Coronavirus: How can you keep your kids safe online with increased screen time?

Children who spent more time using screens were less likely to meet developmental milestones, a new study has found. File Photo / Getty Images

With the COVID-19 pandemic, kids can be spending more time on the computer or other devices where they can become targets for online predators.

Actua president and CEO Jennifer Flanagan said officials are seeing very concerning increases in online issues where safety is not being considered.

“We are trying to get the message out to parents to say, ‘look, increased screen time is OK, we all need it right now. Our kids need it for social interaction. They need it for school,” Flanagan said Monday over the phone in Ottawa.

“That’s A-OK…  But with that comes a very important piece and conversation around keeping safe online.”

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Flanagan said parents may be a little intimidated, as they didn’t grow up with technology the same way their kids are.

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“That can sometimes get in the way of those conversations. The important thing is to persevere and to have that discussion starting early,” she said.

“As soon as kids are using Internet-enabled devices, you’re having a conversation about what being safe online means.”

According to Flanagan, being safe involves reminding children what information is private, such as full names and where they live.

“The basic rule that I have always, especially right now, is you do not talk to people on the Internet who you do not know in real life,” she said.

“This is incredibly important, I think, for any age, but especially at a young age where sometimes parents aren’t aware that the apps or the technology that their kids are using allow them to actually chat with other people.”

Click to play video: 'How to protect your children while they are online'
How to protect your children while they are online

Flanagan recommends having a household device contract with young Internet users.

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“It sounds heavy, but it’s not. It’s some basic rules that you talk about with your kids that you say, ‘look, we want you to use screens, we want you to build those tech skills. But here are the rules that you need to follow to keep yourself safe,'” she said.

Actua is a national charitable organization that aims to engage Canadian youth in innovative science and technology experiences.

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