Children turn to social media to stay connected with friends – through messaging and video chats, sharing photos and videos, and playing video games. For many, this is happening at a younger age than their parents originally planned. 

That can be okay, since it’s important for children of all ages to maintain social connections. But if you’re a parent, you should follow some basic steps to keep your child safe online. 

Kevin Borrup, DrPH, JD, MPA, Executive Director of Connecticut Children’s Injury Prevention Center, joins the blog with advice…

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1. Openly supervise your child’s use of Internet-connected devices.

This will provide your children with the oversight they need to make smart choices, and you with the comfort of being able to see what they are doing.

  • Ideally, have your child use devices in a common area where everyone can see what is happening. For example, if your family has a desktop computer, set it up in the living room or another space where you often gather.
  • Know what apps your child is using, ask to review what they’re posting, and require them to provide you with a list of their accounts, usernames and passwords.
  • Have your child update you on what’s happening. Stand over their shoulder from time to time to see what the fuss is all about.
  • Essentially, you should stay involved in your child’s life and take an interest in what they’re doing online, who their friends are, and what bothers them most about the games they play or the people they connect with online. Open up and maintain good lines of communication. Remember, if you show interest you might even learn a thing or two.

2. Set reasonable limits on Internet use.

Parents often struggle with how to regulate Internet access. The best is advice is: Keep parenting.

  • Controls are available on many routers that allow you to place time and access limits on individual devices.
  • However, simply enforcing a rule works too. Establish clear rules about what your child is allowed to access on the Internet, and a maximum time limit per day. You can also physically turn off devices or collect phones at a certain time of day, like dinnertime or bedtime.
  • As with any rule, you should expect pushback and should be prepared to enforce any consequences that you set.

>Related: Too Much Screen Time? Here’s What to Do.

A mother and child look at an ipad

3. Pay special attention when it comes to phones, tablets and portable devices.

It’s especially important to have rules for portable devices, since children and teens often prefer to wander off where you can’t see them. Be vigilant about following the supervision advice above, and enforcing time and access limits. In addition:

4. Help your child understand online risks.

While most people who interact on social media platforms or play massive multiplayer online games want to have fun and connect with other like-minded people, there are invariably bad actors. Children and pre-teens often are not aware of the potential hazards that come with online activity.

  • Let your child know that there are good guys and bad guys out there.
  • Let them know that their real friends are people they have actually met. Friends online are not real friends, just online friends.
  • Emphasize that while online friends can be fun to play with, they should never share personal details. More on that below.

>Related: What Parents Should Know About Cyberbullying 

5. Make sure your child does not provide identifiable information online.

  • Instead of their real name, they should use an online “handle” (a cool-sounding fake name).
  • They should never reveal what town they live in, how old they are, where they live or what school they attend.

6. Explore other Internet safety resources.

In-depth information is widely available on how parents can deal with cyber-bullying, online predators, phishing and other scams, malware, and offensive/adult content. To get you started, here are two recommended resources.