This year has looked vastly different for children and families in Pennsylvania. To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, many schools have moved online, and students are spending more time on the internet than ever before. With that, comes an increased risk of encountering predators or accessing inappropriate information.
Our organization was recently invited to participate in a virtual press conference with Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Secretary, Teresa Miller, and Attorney General, Josh Shapiro. Our discussion focused on ensuring that parents, caregivers, and families are aware of the potential threats that exist online for children. KDKA-TV covered the virtual press conference and you can watch that story here.
Secretary Miller noted that since the pandemic, the internet has played a much larger role in the lives of students. She also said there are some dangers with more online screen time and encourages “parents and guardians to speak with their children about safe online behavior and to seek out resources that are available to help.”
One such resource is the Safe2Say Something app that Attorney General Josh Shapiro spearheaded. This is a tool for children to anonymously report abuse, cyberbullying, and other issues. According the app, reports “have increased when it comes to cyberbullying from about 17 percent to about 38 percent of the overall tips,” said Attorney General Shapiro.
During the virtual press briefing, we emphasized that parents and caregivers first need to understand and learn the platforms that their children are using, and then keep an eye on who their child is interacting with online. Additionally, we recommend that parents keep their child’s devices, like computers and iPads, out in a common area and monitor which sites they visit.
We are so appreciative of Secretary Miller and Attorney General Shapiro for inviting our organization to participate in this press briefing. It is encouraging, especially during these challenging times, that we have these types of ongoing conversations. It is essential that the private and public sectors work together to provide the tools and resources that families need.
We have created a guide to help parents and caregivers recognize and understand when a child is being abused or when something inappropriate has occurred online. We’ve also included a list of practical tips below, detailing how parents and caregivers can keep their children safe online.
As always, never hesitate to contact ChildLine, a 24/7 hotline (1-800-932-0313) if you believe that a child is being abused or if something just does not seem right. Reports can be made anonymously.
Practical Tips for Parents/Caregivers
- Put the computer (laptop, iPad, etc.) in an open area so you can see what they are doing online periodically. Putting a computer behind closed doors can result in negative behavior.
- Talk with your child about abuse and the opportunities that online can present if they’re not careful. Keep an open line of communication.
- Set clear rules with them, such as “do not give your name, address, phone number, or any personal information” and “no chatting with strangers.”
- Limit how long your child can be online at one time. If you would not allow a child to be out at night, then don’t allow them to be online late at night.
- Consult a specialized website for a parent guide to age-based tips for Internet usage.
- Look into parental controls for your home computer. Parents and caregivers can use the settings found on digital devices (laptops, phones, iPad, etc.) and on social media. If you turn on the parental controls, it will help keep younger children from being exposed to content they should not be seeing.
- Some internet providers have parental controls built-in, while others you may have to download a program or purchase one, depending upon what level of control you want to have.
- Use a virtual Private Network whenever possible. This helps protects your children’s location from being tracked.
- Set a good example for your children. Parents who view inappropriate things online can leave traces for their children to find later.
- Urge children to alert you if they encounter something or someone on the internet that makes them uncomfortable.
- Talk to other adults, teachers, and parents to find out what has worked for them to keep kids safe online.
- Review your children’s internet history by visiting their Internet Browser.
- Learn more about filtering and monitoring tools to protect your child online. Places these resources are available include:
- Digital Guardian.com
- NetSafe Kids
- Media Glossary
- Texting tips for parents
- PBS’ video (it’s a couple years old now) called Growing Up Online
- Sign up for online safety newsletters (the Girl Scouts and Microsoft have come up with monthly newsletters to keep families safe online) AND read our monthly newsletter here.
*Remember that these tips are recommendations and do not have to be enforced. Based on your child(s) age and maturity level, these will often vary. If you have any questions concerning internet safety, please feel free to reach out.