By Dawn Hawkins
COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2. Call it what you want, but the novel coronavirus is all anyone is talking about anymore. The COVID-19 health pandemic has closed schools, cancelled most activities, and isolated most everyone at home all at once. In the midst of the social distancing, self-isolation, quarantines, and lockdowns, we’re all feeling some cabin fever and parents, in particular, may be feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of eight weeks of time with their children home from school unexpectedly.
Now more than ever, kids and teens will be spending extra time online via phones, tablets, laptops, and video games. It’s imperative in this time of increased online activity that parents are prepared to ensure their children are safe from the predatory dangers of the Internet.
To help prepare parents, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation has compiled a list of five things parents can do to help keep their children safe online during this extended period of isolation. For those with specific questions and/or needs, we also have a more extensive resource center for parents here.
1. Talk to your kids about their Internet usage. This one may seem obvious, but are you completely aware of how your child spends their time on their phones? Does their video game system have online features? What apps take up most of their time each day? These are important questions you need to ask in order to get the full picture of how your child spends their time online.
2. Hold a family meeting on why exactly you are concerned. Every family is different and the dangers of the Internet are varied. Are you concerned about pornography use or exposure? Potential grooming from online predators? Sexting? Everything? Chances are your child may not be aware of all the things from which you want to protect them. Using age appropriate language, explain the danger you see and why you want to protect them from it. Kids are more likely to help protect themselves if they understand what they need to be concerned about. Need help talking to your family about difficult topics like pornography? Read our blog here for some helpful tips.
3. Set up parental controls and follow up. Now that you know your child loves TikTok or that your teen spends hours talking with their friends on Discord while playing their favorite video game, you can set boundaries to appropriately moderate their usage and take the necessary steps for improved safety. Investigate the parental controls available for each app and system and then take the time to set them up. If you haven’t already, set up Google’s SafeSearch and Restricted Mode for controlling what pops up on Google searches (you can learn how here). We also have parent guides on Twitter, Snapchat, Netflix, Amazon, and more which can be found here. Keep in mind that tech-savvy kids may be able to unlock some of these controls, so it’s important to continue the conversations and check up on them often.
4. Limit time spent online. So you’ve had some good family discussions, you’ve figured out how your child spends their time online, and you’ve set up parental controls. What else can you do? The best protection is prevention. Schedule time during the day for no electronics and think about setting rules for where electronics can be used, such as only allowing personal Internet devices in public rooms such as the family room or living room. Limiting the screen time your children have not only protects them from online dangers, but also ensures they are living a balanced lifestyle with plenty of time away from their screens.
5. Tell Congress to take action to better protect children online. The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act is a bill that was introduced in the Senate and which would create incentives for companies to “earn” liability protection for violations of laws related to online child sexual abuse material — rather than just granting them liability protection at the outset. This bill would make it so that Big Tech could be held accountable for the sexual exploitation of children that takes place on their platforms if they aren’t fighting it proactively. To learn more about the EARN IT Act, read our blog about it here.
Dawn Hawkins (@DawnHawkins33) is Senior Vice President and Executive Director at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, the leading national organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health crisis of pornography. (www.endsexualexploitation.org)
More articles, visit www.goodlifemagazine.org.