Keeping Your Child Safe Online

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By Katie Omohundro, LCSW- January 27, 2021-

The World Wide Web (WWW) sounds like a place I’m not sure I want my kids to visit. It makes me think of a spider using her web to catch the day’s lunch.

As usage of online platforms has become a necessity in today’s society, how do we protect our children from the dangers lurking around the corners of the internet? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my fair share of Facebook (Okay, Boomer), using Google, etc. But what impact do these habits have on our children?

Unfortunately, there are some negatives to doing everything online. There can definitely be feelings of FOMO. Fear of missing out, or FOMO, is a feeling our children can have, especially when seeing their friends on a variety of social media sites.

People are quick to post their best days and don’t often show their worst. This can make it seem as though friends never have a bad day, which of course is not true. This can cause comparisons that are often unrealistic. Children simply feel left out of all the fun.

Another negative aspect to the World Wide Web includes children being exposed to predators. This can be easy to forget, but when children have access to the internet or even those apps that seem like they’re “for kids,” we are giving complete strangers the ability to communicate with our children day and night. Increased access to inappropriate content becomes a concern as well.

Sleep disturbances are another major issue with social media use. Sleep problems can lead to failing grades, moodiness, irritability, unhappiness, overeating, and an increased risk of getting sick due to a poor immune system. Teens, for example, need more sleep than adults as their brains are still developing.

Communication can also be challenging in an increasingly digital world. So much of communication is lost when we sit behind a computer screen. Body language cannot be gauged through an email. Misinterpreting a text can increase the likelihood of miscommunication and hurt feelings.

This is especially detrimental for kids who are in the process of developing important communication skills. The internet can easily muddy those waters. These instances of miscommunication can lead to feelings of isolation and an increase in anxiety and depression.

Thinking of the topics mentioned thus far, one can guess how increased internet usage can negatively impact the mental health of today’s youth. Effects of social isolation can heighten children’s concern for their friends.

As a school social worker, I have spoken with a number of kids who have stayed up all night communicating online with a friend considering suicide. How frightening! Imagine being young (or any age, for that matter) and feeling it is up to you to keep another person alive.

After considering the harmful effects of too much time online, I believe one of the most straightforward ways to help children find balance is to set boundaries. You don’t even have to be a tech savvy computer programmer to implement them!

Have your child leave all electronics in your bedroom to charge at night. That’s it!  Set a time for devices to be turned in. This helps you ensure that electronics are not only getting charged but also that your child is not up at all hours of the night texting with friends.

Not all things online are bad. It is important to be mindful of how often we are online in front of our children so we can be good models of appropriate online use. Keeping ourselves in check with how often we are on the World Wide Web also keeps us accountable and enables us to be more actively involved with our growing children.