When it comes to online safety for kids, you may be asking yourself if it’s okay to let your child have internet access at all. But the stats are undeniable: according to Pew Research Center, kids from ages eight to 12 spend about six hours online every day, while teens spend an average of 9 hours online each day. And even if you restrict access at home, children are sure to spend time online at school or friends’ houses.
With so many ways for your child to access the internet, it’s important to ask yourself the following questions to help your kiddo safely navigate this brave new world.
Parental controls are tools that allow parents to manage their child’s internet use. Parental controls come in a lot of shapes and sizes, but can include features like website and content filtering, screen time management and more.
Some of your child’s favorite devices, apps and websites have parental controls built right in, but it’s important to learn everything they can do to see if you need a more robust solution. But first, it’s important to think about your child’s age and maturity level to help you decide what they should and should not access.
Before going any further, determine if your child is ready to go online. There’s no magic number to determine at what age your child will be ready for the internet, but according to Child Trends, 41% of children age 3 to 5 and 57% of children age 6 to 11 use the internet at home. And even if you do restrict access at home, by the time they reach kindergarten, they’ll likely start accessing it at school.
But just because your child can access the internet, doesn’t mean they need to access the entire internet. It’s important to research age-appropriate apps and sites to understand when your child may be ready to use them and to assess if your child is mature enough to do so.
Luckily, many sites and apps, especially social media sites, have age restrictions that can help guide you. Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok and YouTube all require users to be at least 13 years old. But these are just guidelines: it’s up to you as a parent to determine if your 13-year-old is ready to access these apps and sites.
If you do decide your child is ready to set up accounts and apps, or if they’re ready for a phone or device of their own, there are a few ways to help keep them safe.
Sometimes, even with the best intentions, children can stumble upon dangerous sites and content without meaning to, so it’s great to set up online safety for kids with a few free tools on some of your kid’s favorite sites, apps, and devices.
iPhone Parental Controls: Restrict certain content and apps and set screen time limits. If your kid has their own iPhone, add your kid's device to your “family” with the phone’s Screen Time settings. From there, even if you share a device, you can set a variety of controls.
Google Family Link (for Android devices): Set controls and screen time limits remotely, from your device. To get started, search for Google Family Link on Google Play.
YouTube Safety Mode: Blocks mature content. On any YouTube page, find the footer that lists your settings. Click the “Restricted Mode” button to turn this feature on or off.
Google SafeSearch: Filter sexually explicit content from Google search results. Check out your search settings to set it up, or turn it on for all users under 13 through the Google Family Link app.
Social Network Privacy Settings: Keep your child’s activity and information restricted to just their friends and control who can follow them. Check out your child’s social network account settings to change who can find them.
These tools won’t block every malicious site out there, so you may want to consider finding an additional parental control solution to improve your child’s online safety.
If you’re asking yourself this question, it’s important to know you’re not alone. According to a 2019 study by Pew Research Center, 52% of parents use parental controls to restrict access to certain sites.
And there’s a good reason for that: when used in partnership with parenting and guidance, parental controls can help encourage healthy online habits in your kid and help protect your home network and devices. Parental controls can not only limit screen time and restrict explicit content, but also help prevent cybercrime and data theft by turning your child away from risky online behavior that can lead to a breach.
That’s why it’s a great idea to consider bundling your parental control and cybersecurity software, so they can work together to keep you and your family safe online. McAfee® Total Protection comes with McAfee® Safe Family, which gives you many of the parental control features we’ve talked about here, as well as award-winning antivirus to help protect your home devices and network.
But even with bulking up your protection at home, at some point, your child will be going online on a different device or network, maybe with one of their friends, that doesn’t have your parental controls set. That’s where education comes in.
The key to success for parenting in the digital age is to keep an open conversation with your child and to take the time to teach them about key internet safety tips, like the tried-and-true rules below:
Don’t give out any personal information online before talking to your parents, including your name, address, phone number and more.
Don’t share your passwords with anyone, even friends.
Don’t say anything online you wouldn’t say in person, and if you receive messages or comments that are mean, tell your parents.
Don’t upload any photos or download any files without talking to your parents.
Don’t talk to anyone you don’t know online, and don’t meet anyone in person you’ve already met online.
If you come across anything online that makes you uncomfortable, don’t hide it. Talk to your parents about how you came across it, how you can avoid it in the future, and ask any questions you may have about the content.
In some cases, your kids may know more about going online than you, so keeping open lines of communication is important. The more open you are, the more ready they’ll be to talk about their activity online, allowing you to guide them toward good habits.