Nowadays, children spend more time online than ever before and, as useful as the internet is, the unfortunate truth is that it’s also a risky place. Its numerous advantages can easily turn into potential threats; to help prevent that, we decided to put together an internet safety for kids guide. We will cover everything you need to know to keep your young ones out of harm’s way.
The Top Online Threats
The three main dangers kids face on the internet are inappropriate content, cyberbullying, and online predators.
1. Inappropriate Content
This includes anything that could upset your child or prompt them to engage in unlawful or dangerous behavior. Some examples of it are vulgar language, hate speech, and violent or sexual images. The main problem regarding inappropriate content is that it’s everywhere – games, videos, and ads, not to mention targeted websites producing only this kind of content.
Keeping kids safe online also entails protecting them against cyberbullying. This is when someone shares, posts, or sends negative, hurtful, or false content about someone else. In most cases, this type of harassment takes place on social media sites.
3. Online Predators
There are adults on the internet that get in touch with children in order to sexually abuse them. Predators will often try to manipulate a child into believing that they care more about them than their family does. Their targets are usually – but certainly not always – shy, socially awkward kids.
How To Keep Children Safe Online
Now that you’re familiar with the primary risks that come with children using the internet, let’s get into the more important part of our topic concerning the measures that can be taken to protect them.
Keeping Children Safe From Inappropriate Content
Start a Conversation
Explain to your children that sometimes, while online, they might come across content that they might not like to see or that you’d like them not to see. Talk to them about age limits and why certain websites have them. Encourage them to build critical thinking skills so that they can judge on their own whether or not something is appropriate for them. Make sure to have these conversations regularly.
Teach Kids To Use the Internet
Protecting children online also means teaching them how to properly search the internet, check the accuracy of the information they find, avoid unsecured websites, and when to ask an adult to intervene.
Address All the Sources of Inappropriate Content
Aside from discussing the obvious sources of unsuitable material for children, such as websites and pop-ups, don’t forget to mention malicious emails and direct messages.
You might think this would be counterproductive, similar to informing your kid about having fireworks in your basement and expecting them not to touch them. But as we’ve already mentioned earlier in our Internet Safety for Kids Guide, the internet is in no way short of images, videos, and texts that kids shouldn’t be exposed to, so even if you don’t tell them where such content could be, odds are that they are going to come across it anyway. Therefore, the best you could do is demystify the entire subject and teach them what to look out for.
Set Up Parental Controls on Your Browsers
Many popular browsers have built-in parental controls that enable you to turn on filters for inappropriate language, nudity, sex, and violence; others have extensions serving the same purpose. If you’re not sure you can set up the cyber-safety filters properly, you can always opt for downloading a kid-friendly browser, which will automatically block any potentially harmful parts of the online experience.
Download Parental Control Software
Keeping Children Safe From Cyberbullying
Talk About Cyberbullying
The best way to save your child from experiencing unpleasantness online is to provide them with as much information about the topic as possible. You need to teach them about cyberbullying – how it’s one of the potential dangers of the internet and that the abuser can – and often will – be someone they know. Give your child a clear explanation of what exactly harassment is and how to recognize it. Lastly, make sure that your child knows that asking for help or advice from an adult is the best course of action in these situations.
Set Tech Boundaries
As soon as your children gain access to electronics, you should come up with clear limits regarding their device use. The sooner you do this, the faster they will get used to the concept. Your internet safety rules could involve time restrictions, texting guidelines, or instructions on using social media accounts. Make sure to devise a system that works best for your family.
Keep Your Eyes Open
Monitor your children’s time online. When they’re really young, you shouldn’t let them access the internet on their own at all, but as they get older, you can and should gradually ease up on the supervision. That being said, even while you’re loosening your hold on the reins, let your children know that you’ll be checking in on occasion.
Your kids’ internet safety doesn’t have to rest solely on your shoulders. It’s a good idea to involve as many trusted people as you can; your children’s friends and their parents could be instrumental allies.
Encourage Friendships with Compassionate Kids
This may seem like a very vague recommendation since there’s no real way to know for certain what someone is like. However, by getting to know a kid’s parents and learning about their values, you can sometimes anticipate whether their child would be kind to your son or daughter.
Keeping Children Safe From Online Predators
Learn About Online Predators
If you’re not well-versed in digital safety regarding predators and how they operate, you won’t be able to adequately warn your children about the kind of behavior they should be alarmed by and where they can expect it.
Teach Your Kids to Recognize the Warning Signs
First and foremost, you have to stress just how dangerous being contacted by a stranger is. Meeting someone online isn’t nearly as uncommon as it used to be several years ago, but there might also be situations where online predators turn out to be someone you know. These situations are usually harder to recognize, so you need to be on high alert for any tell-tale signs of malicious intent.
Vet Your Kids’ Online Friends
Out of all our internet safety tips for kids, this one might be particularly invasive, but, unfortunately, you mustn’t skip it. Cyber predators won’t always use their own accounts. On occasion, they’ll create entirely fake personas of people a lot younger than them to pursue their goals. If a person seems suspicious to you, you can look into background check sites and use one of them to find out everything you could possibly want to know about this individual.
Discuss Personal Information Sharing
Sharing personal information online can be dangerous for both adults and children. However, adults can, for the most part, tell when sharing our address, phone number, and our place of education or employment could pose a severe web-safety risk, while kids tend to be a lot more trusting. Therefore, you must make it clear to your child that predators could use this information to reach them in the offline world.
Another major issue concerns your kid sending photos of themselves to anyone you don’t deem 100% trustworthy. Broach this subject carefully: In this day and age, sharing selfies has become second nature for most people, so youngsters won’t always see the potential harm in it.
Block the Cameras on Your Devices
While talking about cyber safety for kids with other parents, you may have heard someone suggest blocking cameras on your devices. Although it may seem paranoid, it actually isn’t a bad precaution to take, and it’s as easy as placing pieces of tape over any webcams.
What To Do if Your Child Has an Unpleasant Online Experience
Even if you do everything in your power to shield your children from any and all online dangers, you need to have a plan in place in case your hard work doesn’t pay off. In this part of our Internet Safety for Kids guide, we’ll go over what you should and shouldn’t do when the internet proves to be a threat to your child.
Responding to Inappropriate Content Exposure
Those parents whose child has been exposed to inappropriate content need to avoid large emotional outbursts. The youngster mustn’t feel like they are being blamed, shamed, or like it’s the end of the world. A calm conversation is much more effective in the long run.
You should help the child understand what they saw and why they should avoid seeing it again. Also, finding out the source of the content, as well as introducing them to some internet safety websites where they can learn about protecting themselves online through safe online games, puzzles, and videos, is an excellent preventative choice.
Responding to Cyberbullying
A bullied child may not want to admit it to you out of embarrassment, fear, or similar reasons. That’s why you need to be attentive enough to spot it – look for odd mood changes, especially spells of sadness or seclusion tendencies, or them hiding their screen. Whatever you see, don’t confront them aggressively, but try and prompt them to confide in you. Children are more likely to do so if you make them feel safe and not judged in any way.
It’ll be up to you and your child which online protection measures to take. Your available options are blocking the bully, contacting their parents to explain what has been happening and hopefully coming up with a solution, as well as reporting the abuse to their school or the police. Try not to overreact; instead, accurately assess the gravity of the situation, as filing police reports shouldn’t be done lightly.
Know that if talking to your child doesn’t seem to be helping, you might need to find a professional to assist them in dealing with their trauma.
Responding to Encountering an Online Predator
One of the biggest risks of children using the internet is their being targeted. If that happens, you shouldn’t blame yourself or – more importantly – your child. Make sure that your child knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that it wasn’t their fault. Once you’ve done that, take screenshots of the messages and images sent by the predator and do everything you can to remove that person from your life, as well as ensure they face justice.
Report them to the administrator of the website through which the predator contacted your child and block them. Erase your child’s online profiles and, when you create new ones, don’t use the same usernames or passwords. To stay safe on the internet under these circumstances, you might need to repeat the process for your own accounts. Lastly, warn people about the predator and report the individual to law enforcement and if you wish to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
It might be a smart move to take your child to see a professional if you suspect they might be struggling with processing this ordeal.
How can you protect yourself from internet threats?
You should choose a good antivirus program for your devices, avoid dangerous websites, create strong passwords, refrain from using public Wi-Fi networks, not open emails from strangers, and update your software regularly.
What is online safety?
Simply put, online safety is maintaining awareness of the threats you could encounter on the internet and taking appropriate measures to protect yourself against them.
What should you not do on the internet?
You should never miss out on setting up two-factor authentication. Also, don’t reuse passwords, post sensitive information on social media websites, or download software from suspicious sources.
What is age-inappropriate content?
Age-inappropriate content is content unsuitable for a specific level of child development. It can be any image, video, or written material that could potentially upset, disturb, or tempt children to participate in illegal or dangerous activities. Read our Internet Safety for Kids guide if you’re curious to know more about this topic and what you can do to keep your child safe online.