stumble on inappropriate content accidentally) versus teenagers (who may seek out websites or chat rooms you don’t approve of). So as you search for the right kind of parental controls to keep your kids safe, keep in mind their relevant age level and what kinds of rules you want to put in place.
You may also want to consider adding a VPN to your internet. A VPN, or “Virtual Private Network”, cloaks your location and identity online, preventing any would-be hackers from accessing sensitive personal information your kids might inadvertently share, such as home address or full name. The benefit of a VPN is that it not only keeps your child’s online learning sessions private and secure from outside prying eyes, it also protects every device you and your kids use that is routed through your home Wi-fi router, so their smartphone and tablet online activity will be equally secure.
Home Training Session
Take some time to sit down with your children and review together some basic online safety protocols. Talk together about straightforward online safety plans, and how to look out for potentially harmful interactions. You can share with them animated videos to help kids learn about online safety that were created by US government agencies. And talk together about simple safety precautions you can all take when using online learning platforms.
For example, never use identifying personal details in your child’s usernames on apps and online registration portals. Make sure to emphasize how important it is that they never give out personal information, like home address, telephone number, or age, to anyone that they don’t know, even if that person seems friendly. If they aren’t sure whether or not to share information with someone online, they can always check with a parent first.
Clear, honest, and open communication is important here- you will want your children to feel comfortable coming to you to report any interaction they may have that feels uncomfortable to them. Remind them that they can always ask questions about something they may have viewed on the internet and that they can speak to you if something is on their mind.
You may want to draw up a “Family Technology Contract” that lays out mutually agreed upon rules of behavior for your kids while using the computer. Print it out, sign it, and have your kids sign it as well. Keep it posted somewhere visible while they are on the computer, so they remember to abide by the rules you discussed together.
Since much of your children’s online learning courses will be taking place via video chat platforms like Google Meet and Zoom, there are some simple precautions you can take to keep these formats safe and private. Put the computer in an open, public part of the house, and always avoid having school phone calls in your child’s bedroom.
Make sure that the teacher’s Zoom classroom is password protected and private. Zoom meetings with randomly generated ID’s will discourage any potentially disruptive hackers from “zoom bombing” your child’s session. The meeting host can also disable the chat and screen sharing functions to prevent further distractions or possibilities for outside interference.
If you notice that your child’s teachers are not taking adequate precautions to ensure the safety and privacy of their virtual classroom, don’t be afraid to provide helpful feedback. Virtual learning is fairly new for us all and chances are that they will be all too happy to oblige.
You will also want to talk with your kids about cyberbullying in the digital classroom. Make sure your children are familiar with what constitutes appropriate and unacceptable behavior from and towards their peers online. Ask them to let you know if they think they have experienced or witnessed any incidents of cyberbullying.
Take Precautions and Talk Often
As you go about putting in precautions to protect your children online, have an honest and direct channel of communication with them. Let them know what you are doing and why, so that they don’t feel they are being punished preemptively, or talked down to. There are many kinds of threats that can exist out there in the wild world of the internet. The best tool towards keeping your kids safe in the virtual classroom is to communicate and be open with your children’s teachers, other parents, and, especially, your children. The more issues are talked about out in the open, the more you can rest assured that your children are safe in their digital school.