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Internet Safety for Kids

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

Source: Children’s Internet Usage Study, Center for Cyber Safety and Education

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

  • Sexual predators

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

Source: Children’s Internet Usage Study, Center for Cyber Safety and Education

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.