With schools across the country closed because of COVID-19, children of all ages spent the spring learning at home. That resulted in more time online — a trend that is likely to continue as summer begins without many of the usual camps and activities.
From computers and tablets to phones and video games, kids and parents alike are leaning on technology to entertain themselves and alleviate social isolation. Technology has become an essential part of everyday life, and there are ways for parents to make sure it stays safe, fun and productive.
“There are so many different things that kids do online, from social media to video games,” said Andrea Riehl, who is one of the leaders of Best Buy’s Geek Squad Academy program and the mom of an 11-year-old. “That means there a lot of opportunities for different scenarios that could happen, and, as a parent, you want to protect your kids from them.”
Here are a few of Andrea’s tips for how to manage online safety.
Start with a conversation
Andrea says the first step is to sit down and talk with your child about how to be safe online.
“It really comes down to building a relationship with your kids,” she said. “It’s important to have open, ongoing conversations before you start relying on tools.”
That’s a good opportunity to set healthy limits on screen time, discuss how they’re using the internet and get a sense of who they’re interacting with online.
Andrea also recommends using Digital Compass, an online game that walks through a variety of online scenarios around topics such as privacy, cyberbullying and plagiarism. Our Geek Squad Academy camps use the game to teach kids about making good decisions online, and it can help parents address the topic without focusing directly on their child’s behavior.
“It’s more exploration-based about what could happen when you’re online,” she said. “It’s a great way to start the conversation, and it’s actually fun.”
Stay safe with software
The next step is to set the parental controls and filters on the smartphones, computers and other devices your child uses.
You can easily set time limits or block windows of internet access on weekdays or weekends. Many filtering options let parents enable safe search, limit communication and block games by content or rating.
“It’s nearly impossible to limit everything your child sees or experiences online,” Andrea said. “So, it really is about setting up good communication and good plans on the front end, and then supporting that with good technology on the back end.”
Andrea also recommends using apps, such as Qustodio or Google Family Link, to help block inappropriate content, limit screen time and monitor your child’s activity on internet browsers, social networks and games.
“As a parent, you cannot keep track of every single message that your child sends or receives. That’s impossible,” she said. “So, how are you going to help empower good decision-making? Using an app that helps track that is a great idea.”
Protect your whole network
Finally, take some time to update your Wi-Fi router’s settings. Many new routers come preloaded with parental control options to block content or specific websites.
The big advantage of filtering content through your router is that it applies to every device connected to the Wi-Fi, not just your child’s.
“When they have friends over, they’ll have the same limitations,” Andrea said. “That gives you peace of mind, knowing that none of them are going to bring in any of the apps or other content you’ve limited for your child.”
And if your child makes a mistake online?
“That’s when you go back to the relationship you’ve established,” Andrea said. “Continue to have those good conversations about digital safety, and then use the tools at your disposal to support that as needed.”
Click here for more information and tips about online safety.