Most schools have shut down in-person learning this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of riding the bus with their friends and bonding with their teachers, students are learning to do everything online. It presents different benefits and challenges for each family, but it’s easy to forget that the internet can also present a threat to your child’s safety.

As your kids spend more time online and learn to use the internet in new ways, read about the importance of teaching internet safety to your kids in the time of COVID-19. With a few helpful tips, everyone can navigate the virtual world and avoid harming their physical or mental health.

1. They Have More Independence. Online classes used to be optional for older kids and teens who could easily use the internet on their own. Now even kindergarteners need to go online for school every day, which means they have more independence than they might be able to handle.

Although they may only listen to a lecture from their teacher or complete a homework assignment, don’t forget that monitoring your children is essential to their safety. While you work from home or go about your routine, always keep an eye on them so they don’t accidentally do something that could jeopardize their security.

2. They’ll See More Ads. Being online exposes kids to more ads. Businesses will target kids with specific ads because they track internet searches with cookies, so your children might see pictures of the latest toys or video games they recently looked up. It’s an opportunity to click on the ad and potentially give personal or financial information to get what they want. Look into installing an ad blocker and remind your family that ads aren’t always as friendly as they seem.

3. They Won’t Recognize Phishing Schemes. Young people may need to set up an email account to complete their virtual learning. If your child hasn’t had an email address before, they won’t recognize common phishing schemes that will appear in their inbox. Go over what phishing is and remind them that they can ask you for help if a new email seems suspicious to them.

4. They’ll Look for Help. Students of all ages will look for help on assignments or new concepts with a quick internet search during lessons or homework time. They might click on links in forums that take them to inappropriate sites. Parents can avoid this by monitoring their kids during school hours and pointing out which forums or websites aren’t trustworthy.

5. They’ll Learn About New Platforms. Schools will likely teach students about new platforms like chat rooms, programs, and social sites to connect more easily with their class. While these things can be beneficial, your child might think similar websites are safe too. Talk with your kids about the dangers of unapproved chat rooms and social media accounts so they understand the differences and avoid talking with users they don’t know.

6. They Might Post Pictures. Posting pictures to their virtual classroom for projects will likely be a new part of your kid’s routine. They may think it’s safe to post pictures elsewhere too, but doing so could expose their age or where you live. It makes them more likely to be victims of internet predators. Start a discussion about posting pictures on social media and other sites with your children who are too young to know that it can sometimes be dangerous.

7. They’ll Face Bullies. Bullying used to be something that made kids dread going to school, but now it follows them home too. Your kids will still face bullying online, which is why every parent should teach their children about cyberbullying and discuss ways to avoid or stop it.

Talk about how it presents itself in many forms, like mean comments on forums and deprecating jokes on video chat. They may not be able to recognize it until it’s too late to save them from the mental and emotional harm that bullying inflicts.

8. They’ll Download Content. Teachers will require their students to download homework documents, videos, and programs they’ll need to complete their work. Young children might think every link to downloadable content is safe because they clicked on similar links for school. It puts them at risk for downloading viruses or malware. Internet safety conversations should also include tips on how they can tell when something is safe to download and when it’s not.

9. They’ll Create Passwords. As your children spend more time online, they’ll need to create passwords for their school activities. Ensure that they never share their passwords with anyone or use the same password on different accounts.

Instead of hoping they remember their different usernames and passwords, keep track of digital accounts with safe programs designed to keep hackers out. They’ll safely store all the information and your kids can find their log-in credentials at any time.

10. They’ll Begin Researching. Instead of spending their study hall in the library, your kids will begin researching online for their projects and papers. They might unknowingly go to sites that aren’t reliable, either because they’re full of spam links or publicly edited information. Staying safe on the internet also means learning how to tell reliable resources from unreliable sites. 

Keep the Conversation Going

Teaching internet safety to your kids isn’t a one-time conversation. They’re likely to forget some of your points or get distracted while you talk. If they know they can always ask you questions, you can protect your family as everyone spends more time online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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