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The 4-Letter Word That Keeps Kids Safe Online

Photograph by Twenty20

My husband and I really struggled with whether to give our child access to an iPad. In particular, we debated wither to get her one of her own. We knew the potential negative effects of too much screentime, as well as the perils for kids lurking on the Internet.

However, our view is technology is part of the world our child is growing up in. We believe it behooves us to work to find the most responsible ways to incorporate it into her life and help her use it wisely. So the question quickly switched from, "Should we let our child use an iPad?" to "How do we ensure she uses one safely?"

The answer we came up with is also a convenient acronym: CARE.

1. Communicate

Long before your child begins using an iPad, begin a very important conversation and understand it will be ongoing. Explain online safety concepts to your child and that you will be monitoring and limiting her use of the device and why. You need to be up front and clear, setting the proper expectations before your child ever uses an iPad. Parents who set clear technology rules are more likely to have kids that follow them. These Family Tip Sheets from Common Sense Media can help you talk with your kids about technology at every age.

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2. Audit

Make sure you are familiar with the capabilities of the device before handing it over to your child. Brightpips.com offers specific, step-by-step instructions, with screen captures, on how to ensure your child's iPad is as safe as it can be. There are resources all over the Internet for keeping your iPad family friendly. And Apple itself offers a comprehensive iPad guide with a search function. Make sure you analyze carefully everything your child will be able to do on one.

3. Restrict

You have the ability to control your child's iPad experience. Again, Common Sense Media offers reviews and lists of the best apps, movies, shows and websites for kids, as well as many other helpful resources for placing restrictions your child's iPad. You can regulate how much time your child spends on her device, utilizing the Time Limit feature offered via Guided Access. Once the time limit you set has been reached, the iPad becomes unusable. Your child will have to come to you and make a case for more screentime. Or move on to other activities.

4. Evaluate

Setting the iPad up securely, establishing rules and discussing them with your child are only the beginning. Technology changes constantly. Stay up to date; you want to be better informed than your child, which is no small feat. Constantly review your child's iPad usage: the apps she is using, the shows she is watching and the sites she has visited. Are there any new features to the apps you have previously approved? Did a recent system update impact your settings or introduce new ones? Has your child found a way around your restrictions? Kids can be masters at circumventing them. If your child has, it's time to go back to the communicate stage and also for consequences.

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Keeping kids safe on any device they may use is vital. And it can be complicated. The principles of CARE can help you keep your iPad safe for your child.

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