We get it. We’re parents too and this is not the school year beginning any of us envisioned for our children. Parents and guardians would much rather be rummaging ransacked shopping aisles for that last available three-ring binder than negotiating complex schooling decisions affecting our kids against this ever-shifting landscape. One thing is certain amidst all the unknowns and each family’s unique circumstances: we are committed to our children’s mental, socio-emotional, and physical well-being.
And that’s why it’s critical parents and caregivers do their homework to ensure safe online learning environments for their kids.
To support overburdened families during this unprecedented, vastly virtual school year start, we’ve compiled the ABC’s of creating a safe online home learning environment to protect the children in your life – during the pandemic and once it’s (hopefully soon) over.
- A – Awareness
- B – Boundaries
- C – Communication
A – Awareness
Awareness of online risks and how to mitigate threats to your child’s safety and well-being needs to be every parent’s priority. Ask school administrators and teachers what – if any – safety measures are in place to protect students from access to harmful material during virtual learning. Know and familiarize yourself with the research databases and platforms they’ll be using (many popular school databases like EBSCO include pornographic images and sexually explicit content that bypass school filters. Some teachers are using TikTok or Instagram to get their classes communicating, but these platforms are full of sexual predators and sexual content.). Be sure to obtain your child’s logins and passwords, consistently check what they’re working on, and periodically review their search histories.
Educate yourselves about the apps, games, and social media platforms popular with your child and his or her peers. Do your research on apps by conducting reviews by third-party experts. Don’t trust the description given by the platforms themselves or the GooglePlay and AppleStore app ratings, as they do not adequately expose the very serious risks. Consider creating an account yourself to test it out and connect with your child’s account if you deem an app appropriate for their use. Monitor their activity, who they’re interacting with, and who is reaching out to them. Ask your child questions and let them know you will be involved and aware of their online life, just as you are in their non-virtual one.
B – Boundaries
Boundaries are essential to keeping kids safe online. We’re talking about literal boundaries (filters, parental controls, privacy settings, rules) to keep harmful content and people away from your child, as well as personal boundaries within a virtual world.
Whether your children are using their own or school-issued digital devices (Chromebooks, iPads, laptops), it’s paramount that parental controls are activated on the devices and search engines (Google Chrome, Safari, etc). Make sure you have adequate Internet filters at home to further block exposure access to pornographic or sexually explicit materials and websites. Remember, most school-issued devices are placed in your children’s hands (or shipped to your home) with no safeguards in place.
It’s also paramount you and your child determine online/screentime boundaries that align with your family’s values and priorities. This can mean setting limits on screentime, designating off-limit areas for device use (e.g. bedrooms), what type of information shouldn’t be shared online, even whether or not your children are okay with you posting their pictures on Facebook or Instagram. No matter what boundaries your family sets, clearly stating them and even having them in writing will lead to a healthier, safer online environment.
C – Communication
Consistent, open communication with your children is key to keeping them safe while they’re learning, playing, and socializing online. Use age appropriate language to explain the risks of Internet usage and let them know your primary concerns. Teach them to recognize pornography and predatory behavior from strangers (and even known adults) and develop a clear set of actions they should take – including immediately telling you, a teacher, or another trusted adult. Kids are more likely to help protect themselves if they understand what they need to watch out for, can name it, and know what to do when confronted. Great books from Educate and Empower Kids to keep the conversation going!
Remember your ABCs: If you’re Aware of online risks, set Boundaries, and Communicate consistently with your kids, you’ll surely be top of the class when it comes to promoting a safe online learning environment at home.
Copied in part from The National Center on Sexual Exploitation. To view the article in its entirety, including additional resources, please visit their website.