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How Do I Talk to my Child About Internet Safety?

Using the internet everyday is inevitable at this point in our world. 

Can’t remember what goes in that recipe? Internet. Want to know the score of the game you missed? Internet. Want to see what your ex from 12 years ago is doing? Internet. 

The internet is used in pretty much all facets of our lives. It’s an amazing thing to be able to have a question and then find the answer instantly without having to ask crazy aunt Sally what she thinks about the topic like we did when we were kids. 

However, as amazing and helpful as it is, it’s quite scary what children can come across and how easily harm can occur without them even realizing it. Even though we know the dangers it can still be difficult sparking a conversation with your child about the precautions needed when using the internet. 

The idea isn’t to scare your kids when it comes to these conversations, the goal is to help them be aware of their actions when it comes to being online. So what steps can you take to help your child remain safe while online? 

  1. Start with understanding 

Spark the conversation by understanding what your child is using the internet for. Are they playing games? If so, are they chatting with people within those games? Are they using apps, exploring YouTube, or browsing stores? What are the current trends for their age group when it comes to internet use? 

  1. Explore your child’s feelings 

I’m sure we all remember when something made us feel off as a child, but we didn’t know how to bring it up to our parents or caregivers. We know it would’ve been nice to talk to our parents about what it was we were experiencing, but we simply didn’t know how to go about it or to explain the feeling.

You can prevent this silence by continually reminding your child that there may be things on the internet (or in everyday life) that make them feel weird, awkward, or have funny feelings and that you’re their safe space for these things. As a parent, you may feel like they already know this, but those assumptions are what can and will perpetuate the silence. 

Expressing your own troubles with this in your life or situations you’ve come across can help them relate to you and feel that you truly are a safe space. Keep in mind, some of the things they bring to you may be difficult to hear as a parent, but holding back your reactions will help them continue coming to you as you decide how to handle the situations. 

  1. Create space for your child to express 

In therapy, young children are often encouraged to draw or write stories to help explore feelings that are hard to express. Asking your child direct questions about their online experiences and then allowing them to speak, write, or draw without judgment can help them uncover feelings they didn’t realize existed. 

They may not have been aware that certain situations were weird until they’re asked to express what they felt during those moments. 

This creation of space takes intention on your part as a parent. Set up a time to meet once a month to talk about their experiences or discuss stories that they’ve heard from others around internet use. Eventually these conversations will become natural, but until then, be intentional about sparking these discussions. 

  1. Utilize parental controls and help your child understand why 

The goal isn’t to scare your child, the goal is to help them understand the importance of remaining safe and using parental controls can be one of the easiest ways to do so. Of course, the amount of explanation you give your child when it comes to certain things depends on their age range, but helping them understand why it’s so important for their safety can help them in situations in the future. 

Just because your child is young doesn’t mean they aren’t being exposed to all sorts of websites and apps, they can be influenced by friends, family members of friends, and different influencers/strangers online. If you decide it’s best they don’t use a certain app or watch a certain influencer, helping them understand why can help prevent rebellion when you’re not around. 

  1. Set boundaries

What apps are they allowed to use, are there time limits for how long they can use them? Do you have to be nearby? Is there an activity they have to complete before using electronics like chores, reading, etc.? 

Set clear rules around the information they’re allowed to consume so there’s no confusion. If they do break these rules, explore what their consequences will be. How can they gain privileges with certain things back? What determines if something is prohibited? Who gets the final say? 

Having open communication rather than a “because I said so” attitude can not only help your child see your perspective, but it also creates a better opportunity for them to understand. 

We can’t always expect app creators and big time CEO’s to protect our children when it comes to internet use. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide how you’re going to protect them, and what limits you’re going to put in place to do so. 

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