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how to keep kids safe online (yes, you must start NOW!)

We need to keep our kids safe to keep kids safe online cover

Right. Yes. Absolutely. 110%. Correct.

But how? And when do we start? And whose job is it?

This New For Us Friday is all about keeping kids safe online–how to do it, when to do it, and why it’s so totally important for every obvious reason.

I had the amazing opportunity to attend the FOSI Conference two weeks ago–the Family Online Safety Institute–as a guest of AT & T, and I learned enough in one day to fill 20 blog posts.   But because I know that we can all barely even read one post with how busy we are, I’m cutting right to the important parts. And I’m providing links so that if you want to learn more–or need to learn more–you can.

Here’s the skinny:

My FOSI 2011 photos

  • How to Keep Kids Safe Online: Big surprise– there’s no one magical solution to online safety, just like there’s not one magical solution to learning how to read or mastering the homework battle.

However, there are a few things we can do as parents and educators that will help.  Help. Not ensure safety–because nothing can do that–but help point our kids in that direction.  Help do what we can to be proactive, aware, and informed of our children’s lives online.

A repeated message throughout my day at FOSI was that this has to be a team effort–that one person, one parent, one teacher cannot do it alone. It will truly take a village to protect our children, and that village has to start rallying now.

We can do this in 5 basic ways:


how to keep kids safe onlineWe must teach our children to respect themselves and others.

1.  We must teach our children to respect themselves and others.  Simple, and not as easy as it sounds, but teaching our kids to respect their whole selves–their bodies, minds, feelings, and ideas–and to respect others in the very same way is imperative.

We need to teach our kiddos to give themselves a pat on the back for their successes and to value the journey it sometimes takes to reach a goal.  We need to teach them to identify their feelings and emotions.

We need to teach them manners and to remind them that appearances can be deceiving.

We need to teach them that it’s okay to stand up for themselves. Because they deserve it, and they are entitled to it.  We need to teach them that they’re worth itWe need to talk about bullying, what it looks like and what they can–and should–do if they experience it.

We need to teach them empathy–one of the most difficult things to teach our little ones. But we can try to teach empathy by teaching them to think about others, to care about others and to do what we can to help others.

We need to teach them to be grateful for what they have.


how to keep kids safe online We must have serious–and frequent–conversations about stranger safety.

2. We must have serious–and frequent–conversations about stranger safety.  And we don’t need to use the word ‘stranger’ in the conversation. We don’t.  Because we all know that more often than not, it’s not a stranger who crosses boundaries, it’s someone familiar.

I personally love the Safe Side Stranger Safety DVD. I love the fact that they never once use the word ‘stranger’ in this program and instead emphasize empowering kids to take control where they are able–by working with their parents to find several ‘safe side adults’ to whom they can always go for questions, support, and safety.

I also love that Safe Side is created by John Walsh, who knows first-hand how important it is to prepare our children for tricky situations–without scaring them–but emphasizing the seriousness of being aware.  Being aware of the people around them, of situations that may not be safe for them, and of reaching out for help when they need it.

As parents and educators, we have to be aware and informed about the predators that reside near our homes and schools.


 how to keep kids safe onlineWe must model how to use the internet safely with our children.

3. We must model how to use the internet safely with our children.  Yes, we do.  We all do.

If you’re not sure how or where to begin, that’s fine. It’s hard to know where to start. Start by making sure the computer is in a central location, where everyone can see it, use it, and learn.

Search lessons can be simple, focusing on what key words to use and how to determine whether a site is reliable or not. But for the really little guys, parents need to be right there with them, every step of the way.

Need or want a little more guidance? Consider using:

how to keep kids safe online

-The Parent Media and Technology Education Program — should be used in every school, at every PTA meeting, at every MOMS Club meeting, playgroup, or church group. It contains actual PowerPoint presentations along with videos and scripts to use, fliers to post, and Family Online Safety Agreements to distribute and sign.

-The Digital Literacy and Citizenship Classroom Curriculum — should be used in every single school in every single city in every single country, every single year from Kindergarten through grade twelve. It’s FREE, free, free, FREE!!!! and it’s all there–from Kindergarten through twelfth grade.  It can be ordered on a flash drive. Seriously, the digital landscape is changing so quickly, so drastically, that schools need to jump on board now.

-Professional Development Resources — online training for all components of the Common Sense Media curriculum which includes video, printables, and everything you need.

  • AT & T Smart Controls: Tons of free services and resources to protect your PC’s, your mobile devices, and more. I love AT & T’s teen driving checklists and text-safety emphasis here, as it is so incredibly important for teens and new drivers.  SUPER cool news?

-AT & T recently joined forces with Common Sense Media (yay!!) to bring parents safety tools along with ‘Family Friendly’ content ratings for mobile apps, video games, and more.  I love it. It’s awesome, and it is a testament to AT & T’s commitment to helping parents stay educated on important safety tips and information.

-AT & T has a number of fabulous online games and resources that would facilitate conversations with children and open the doors to discussion.

  • Trend Micro USA: This site has a library of information on internet safety that is totally worth reading.
  • Yahoo! Safely: Also worth checking out is Yahoo’s Safely site, which includes a boatload of info on how to stay safe while using social media sites and Yahoo products.  The parents tab contains numerous relevant and recent online safety articles.


how to keep kids safe online We must utilize software designed to keep our families safe online. It’s time to put it in place.

4.  We must utilize software designed to keep our families safe online.  There are a ton of these programs, and not all of them are great. But some are really, truly awesome, and we should use them.  Especially if they’re free.

Why not turn on the Safe Searches, the Safety Modes, and password protect your settings for tv, mobile devices, and computers? Yes, we need to teach our kiddos how to use the devices safely, but I think that if the options are there, we should use them.

Another program to check out is Safely. Safely is a free service for parents whose kids use Facebook. Safely provides a way that parents can get to know who their kids are friends with, allows parents to get reports about their children’s Facebook activity, and to view the photo-sharing and friend-making their kids are doing on Facebook.

Though I have not personally used this site, my super-smart and tech-savvy pal Leticia recently reviewed the service, so I recommend checking out her thorough and well-written post on Safely. My kiddos are too young for Facebook at this point, but you better believe that when they jump on board, I’m running to the safety of Safely.



how to keep kids safe onlineWe must share these resources with schools, other parents, friends, and family.

5.  We must share these resources with schools, other parents, friends, and family. 

We must share these resources with schools, other parents, friends, and family.

We must share these resources with schools, other parents, friends, and family. We must share these resources with schools, other parents, friends, and family. We must share these resources with schools, other parents, friends, and family. We must share these resources with schools, other parents, friends, and family.

It’s something we need to talk openly and frequently about. It’s something we all must do together. It has to begin now. And it has to be a team effort.

Everyone’s busy, everyone’s swamped, everyone’s doing the best they can–that I know, and that I firmly believe. But if we want to raise a generation of children who are safe online and who good digital citizens, we have to step up our game a bit.

I was moved by Mark C. Eshleman’s video, “Where Are You?” which won Trend Micro’s 2011 internet safety video contest.  I viewed it during a keynote at FOSI, and I think it’s incredible.  Perhaps it’s a starting point–a link to share on Facebook, email, or Twitter–to get the conversation going.

And that’s it–like I said, I could go on and on, but I wanted to cut to the chase because it’s so very important. And so very scary for many of us who are not as connected to social media and technology.

I’d love for anyone and everyone to leave a comment with other ideas or ways to keep kids safe online or feel free to link to any and all of your posts that deal with cyber safety.  It takes a village–let’s make ours more visible.

fyi: Many thanks to AT & T who invited me to attend FOSI as their guest and who, in keeping with their commitment to keeping families safe online, asked me to share information here about online safety. 

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Comment (10) | Leave a comment

  1. Thanks for sharing the above with us. Certainly it would take more than just verbal warning for our children to conduct themselves well online. It would take a collective work at a time like this when “predators” are now many online.

  2. thank you so much! i didn’t even know about google’s safety measures. i also went to the registry site–wow. thanks for opening my eyes by sharing your knowledge.


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