Teaching Your Kids to Be Safe Online: A Hasty Primer

I, for instance, don’t want my kids to engage with strangers online, so I’ve been selective about the apps I let them use. I signed my son up for a kids’ email that requires me to review and approve any emails that come from, or are sent to, people who aren’t on my kids’ preapproved contact list. (Email programs that work this way include Kids Email, Tocomail and Zoobuh; you can also create a Gmail account for your child and manage it.)

I also don’t feel comfortable letting my kids watch YouTube Kids. Although the site is supposedly kid-friendly, inappropriate content sometimes slips through, so I limit my kids’ use to particular channels and stay close to them while they use it. “It’s really easy to end up in a not good place on YouTube quickly,” Kline said.

For chats, I signed my son up for Messenger Kids, the kids’ version of Facebook Messenger, because it gives me control over the people he’s allowed to chat with, and because, if I choose to, I can see the images and videos that he sends and receives. Also, it has no ads or in-app purchases — although the app can transfer data to “third party service providers” that support the app as well as to other Facebook companies. All these companies are required to adhere to data confidentiality obligations, but these obligations are only vaguely described in the latest privacy policy.

Other kid-friendly chat programs include Blinx, Cocoon and Franktown Rocks. If your kids play online games, make sure you’ve both read their rules and community standards.

“Conversations about pornography can and should start really early,” said Emily Rothman, Ph.D., a community health scientist at the Boston University School of Public Health. And by “really early,” she means kindergarten.

You could explain to your kids that, just as adults drink coffee or alcohol but kids aren’t supposed to, adults sometimes like to look at pictures or videos of naked people, but that this kind of content isn’t good for kids’ brains, and seeing it could be confusing or even scary. Say, “You should tell me if you ever see that stuff, not because I’d be mad at you or you’ve done anything wrong, but just because I want to know how to make your computer safer so that that doesn’t happen again,” Dr. Rothman said

. To minimize the chance that your child will accidentally stumble across pornography (it’s easier than you think!), activate parental controls on your devices; here’s a guide to some ways to do so. There are also kid-friendly browsers that limit search results.

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