Many families have faced challenges regarding online safety and their children’s Internet use. According to a study in 2018, an estimated 94% of children between the ages of 3 and 18 had access to home Internet. Now, amidst a pandemic, households — especially those with children attending school remotely — have seen an even bigger surge in Internet usage. A recent report demonstrated that in-home data use increased to 16.6 gigabytes in March 2020, compared with 12 gigabytes a year ago at the same time. That’s a 38% increase.

Aside from greater internet usage for educational purposes, what about the “free time” children spend online? What research reveals is somewhat disconcerting:

• 30% of children have admitted using the internet in ways their parents would not find appropriate

• 21% of children have confessed to using sites that allow them to “chat” with people they don’t know

• 17% of children have visited sites with pornographic content

Additionally, the results of a Cox Communications Internet Safety Survey revealed:

• Teens spend an average of 5 hours and 38 minutes online daily

• 74% share photos or videos of themselves, friends (58%) or family members (51%) online

• One in four teens have been a victim of cyberbullying

• Nearly half of teens admit to taking steps to hide their online behavior from parents

With the pandemic still in play, combined with a holiday season that often invites extra downtime and more electronics as holiday gifts, it’s an opportune time to ensure your child’s online safety.

There are several steps you can take to help monitor and maintain internet safety this winter break (and beyond), which include:

1. Turn on parental controls: Most electronic devices, as well as online games, apps and social media sites, have privacy settings that include options for parental control and monitoring. Turning these on will help reduce the likelihood of your child accessing inappropriate content.

2. Employ extra internet safeguards: There are special software programs and downloadable safeguards to help parents make and keep their internet safer for children. For example, Cox offers Security Suite Plus powered by McAfee®, which comes with built-in parental controls, covering up to five different devices.

3. Supervise your child’s Internet usage: Make sure your child sees you observing their time on the Internet. And, if possible, don’t allow your child to have a password to get into his/her device. Inviting this type of transparency can help dissuade children from being sneaky or attempting to hide content.

4. Review the games, apps, and social media accounts of your child: Before your child downloads any new apps, games, or social media platforms, find out what type of content and capabilities are involved—chatting, public-image sharing, direct messaging, and parental control options, as examples. And, once an app has been downloaded, periodically access the account to make sure the content is safe and appropriate.

5. Discuss online safety and make a family plan: Before your child uses the internet, make sure you have established appropriate boundaries and explained expectations clearly. Encourage open and honest communication, and help explain what “online safety” means. Help make decisions about online behavior as a family and make a formal plan. And, be sure to tell your child to always alert you if she/he sees something inappropriate (sexual, bullying, or violent in nature).

Introducing these strategies will help you and your family enjoy a safe, fun and comfortable holiday at home!