A global survey of the online habits of more than 145,000 children across 30 countries shows a worrying trend. A growing number of children and youths are exposed to perils such as cyber bullying, exposure to violent or sexual content online and gaming disorders.

In Singapore, 40% of children between the ages of eight and 12 are at risk of cyber bullying. The number is worse for teenagers. With rising smartphone ownership and easy access to the Internet among youths, how can parents help to ensure online safety?

Here are 5 quick tips for parents to keep their kids safe from online dangers.

1. Set boundaries and rules

In the Wild, Wild West of the internet, there are no boundaries – mature content and violence are as accessible as the Teletubbies. Here’s where clear boundaries and rules come in. For the young ones, set screen time limits and monitor usage via parenting control apps.

For older kids, parents may want to involve them in the decision-making process when setting ground rules. Not only does it establish trust, it allows your tweens and teens to take ownership of their own online behaviour. Rules should include no-nos (such as sharing passwords or inappropriate pictures) as well as the negotiable (like screen time limits or social media usage).

2. Educate yourself

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. To get into the heads of your tweens or teens, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with popular social media apps such as TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram, or at least know that Roblox, Fortnite and Overwatch are not the names of book assignments! Conversely, you can share with them the very real dangers of cyber threats like phishing, spyware or malware.

3. Know what they are doing online

Remember, the internet is forever. Anything that is posted online stays online, even Instagram stories. Here’s where news reports of past incidents come in useful as conversation starters for parents about personal privacy, cyberbullying or online grooming. As digital natives, many children and teenagers may feel that they are cyber savvy enough to be safe.

4. Be a good role model

Walk the talk when it comes to your own digital usage! It’s hard to get Junior to put down his mobile phone if he sees you glued to yours. If the kids see mom and dad set aside their devices during mealtimes or at family events, they’re more likely to follow suit.

5. Watch for warning signs

Stranger danger is real, and so are the effects of cyberbullying. Keep the communication channels open between you and your kids and refrain from quick judgments. This way, they’ll be more likely to talk to you about sensitive issues such as sex and loneliness.

On the bright side, not all forms of online interactions are fraught with danger. The virtual world can also be a place for friendship and community. In fact, in this period of pandemic and social distancing, social media helps to keep us sane and connected!