Parents: Help Your Kids Navigate the Internet Safely
Disponible en Español |
In the current day and age, screens are all around us.
It has never been easier or more natural for children to have their own phones, tablets, or computers with the Internet at their fingertips. Unfortunately, many families do not have a plan to keep their children from engaging in dangerous or unhealthy online behavior.
Like children’s offline lives, their online lives are full of potential danger.
Here are some worrying behaviors to look out for:
Too much exposure to online media puts children at risk for pathological internet use.
They spend most of their time online and are not interested in “real-life” activities. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), 7-11% of children suffer from problematic Internet use. There is an increased risk of depression in children with too much or too little Internet usage.
Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit images or messages. According to the AAP, 12% of youth ages 10 to 19 have sent a sexual photo to someone else. Teenagers need to understand that what they choose to share online cannot be deleted entirely and that they leave behind a “digital footprint.” Additionally, online sex offenders take advantage of younger teens and children through social media sites, e-mail, and online video games.
Children and teens can suffer from and engage in online bullying. Cyberbullying holds social and mental consequences for both bullies and victims. It is important to raise children to be good “digital citizens.” If your child is the victim of cyberbullying, make sure to take care of their mental health needs and help them avoid the social media platforms in which the bullying occurs.
Many parents also fear too much screen time. Too much time in front of a screen may lead to adverse health consequences.
Starting at a screen too much can cause eye fatigue, dry eyes, and headaches. Such conditions can cause children discomfort. Taking frequent breaks is essential for kids’ eyes to recover.
Too much screen time, regardless of whether it is a phone, laptop, or TV, increases the risk of obesity. Not only are children less physically active, but they are also more likely to overeat snacks while engaged in their screens. Parents should encourage children to take breaks from the screen and try to get them to participate in outdoor activities or games, which also gives kids’ eyes much-needed rest.
Screens can lead to sleep problems at any age. Exposure to bright screens and stimuli causes poor-quality sleep, ultimately impacting school performance. The AAP recommends avoiding screens at least an hour before going to bed.
With more and more schooling taking place online, it is easy for children and teens to get distracted by entertainment and social media while in an online class or doing homework. Distractions and multi-tasking decrease attention and can hurt academic performance.
Here are some tips to help keep your kids’ safe on the Internet:
For young children (less than five years of age):
- Choose the apps and media you allow your children to use to ensure they are using high-quality programs.
- Do not have them watch fast-paced programs or programs with any violence.
- Generally, screen time should not be a way to soothe children.
For older children and adolescents:
Talk with your children about their media use.
- Establish guidelines about the types of media they choose. Be sure to talk with them about your family’s expectations for online behavior. This includes talking about sexting, cyberbullying, and having respect for others online.
- Help make sure your children have screen-free times in their days.
- Continue to spend time doing activities with your children. This should include using media together and other non-media-related activities.
For children of all ages:
Manage screen time.
- Children younger than 18 months should not have screen time (except for video-chatting).
- Children 18-24 months may use minimal screen media with a parent.
- Kids 2- 5 years old should be limited to one hour of screen time per day. As with younger children, make sure you help them choose good programs and talk about what they are doing online.
- For older children, set guidelines about the amount of time they spend online and what online activities are allowed.
Designate spaces for screen time.
Keep screens out of kids’ bedrooms. Laptops, computers, and TVs should be kept in a common space in the home so that screen time and content can be monitored. A “media curfew” at night prevents screens in bed and before going to sleep.
Remind children to take frequent breaks from their screens. The 20/20/20 rule recommended by the American Optometric Association advises that people should look away from their screens every 20 minutes and focus on something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Parents can set up timers to help their children remember to take breaks.
Make a plan.
Google’s Be Internet Awesome Guide suggests establishing a simple Internet help plan for children when they get into trouble online, such as cyberbullying, viewing inappropriate content, identity theft, etc.
Communicate openly with children about going to parents for help and discuss what kind of online content and behavior is and isn’t acceptable. The AAP has a family media use plan to target specific issues such as obesity, sleep, and excess screen time.
Parents should be online too.
Parents should be familiar with and have accounts on popular social media sites that their children frequent, such as Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tiktok, Reddit, etc. Parents can use their accounts and profiles to monitor their children’s online presence.
The Internet can be an excellent place for kids to learn and have fun. Parents and guardians need to know the risks of children participating in a global, public space and take steps to make sure everyone in the family can surf the net safely.
For more information about Internet safety for kids, visit www.healthychildren.org or contact the Injury Free Coalition for Kids, a program of the Children’s Trust, at 305-243-9080 or online at www.injuryfree.org.
Written by Sherry Luo, M.D. candidate,
with Julie Belkowitz, M.D., M.P.H., Lyse Deus and Oneith Cadiz, M.D.