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  • Writer's pictureBurton Kelso, Tech Expert

What Are Some Online Safety Tips For My Kids This School Year?

I know you probably have a full plate with back-to-school time as this year promises to be another mix of in-person and virtual learning but in our digital society, there is something that parents neglect to do on a regular basis and that is to make sure you keep your children are educated on ways to stay safe online this school year. Your school-age students face many online threats during the school year. Threats like theft of their gadgets can cause undue stress as well as phishing attempts from cybercriminals, cyberbullying from malicious classmates, encountering drug dealers, and even sexting. You can help your children stay ahead of these threats by taking steps to keep them safe as well as making them more cyber aware. Check out these quick and easy tips to help limit online dangers to your kids this school year.

1. Get to know their devices. Parents are always looking for the best parental control software, but the best parental control you can offer your kids' devices is simply talking to them to explain what's going on online. You may think you're being a snooping parent when you look at your kid's devices, but you should. When you do this, you get an understanding of how they use their devices and where they are spending their time online. Also, get to know what apps they download and the games they are playing. You should check how they are interacting with people online. Are they engaging with strangers? Are they playing games just to chat in direct messenger? You should know the passwords to all of their online accounts. You won't be able to control 100% of what they do, but you need to still check in from time to time to make sure they are doing what they say they are doing and keeping out of danger online.

2. Limit their exposure to their devices online gaming during the school year. There are two challenges with online games. First, they are designed to keep your children addicted. Second, it's hard to keep track of who they are interacting with. Games like Fortnite and Roblox want to keep your children plugged in 24/7 and drain your pocket with them purchasing VBucks or Robucks. As a parent, it's tempting to let your devices babysit your kids. They get engaged, you get more done and you don't have to adult as much, right? Well the more you let your children play on their devices, the more they become addicted to them. Reprogram your kids to turn to technology devices in a limited fashion, perhaps only let them engage with their gadgets on the weekend, especially during the school year. It's also a good idea to have them turn to other mind-healthy options such as reading or any other activity that doesn't involve a screen.

3. Make sure your children password-protect their devices and don't leave them lying around. If your children's devices fall into the hands of a criminal or a malicious classmate, can get a lot of information about you and your family. They can even use your child's device to send out spam and other harmful information. It helps if your kids understand they shouldn't share those passwords with anyone except you. Also, stress the importance of keeping an eye on their devices. Even if a criminal isn't able to get into your device, they can resell it as all tech devices are desirable products. For their device protection, enable Find My Device so if the device is misplaced, you can find it quickly.

4. You need to talk to your children about sexting. It's expected that your kids will send text messages to their friends. What you don't want your kids to do is to engage in the act of sending sexual messages and pictures to each other via text. If your children send out nude photos, they can be used against them for humiliation and blackmail. We all know the Internet never forgets information that appears online. Make sure you remind them of this fact before they send out any content that is inappropriate.

5. Educate your kids about phishing. Phishing doesn't just happen to seniors, it happens to children too. They are more prone to fall for scams that look like they come from online retailers or video game companies. Just like you educated yourself on how to spot a phishing email, teach your kids the same tricks. Do so will prevent you and them from experiencing unexpecting charges showing up on your financial records as well as the potential of you and your child falling victim to identity theft.

And adults aren’t the only ones who fall for these scams—so do teens and tweens. And children are more likely to fall for phishing scams when they’re increasing their time online, which for many might be during the school year.

6. Always be on the lookout for online predators. Online predators are always looking for their next victim to groom and lure them to a face-to-face meeting. Let your children know that they are lurking online and will sometimes pretend to be children to gain their confidence. This is why it's important to peek at your children's devices to see who they are interacting with online. That kid who claimed to be a friend down the street could be a predator after your child.

7. Watch for cyberbullying. The more your children spend online, the more they are at risk for cyberbullying. If your child is being bullied, block the bully and inform your child not to communicate with them. Get evidence such as taking photos and video of the online interactions. If the bully is going to the same school as your child, contact your school district office and contact local law enforcement if the bully threatens your child.

8. Check those devices from school. Your school may issue laptops and tablets for your child, but you should take the extra step to find out if inappropriate content is filtered from these devices. Also, you should check to see if your child can access social media and gaming sites. Access to this content can be distracting to them preventing them from doing their school work as well allowing them access to content that is geared for adults only.

As a parent who has raised three kids, I can tell you the best thing you can do for your children is to talk to them on a regular basis to remind them of the dangers online. I've read somewhere that Police say if your child has a digital device, then they are at risk. It's true. When you take the time to empower and educate your children about the dangers that exist online, you are helping them keep ahead of the potential dangers online. You have to be consistent and it has to come from you as a parent and works best if all parental adults are on board. Yes, it's hard, but think of what can happen if don't?

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