Many homeschoolers have the option to avoid the internet altogether by choice, whether it’s for safety concerns or due to worries about screen over consumption, it’s a good idea to restrict the internet with safety settings and time restraints. Homeschoolers also have the opportunity to educate through many online activities, like Khan Academy, Calico Spanish, and other endless online classes of all ages.
Also, as homeschool parents, we have the option to sit with our children to walk them through internet safety and to stay close to be sure they are talking to actual friends and family and not randomly clicking websites with vulgar content.
Yet, we also want to be able to step away and get chores accomplished and allow our children to have some space. They need to understand safety and rules about the internet, whether they are on a tablet or computer, at grandma’s house, or visiting their best friend and playing a gaming console.
Having Open Discussions
One of the first steps to introducing the world wide web to any child of any age is to have open discussions, and explain why we have rules, and why we have to be safe. They need to know that sharing their names, and names of family members, birth dates, pictures and videos, addresses, and phone numbers is an absolute no. There is no reason whatsoever to give anyone, even a family member, their personal information (especially considering family members usually have their personal information already).
A good point here is to explain about hackers and how they can use people’s names and pictures to appear like family members and friends. If someone asks for personal information, have your child refer that person to you.
Adjust Privacy Settings
Every app, gaming console, tablet, and internet browser has a variety of settings. Google it if you are not able to find it or use a different app. YouTube Kids is great for younger ages (no comments section and no advertising). Many gaming consoles can download a parental app. These allow you to adjust settings for browsers inside the consoles, but also who they can talk with during online gaming as well. Do your research and keep them safe before they log on.
As a parent, it is important to consistently check what websites your child visits and what messages they are sending within apps. I can tell you from experience that it is OKAY to have your child hand over their iPod so you can check their messages. Even if they are only talking to their friends, you want to make sure that their discussions are kosher, and everyone is being kind. Even your kid is capable of using the wrong words. We have to learn how to interact with our friends and little ones have feelings that can be easily hurt from both sides.
Side note: make sure you keep a list of all the passwords you have for your child’s devices and that they inform you of any passwords they make. Do not be flexible in this regard, you never know when you need to check what your child is up to. It is always best to be open with these discussions in a friendly manner than to create tension that builds over the years into secrecy.
Decide the time frame your child can use the internet for free time and how much they need to use it for class. It may change but you want to make sure they understand that being on the screen and wasting valuable time playing apps and browsing the internet are bad habits. Yes, as adults we are guilty of this, but we are building healthy habits for our children, and you’ll be thankful you did.
It is better to use a timer, so they know when time is up, rather than forgetting to check-in and they’ve wasted half the day playing video games or browsing the web. We all get sidetracked, our lives are busy, so find something that works for your family.
Another aspect of being introduced to the internet is understanding where they can get online and what sites are approved. If they do go to Grandma’s, they know they do not get onto a website or app that is not approved. Also, think about how they use apps and what they watch. YouTube has a lot of advantages but many disadvantages. Your children need to understand what channels are appropriate for their viewing and how long they can watch, no matter what house they are visiting.
Having Parental Permission
If online gaming and messaging are involved with the apps and games your children use, then they need to understand that accepting invitations from strangers is unacceptable. It is hard to decide where to draw the line when it comes to giving kids too much information when it comes to the dangers of people on the internet. You make that decision, but they should understand that there are people who might ask or send inappropriate messages and what that might be.
Again, this goes back to having open and honest discussions. If children know they can come to you when a friend sends a request and that you will help them accept that, then they will be more likely to come to you when a stranger sends an invitation that should be reported.
Just Say No
No, I’m not trying to bring back the DARE program (although that was good, am I right?), but your child should know it is absolutely OKAY and even GOOD to say NO to strangers, friends, and family. Especially strangers. Always to strangers. Especially when it comes to personal information as we discussed above.
What Age is Best?
Honestly, this is your call. Children mature at different rates. One kid might be ready to explore safe websites at five, while another of your children might not be ready until they’re ten. You know your children best and you will make the best decisions for them.
You might want to sit with your child the first few weeks they’re introduced to an app, game, or website. This way they understand where to click (you don’t want surprise purchases!) and how to use the device. Your guidance and support give your child the confidence to mature and explore safely.
By keeping these points in mind, you will be able to have the confidence that your child is safe from predators, and they are using the internet for fun and learning.