Keeping Kids Safe Online During the COVID-19 Pandemic

On a normal day, the Internet can range from a nuisance to a critical lifeline.  However, none of us are living under ‘normal’ circumstances. As we all adapt to the guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic, the Internet has become the working parents ‘everything’ as we use video calls to replace in-person interactions, online shopping for nearly all products and an escape from the overload of today’s negative news.  Take a minute and imagine how your kids feel since they can no longer get together with their friends.  This global health crisis may be the hardest on them as they need and crave human interaction especially with friends, family and classmates.  They are not built for isolation.  This means the Internet, and everything it can provide, is their link to their ‘normal’ lives and they will use it most waking hours for school, socializing, personal interests, gaming and escape.

As adults, and especially as parents, we need to remind ourselves that it is unreasonable for kids to expect privacy on the Internet. It is a public space and everything they do can and will be seen by strangers. Parents need to monitor their kids Internet behavior just as they would monitor their behavior in a public space.  For parents, we must TALK to our kids about Internet content as well as put some technology tools in place to help protect them.  The federal government created the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that helps protect kids younger than 13 when they’re online. It’s designed to keep anyone from getting a child’s personal information without a parent knowing about it and agreeing to it first.  COPPA requires websites to explain their privacy policies and get parental consent before collecting or using a child’s personal information, such as a name, address, phone number, or Social Security number. The law also prohibits a site from, “requiring a child to provide more personal information than necessary to play a game or enter a contest.”

Remember, no laws can replace parental involvement to manage, monitor and protect our children and their online activity.

Here are some key themes to help you protect your child when using the Internet:

  1. It is reasonable for kids to expect privacy in their bedroom. It is their space to think, read, study, draw, reflect and relax. It is not place for technology. Mobile devices and computers should be used in common spaces within the home.
  2. Install technology tools (Qustodio, NetNanny, Norton Family, Screen Time are some to consider) to help control access and filter Internet content
  3. Teach your kids proper Internet behavior to keep them safe online:
    • Never agree to meet in-person with anyone you meet online
    • Do not give out personal information such as name, address, phone number, school name and location
    • Use a screen name (not their real name) and never share passwords with anyone but parents
    • Don’t respond to threatening messages and email
    • Only post comments online that you are willing to say face-to-face
  4. TALK to them about what they are seeing on the Internet particularly if they experience something inappropriate, uncomfortable or unknown to them.

As parents and trusted adults, we need to remember that the Internet is many things to many people; from wild and crazy, to the best library in the world.  For your kids to successfully navigate it they need a guide, age appropriate boundaries and to know they can come to you when they make a mistake.

Be informed, be active, be careful.

This blog post is the first in a three-part series, Keeping Kids Safe Online During the COVID-19 Pandemic, written by Jeff Bathurst, Director of Technology Advisory Services for SC&H Group and Board Member at No More Stolen Childhoods.