Fact: 1 in 4 children who use the internet have been exposed to unwanted pornography. 1 in 5 children have been sexually solicited while using the internet. And, more than 60% of pre-teens have had a stranger reach out to them through email, instant messaging, or social media platforms.
Have we captured your attention yet?
Statistics prove that more and more children are replying to strangers online. A good portion also admit to meeting up, or at least arranging a time and place to meet up with these strangers. Every year, the statistics on human trafficking increase. Children are at the highest risk of being trafficked, many of those children are solicited through the internet. The same goes for child victims of sexual assault and molestation.
Did you know: More than 50% of parents admit that they’ve never, not even once, discussed internet safety with their children.
Child sex trafficking is a nationwide epidemic. Due to the fact that the internet is a staple source where child predators find their victims, monitoring a child’s online activity and teaching them internet safety rules is vitally important.
In this article, we will share our knowledge regarding the potential risks of the internet, and how to protect your kids from the dangers lurking on the dark side of the internet. Here’s your guide to child safety online.
Top Internet Safety Tips for Kids
Although there are serious dangers associated with children using the internet un-monitored, it can also be a wonderful place with unlimited access to information for learning purposes, as well as a great way to stay in contact with friends and family.
To help you better supervise and educate your children on cyber safety, here are the top internet safety tips for kids:
Start the Conversation & Education at an Early Age
In this day and age, children are starting to use the internet at a very early age.
That’s why it’s so important to start educating them on safely using the internet at an early age. You, as the parent, should initiate this conversation, as it isn’t likely your child, or children, will be the ones to bring up internet safety. The more you openly communicate with your child regarding safety risks, including the dangers that are present online, the more equipped they’ll be at identifying those threats, giving them the tools and knowledge they need to take appropriate action if a dangerous situation arises.
If your child feels uncomfortable coming to you in the instance that they come across something inappropriate, then they won’t. Keep that in mind when discussing cyber safety with them. Your child should be able to come to you about anything they saw, heard, or experienced online that made them feel uncomfortable. Kids are curious and may have questions for you, remind them that you won’t judge, ever. Open communication is essential when it comes to remaining safe while browsing the internet.
TIP: Google created an interactive game aimed to teach kids how to make smart decisions while online – called Be Internet Awesome. The game is a great source of information, and makes internet education fun. Children are taught how to be kind online, how to identify fake websites, fake people, and fake information, how to share information safely, and a lot more.
If you have younger children who use the internet, be sure to remind them repetitively of the potential dangers of the online space. The younger the child, the more prone they are to being unaware of cyber threats. To them, the internet is just like TV – an entertainment device that displays images. Often, they do not realize that there are real people on the other end, some of which may have ill intentions. That said, repeat yourself often and in various ways, every time you use the internet together. Repetition is one of the best ways to teach a child.
Teach Children About Predator Tactics
The internet is a great space to hang out – there are endless wholesome learning opportunities to be had, funny videos to be viewed, and platforms that allow us to connect with family and friends.
On the other hand, the internet is a hazardous place to hang out – especially for children who are more vulnerable to cyber stalkers, child molesters, inappropriate content and becoming targets of cyber bullying.
As children get older, they are more likely to visit chat rooms or use social media. As we mentioned before, these types of websites provide a platform for us to chat with friends and stay up-to-date with family. But, alas, every rose has its thorn. Kids are more susceptible to being sexually solicited by child predators. Educating your kids regarding the various tactics these adults might use to lure them in to meeting up or sharing information can help them see the red flags before things take a turn for the worst.
Predators use “grooming tactics” online as bait to entice children to share private information with them, or meet face-to-face. For example, a predator may say things like, “Let’s switch this chat to private”, which means that they want to chat with your child in a chat room, through IM, or over the telephone. When conversations are held in “private”, they are no longer monitored by chat rooms.
Predators want to know information, and will ask questions like, “Where is your computer in your house?”. They want to know if, or how easily, parents can see and monitor what their child is doing online. They also use other tactics, such as flattery, empathy, and compassion in order to build a trust between themselves and the child they are grooming.
The internet is also a stomping grounds for computer hackers, who prey on children in hopes of obtaining personal information – easier than tricking an adult into sharing personal information with them. A great way to teach your child about hacking dangers, is to use the following analogy: Hackers are a type of criminal that breaks into your home through the computer, rather than breaking a window to crawl inside.
Ensure that they know not to open files or documents that were sent to them from someone, or somewhere, unfamiliar to them.
Computers and Tablets Should Stay in “Common Areas”
It’s virtually impossible for you to properly monitor your child’s internet use, if they’re using a laptop, tablet, or computer in the privacy of their own room.
So, what’s the answer to this dilemma?
A fitting approach is to keep computers in common areas of your home, such as the kitchen or living room. By keeping the family computer and tablets in a common area, you’ll be able to keep an eye on what activities your child is participating in online, as well as review the computer’s history, should you feel the need.
Additionally, you’ll have an easier time limiting your child’s internet usage by housing the computer in a common area.
Install Parental Controls
Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, and Safari web browsers have parental control features that, once enabled, allow you to create specific guidelines regarding what particular users of the computer can (or cannot) access. Customize everything from which websites can be visited, to the types of files that can be downloaded.
For example, with Google Chrome, you can set up a unique user profile for each of your children. This aspect of Chrome’s parental control system makes it easy to filter out offending content such as profanity, porn, nudity, or violence. It also allows for you, as the parent, to customize each profile based off of the age, gender, and needs of each of your kids. As if that weren’t enough, you also have the ability to completely block web browsers from working, and adding only the websites that you want your children to have access to, at any given time.
Microsoft also offers its users parental control features – making it possible to control how much time your children spend surfing the web each day.
Depending on which web browser you use, there are different instructions for activating parental control features. Below, you’ll find links for the most commonly used internet browsers:
- Google Chrome
- Windows 10
Parental Controls on Cell Phones
If you’re family uses Android phones, you can download the Family Link app in the PlayStore. Developed by Google, this app provides parents with the ability to use all of the parental controls typically found in browsers. Better yet? Family Link has a feature allowing parents to remotely lock, or unlock, their child’s device at specific set times. For example, if you don’t want your child staying up until 2am playing on their cell phone, you can use Family Link to have their device shut off at 9pm automatically. If you want to know how much time your kids are spending on their mobile browser, or what websites they are visiting, you can request activity reports from the Family Link app on a weekly, or monthly basis.
Listen: Parental controls are important to implement, especially since dangers lurking on the internet seem to be growing increasingly more common each year. However, being totally and completely transparent with your children about these controls, and why you’re implementing them, needs to be openly communicated. Don’t forget to ask them how they feel about the guidelines you’ve set, and answer all of their questions and concerns.
When you’re honest from the get-go about using parental controls, your kids are given the opportunity to learn more about cyber safety, and have their questions answered. You’ll also build trust with each other – making it easier for your child to come to you if they stumble across a website or situation online that upsets them.
Discuss What Information Can, and Cannot, Be Shared
A key component in the discussion of internet safety for kids involves which pieces of information are appropriate to share online, and which aren’t.
For example: I came across a picture of my 16 year old niece holding up her driver’s license. She just got her license in the mail and she was eager to show it off, I can’t blame her for being excited. Although a seemingly innocent act, it’s posts like this that lead to identity theft, or worse.
Information such as your full birth date, current location, home address, telephone number, medical history, job-related information or detailed vacation itineraries should never be posted online. This may seem like common knowledge to adults, but children and teens often don’t realize the consequences of sharing this type of information on the internet. Make sure to educate your child on this issue while covering the subject of staying safe online.
34% of middle school children (ages 11-13), report that they have been a victim of cyberbullying, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center. Girls are targeted victims more often (37%) than boys (31%).
“Cyberbullying” is a word we hear all-too-often on social media or in the news. Many times, the word is used in reports of suicide. To give you a better idea of how big this problem is, here are some sobering youth suicide statistics:
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death for kids ages 10-18.
- More teens die from suicide than from cancer, AIDS, heart disease, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease COMBINED.
- Suicide rates among 14 to 19 year olds have reached their highest point in over two decades, a new study reports.
Cyberbullying affects not only self-esteem and confidence, but it can lead to serious anxiety, depression, and even suicide. This type of bullying is particularly damaging, due to its digital nature. Since devices are always turned on, children rarely, if ever, get relief from the bullying. Additionally, in most cases, kids have access permanently to hurtful cyberbullying. It occurs online, where it stays forever and ever, and can be re-visited causing more pain to the victim. To make matters worse, cyberbullying can affect a child’s reputation for years to come, even impacting future job opportunities and school admissions.
What does cyberbullying look like?
- Sharing damaging or inappropriate photos of someone else online
- Texting malicious messages to others
- Using text or social media to spread rumors
- Spreading false information, pretending to be someone else online, opening social media accounts in someone else’s name and impersonating them
- Stealing passwords and login information for social media – using the platforms to spread damaging or harmful information
- Circulating sexual pictures or text messages about another person
There are several strategies you can use as a parent to stop cyberbullying and keep your kids safe online. Here are a few tactics you can use to help prevent, detect, and/or stop your child from cyberbullying others, or becoming a victim themselves.
Learn the Warning Signs
Most kids who are being cyberbullied, won’t tell anyone about it – according to Cyberbullying.org. As a parent, it is your responsibility to educate yourself regarding important warning signs, which include:
- Loss of interest in school, extracurricular activities, and other hobbies they once cared about
- Going from checking their cell phone, tablet or computer often, rarely checking these devices at all
- Displaying a startled or nervous reaction if they are using the internet when you’re around
- Developing anxiety socially, withdrawing from friends and avoiding school
- Suddenly spending most of their time alone, no longer with friends or classmates
- Becomes especially protective and secretive about their online activity
If you notice your child displaying this type of behavior, it’s time to chat with them about what’s going on in their lives. Be open and non-judgemental, kids open up more when they feel safe and comfortable in a discussion.
If things escalate, or become seemingly impossible to resolve, you may need to contact your child’s school and set up a meeting with the school’s counselor. They are able to mandate a formal meeting to discuss any problems your child may be having, and can get the parents of other children involved when necessary. At the very least, they can provide you with some guidance or direction to help you come to a conclusion as to what approach would be most appropriate for your child’s situation.
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center compiled a report titled, “Always Connected”, which found that children between the ages of 8 and 10 spend an average of 5.5 hours each day using media. Although the majority of this time is generally spent watching TV, using the internet comes in a very close second place. Plus, the age at which children begin regularly using the internet drops every year.
You, as a parent, bare the responsibility of not only keeping your child safe online, but also teaching them the proper skills required to become good, productive internet citizens in the future.
If you take away anything from this article, let it be a reminder of the importance of teaching your children how to safely navigate the online world.