Threats to children’s internet safety include invasions of privacy, cyberbullying, sexting, and harassment. Options to protect your children include parental controls, apps, and tracking software. But the most effective way to keep your kids safe is to talk with them about online risks, how to avoid them, and how they can come to you when something goes wrong.
Internet safety for kids depends on parents being aware of online risks and understanding how to help their children and teens avoid them.
Almost every American child and teen has access to the internet. They socialize in online games or on smartphones just as they would on a playground. They live largely in a digital community. But like any community, there are risks and dangers.
Parents are the best suited to monitor kids’ online activity. They are also the most trusted adults most kids will turn to if they experience online dangers. Understanding what your children or teens do online is vital to protecting them from digital threats.
How Children and Teens Get Online
Even younger kids are accessing the internet in large numbers. Roughly two-thirds of fourth to eighth-graders have access to phones or tablets. And almost half of them have a computer in their bedrooms, according to the 2016 Children’s Internet Usage Study conducted by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education.
Explaining Internet Safety to Your Kids
Teaching your children about the online risks they may face and how to avoid or report threats is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure their safety online.
But first, you have to understand those risks for yourself. This means keeping up-to-date on the latest technologies, apps, and social media trends. It can be challenging, but it better prepares you to talk to your kids about what to expect online.
Online Dangers to Discuss with Your Kids
Dangerous or inappropriate websites
Malware and how it can be downloaded onto computers and phones
Online frauds and scams
You’ll also need to keep an open dialog with your kids. Let them know you are looking out for their safety and be sure to listen to their questions and concerns.
An open conversation can help them feel comfortable talking with you even about uncomfortable things they later encounter online. It will also help you better understand how your children use the internet.
What Are Kids Doing Online?
30 percent have used the internet in ways their parents wouldn’t approve
21 percent have visited sites where they can chat with strangers
17 percent have visited porn sites
11 percent have visited sites that offer ways to cheat on homework
4 percent have visited online gambling sites
Let children know they can talk with their parents, teachers, or other trusted adults when they stumble onto online content that makes them feel scared or uncomfortable.
How to Set Rules
Setting clearly defined rules and explaining the reason for each rule and the hazard it protects against can help your child understand potential risks. Rules for your child should aim to protect online privacy, safety, and personal information.
You may even ask your child or teen to sign an online safety contract. The contract can be a chance to teach your kid about online risks and how to respond to them. Contracts can also jumpstart a conversation about the boundaries you want to set for the way in which your child uses the internet.
Keep the conversation open and ongoing as your child gets older with the promise of more rights and responsibilities as he or she grows.
Steps You Can Take to Protect Your Children Online
You can take an active role in protecting your kids from online risks. Much of it is monitoring how they use the internet and how they access it. Some of it can be as simple as helping them set up their online access.
When you give your child a smartphone or tablet for the first time, use it as a teaching opportunity. Show your child how to set up strong passwords and set new rules for who can and can’t download apps. You may want to limit that to yourself until your child is older.
What Parents Can Do to Keep Their Kids Safe Online
Keep your children’s computer in a common area of the home to monitor their Internet activity.
Check your child’s browser history frequently.
Use security software or tools.
Activate privacy features through your browser or internet service provider.
Know what other computers or devices your child is using.
Know your children’s passwords.
Watch for changes in your child’s behavior that may indicate cyberbullying or contact with an online sexual predator.
Also, make sure your children don’t open any social media accounts or download social media apps until they are at least 13 years old. That’s not just a safety tip, it’s the law. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule was passed in 1998 to protect kids’ online privacy.
Make it clear if you will be monitoring their online activity, tracking their browsing history, and keeping a copy of their passwords. Spying on your children’s online activity without telling them first can undermine their trust in you.
Using Tech and Apps to Protect Your Kids Online
You can find technology that will help you monitor what your child sees on the internet, filter out inappropriate web content, and track what your child does online. There is a wide selection of options from software you can buy to features built into your internet browser.
But remember that these are simply extra tools. They won’t replace open communication between you and your child.
Monitoring, Tracking, and Limiting Your Child’s Online Activity
You can track the websites your kids visit online by checking their browsing history. Browsers keep a list of sites that have been visited. Go to the browser on their computer or phone and click on “History” to see the list of sites that have been visited.
Be aware that your kids may delete their browser history. If that happens, it may be a sign they have visited a site they shouldn’t have. This should be part of your discussion when you set out rules with your child.
New apps, such as iPhone’s Screen Time, allow you to set time limits on how long your child or teen may access a specific app each day.
Making computer time part of family time gives parents the chance to teach children safe internet habits.
Filtering Out Inappropriate Content
Filters can limit which internet sites and content your children can view online. These are designed to weed out inappropriate content.
Contact the company that provides your internet service to ask about any internet filters it provides. These can let you control what different devices can see on the internet.
Turn on “SafeSearch” in Google Search and Google Images on your kids’ devices. This will filter out most, but not all, adult and other inappropriate search results.
Beyond these options, you can buy and install parental control software. Some can be placed on individual devices while others can create filters for all the devices on your home network. Prices range from around $15 to $100.
You can also find parental control apps designed specifically for your child’s phone or tablet. Simply search for them where you download apps. Prices for these may range from $10 to $30. These can restrict what apps your children use, track their smartphone browsing and prevent them from changing passwords without your permission.
How to Teach Your Kids to Use Their Smartphones Responsibly
Your child’s first smartphone is another opportunity to discuss online safety. But smartphones also come with added risks.
Make sure your children understand that a smartphone is personal and no one else should use it. Sharing their phone can expose private information or allow someone to impersonate them online. Let your children know how this can damage their reputation if someone sends or posts an inappropriate text, comment or photo.
Also, talk about the long-term damage to their reputation certain spur of the moment comments or photos can have once they’re posted online. Teach them to think carefully about how others may see or interpret their posts.
Your Child’s First Smartphone: 5 Things to Think About
Just like you did with the family computer, have a conversation about guidelines for your child’s first smartphone and risks unique to it.
Set up password protection.
Help your child set up password protection before using the phone. This will keep anyone except you and your child from using it or accessing personal information stored on it.
Update the operating system.
Making sure the phone is always running the latest operating system will ensure it has the newest security fixes.
Tell your child not to download new apps without your approval.
Talk about location services.
GPS can give away your child’s location when posting online from the phone. Before buying the phone, ask how to disable location services for photos and other posts while still using GPS for maps.
Make sure your children understand the importance of disconnecting from their smartphone. Constant screen time can disrupt sleep patterns and distract their attention from what’s going on around them.
Let them know that being on their phone when around other people can be impolite. Putting away the phone during meals, in the car or when hanging out with friends shows respect to the people around them.
Make Sure Your Teen Understands the Dangers of Texting and Driving
A smartphone can be a good starting point to teaching teen driving safety when your teen starts to drive. Distracted driving killed 3,166 people in 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Texting has been a growing cause of distracted driving-related crashes.
Download apps that disable texting and talking while in the car. Many will let you decide which other apps will function while the car is in motion.
Teaching Your Teens How to Use Social Media Safely
Understanding the social media sites your teens frequent can help you understand the content and connections they’re exposed to. Following or friending your teens on these sites can help you keep an eye on their social media activity.
Practically every American teen uses some form of social media, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center.
Percentage of Teens Using Social Media Platforms
Source: Pew Research Center
Teens credit social media for making new friends, strengthening existing friendships, and exposing them to an increasingly diverse world. Thirty-one percent of teens have a mostly positive view of social media, according to the Pew Research Center.
At the same time, the center says teens worry that social media increases the drama in their lives and they feel like they are under greater social pressure.
How Teens Feel About the Ups and Downs of Social Media
Source: Pew Research Center
But there are also risks they may not even think of on these sites. Before your teens sign up for any social media platform, you can help them understand these dangers so they can have a safer and more enjoyable social media experience.
Tips for Teen Safety on Social Media
Don’t post pictures or comments that are inappropriate. Avoid posts about drugs and alcohol, or those featuring nudity, bigotry, violence or threats.