In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, schools were some of the first organizations to close their doors. But in today’s technology-driven world, education hasn’t fallen through the cracks. Schools have temporarily switched to distance learning by using online communication and learning tools. While it’s great that education can continue, distance learning also means kids are spending more time online than usual — raising both challenges and safety concerns for many parents.
Online Learning by the Numbers
Online learning reaches more students each week. As of April 5, 2020, Gallup polls showed that 83% of American families had students in school-based online learning programs. About 16% of families reported using informal, free online learning programs independent from schools.
Challenges For Parents
Online learning certainly has its advantages during this hectic time. It offers important learning resources, professional teacher connections, and student collaboration from kids’ homes. However, Gallup polls also revealed that 42% of parents are concerned about how their child’s learning will be affected by the pandemic.
Parents may be facing many worries about distance learning, such as:
- Learning outcomes: Even though 99% of Catholic high school students graduate, students from every educational background are facing the possibility of missed curriculum or delayed graduation. Many low-income and minority families are struggling to access learning resources, further confounding the problem.
- Technological access: Children in low-income families or service-free areas may not have internet access, causing a great learning challenge. Children in households earning at least $90,000 per year are more likely to be distance learning than those in families with lower incomes.
- Internet safety: Perhaps the most concerning aspect of increased time online is your child’s safety level. Now is a great time to brush up on internet safety risks and teach your child how to protect themselves while they learn.
Kids at Risk
Certain children may be at higher risk for online danger than others. For example, roughly two or three in every 1,000 American children have some level of confirmed hearing loss. Kids with disabilities like this may face greater challenges when it comes to filtering online information. Other kids, such as those who don’t have much online experience, might not yet understand basic safety precautions.
Internet Safety Concerns for Your Child
Whether your child is in kindergarten or high school, many of the dangers they face online remain the same. Here are some common concerns:
- Predators. This constant threat is probably already on your radar. Any time your child is online, they have access to the entire world. Predators may find ways to hack into online classrooms, posing as other students or teachers.
- Cyberbullying. This was already a problem before schools closed their doors, but cyberbullying may be even more prevalent now. Kids can’t bully in person, so that makes the internet an easy place to do it. These acts could happen in social media, forums, and communication platforms.
- Sexting. Whether it’s with peers or predators, sexting (or speaking in a sexual manner online) can expose your child to risks like “sextortion” or ransomware. These terms describe a type of control used against people who have sexted where the offender threatens to leak private information if the victim doesn’t comply with orders.
- Video technology hacking. Video technology is always growing in safety standards. In fact, the global market for dashboard cameras, like those used in police vehicles, was valued at $1.4 million in 2013. Still, private video chats aren’t always really private. During the current coronavirus outbreak, “Zoom-bombing,” a way of hacking into private conversations on the Zoom platform, has been on the rise.
How to Protect Your Child from Online Dangers
With so much talk of online dangers, you’ll want to know how to keep your child safe. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can minimize their danger online. The main ways to protect your child are by staying active in their online learning, setting limits on their internet use, and teaching them how to protect themselves.
Stay Active in Your Child’s Online Learning
You don’t have to watch over older children’s shoulders every minute, but look at their learning materials and understand exactly what they will be utilizing online. This will help you understand which safety measures to take and know when your children are doing things unrelated to schoolwork. If your child’s teacher is using a video program like Zoom, ask the teacher if they’re using protective measures like screening people before they enter meetings or requiring a join password.
Set Limits and Monitor Internet Use
To protect your child from encountering harmful or inappropriate material, you might use software designed to block such content. Many schools offer this software through the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Some may provide this software to families during the quarantine.
Set time limits for internet use outside of schoolwork to ensure your child is spending time on other healthy activities. Consider having an open-door policy when your child uses the internet in their room so they’re not tempted to hide inappropriate activity.
Teach Your Child Internet Safety Practices
The best way to ensure your child’s safety is to teach them about internet dangers and safety. It’s key to have open conversations that build trust between you and your child so they’re willing to come to you if a problem arises. Most importantly, teach your children what to do if they become the victim of a predator or online attack. Kids should know their power to take action in such a case.
Depending on your child’s experience level with the internet, teach them safety basics such as:
- Never give out personal information like their name, birth date, or location.
- Don’t meet someone from an online conversation, even if they think it’s someone they know. It’s easy for predators to disguise themselves.
- Use school-appropriate behavior in forums. Don’t post information that could hurt others or themself.
- Protect passwords and change them regularly.
- Learn how to evaluate information for truth or deception.
- Come to you (the parent) if they are ever uncertain.
Internet Safety for All
During the COVID-19 pandemic, kids across the U.S. are facing an explosion in technology time due to educational changes. It’s wonderful that so many children can continue learning with wide-reaching internet technology. However, increased screen time means increased safety risks. Parents everywhere should take the time to update their knowledge of internet risks and teach their children safety skills so everyone can benefit from distance-learning safely.