Our children are growing up in a digital society. With the Internet just a click away, our kids have access to more information and entertainment than we ever did growing up. But between the funny cat videos and Instagram posts, there's a dark side to the Internet that we can't control.

Strangers, predators, hackers, and cyber-bullies all target kids, and every year it gets easier for them reach our children.

So what are parents to do? Here are 5 quick tips to help you keep your kids safe online:

1. Talk Openly About the Dangers of the Internet

Kids use the Internet for everything. A study from the Family Online Safety Institute revealed that 45 percent of children surveyed have access to 3 or more Internet-enabled devices. From homework assignments to chatting with friends to playing games, they maneuver the many corners of the Internet with ease.

But most of them don't understand that there's a dark side to the Internet, and that strangers can hurt them just as easily online as they can on a dark street at night.

Having an open discussion about internet safety as soon as they are old enough to navigate the internet on their own is essential. Teach them safety tips, such as not sharing personal information like phone numbers and pets' names with others. Encourage them to be open about what they do on the Internet.

If they find something inappropriate, like a hurtful comment from a cyber bully or an explicit video, you will want them to share it with you. Starting an open dialogue with your child as early as possible will help keep them safe.

2. Use Parental Control

Kids are pretty good at finding a workaround when you set barriers. However, as kids get smarter, so does the technology, and there are plenty of resources like CleanRouter, ContentWatch Net Nanny, and Qustodio Parental Control, that will help you control your child's behavior online.

Only around half of parents surveyed by FOSI used parental control to prevent their child from accessing certain online materials.

These tools allow you to monitor on every device on your network, set safe search enforcement, and device-specific Internet time scheduling. Subscription services are incredibly worthwhile to help you manage your child's Internet time.

Another helpful hint is to use parental control features built into your Mac, PC, or mobile device. Just perform a search for "parental controls" and the device name or operating system you are using to follow the instructions. 

3. Set Limits

Children are being introduced to screens at a much younger age than ever before.  A report from Common Sense Media found that kids younger than 8 years old spend an average of 2 hours and 19 minutes with screen media.

Establishing limits for screen time at an early age will better prepare children to make smart choices as they are older.   

The less time kids have online, the less likely they are to get into trouble on the Internet. Setting boundaries such as no screen time during meals or before bed, or a having daily limit on screen time, can help you control your child's online behavior.

Another helpful tip is to turn screen time into a productive activity. Encourage them to use the internet to learn, create, or build new things.

4. Regularly Check Your Child's Online Activity

Almost 3 in 10 parents (29 percent) let their kids use the Internet without any restrictions or supervision. Whether it's checking their browsing history or monitoring their behavior on social media, having access to your child's devices and accounts is essential.

Your child's access to their devices is a privilege that you provide and pay for. Knowing their account passwords should be a mandatory part of that privilege. Keeping an eye on who your child is interacting with and how will better help you spot problems with cyber bullies or other inappropriate behavior.

You should also be on the lookout for suspicious activity on your child's history, including deleted history and private searches. (For a tutorial on how to do this on all devices I recommend WikiHow as a resource.) When you notice abnormal behavior, bring it to your child's attention and have an open and honest discussion about how they spend their time online.

5. Keep a Physical Eye on the Computer

Putting your family computer in a central location will help you have physical eyes on your child's Internet activity. A set up like this will discourage your kids from visiting inappropriate sites as they know that you or a sibling might walk by a see.

Another helpful tip is to set rules that require them to use tablets in a common area, and leave their phones out of their rooms at night.

Published on: Dec 28, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.