The digital age has transformed the way we live, bringing many benefits to our lives. With just a few clicks, we can connect with friends and family across the globe, access vast amounts of information, and enjoy countless forms of entertainment. I was reminded of this just last night when my children were able to FaceTime their grandmother, who lives out of state, and sing “Happy Birthday” to her. The internet has opened up endless possibilities for us!
However, with this increased connectivity comes increased risks, particularly for children and teenagers who may not have the knowledge and experience to navigate the online world safely. As a parent or guardian, it is important to take steps to protect your children’s safety online.
Why is it important to know the risks that exist on the internet?
As parents, we all want to keep our children safe, especially when they are using the internet. Let’s take a moment to talk about the importance of internet safety for our kids and look at some shocking statistics about children and the internet.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 95% of teenagers in the US have access to a smartphone, and 45% of them are online “almost constantly”. These figures are a clear indication of how much young people rely on the internet to communicate, socialize, and access information.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that children ages eight to 10 spend an average of six hours per day in front of a screen, kids ages 11 to 14 spend an average of nine hours per day in front of a screen, and youth ages 15 to 18 spend an average of seven-and-a-half hours per day in front of a screen.
According to the Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center, it’s estimated that there are around 500,000 online predators active every single day. Children between the ages of 12 and 15 are particularly vulnerable to being groomed or manipulated by adults they meet online, with over 50 percent of victims of online sexual exploitation falling within this age range, according to the F.B.I. It’s also alarming to know that 89 percent of sexual advances made towards children occur in Internet chatrooms or through instant messaging.
Talk To Your Kids About Internet Safety
It’s crucial for parents to have open and ongoing conversations with their children about internet safety practices. By talking to our kids regularly about the potential risks and internet dangers for youth, we can help to keep them safe and informed.
One of the most important reasons to talk to our children about internet safety is to build trust and maintain open lines of communication. When we make it a regular part of our conversations, just like asking about their day at school, our children will feel more comfortable coming to us with any concerns or worries they may have. This means that if they do encounter something unsafe or inappropriate online, they’ll be more likely to speak up and ask for help.
Another reason to talk to our kids about internet safety is that technology is constantly changing and evolving. New apps and games are being released all the time, and it can be overwhelming for parents to keep up. By having regular conversations with our children, we can stay up-to-date on what they’re doing online and what new apps or games they’re interested in. This knowledge will help us to better understand the potential risks and how to mitigate them.
Finally, talking to our kids about internet safety can help to empower them to make smart choices online. By teaching them about online safety guidelines and setting clear rules and expectations, we can give them the tools they need to navigate the internet safely and confidently.
How To Talk To Your Kids About Internet Safety
We all know how uncomfortable it can be to have those awkward conversations with our kids. But when it comes to internet safety, it’s important to approach the topic in a way that doesn’t cause panic or discomfort.
The best way to talk to our children about online safety is to make it a regular part of our conversations. By casually bringing up the topic during everyday moments, we can help to create a relaxed and open environment where our kids feel comfortable sharing their online experiences. Regular conversations about internet safety can help to keep your children safe, informed, and empowered.
Here are some examples of ways to bring up internet safety in a non-intimidating way:
- “What is your favorite game to play on your phone?”
- “Will you show me how good you are at that game?”
- “Will you teach me how to beat this level?”
- “What is the funniest video you have seen online today?”
- “Who is your favorite person to follow on social media?”
- “What was the last picture you posted on social media?”
- “Who is your favorite Youtuber?”
- “If you had a Youtube channel, what would it be about?”
- “What is internet safety?”
Next time you’re having a conversation with your child, try casually bringing up the topic of internet safety. By making it a regular part of your everyday discussions, you’ll help to keep your child safe and informed online.
Social Media Safety For Kids
First things first, young children do not need social media. Cyber experts recommend that the absolute minimum would be 13 years old. Although it’s challenging to establish an exact age threshold, children must possess social and emotional competencies to manage the pressures of social media. While some kids may be ready at the age of 13, others may not be until they’re 15 or older!
Social media platforms can be a great way for teens to connect with friends and express themselves creatively. However, they also present many risks, including cyberbullying, inappropriate content, and potential contact with strangers. To keep your children safe on social media, consider these guidelines:
Set Privacy Settings
Make sure your child’s social media profiles are set to private, so only people they know can see their posts and information.
Turn Off Geolocation
Social media apps may request access to your child’s location, but it’s often not necessary. It’s recommended to delay tagging their location until after they’ve left if they don’t want to share it. Certain platforms may automatically share geotagged information publicly, which could disclose their exact location to others. It’s important for your child to regularly review the privacy settings of their frequently used social media apps and adjust them as needed.
Pause Before You Post
Your child should be taught to take a moment to reflect before posting pictures, videos or information on social media. It’s important to ask themselves whether they’re comfortable sharing the content with anyone who could see it.
Disclosing personal details or their location could potentially jeopardize their safety. Even deleted content can sometimes be accessed by the website or through screenshots and used in harmful ways. Encourage your child to exercise caution and be mindful of what they share on social media.
(This also applies to parents! It’s common to see cute back-to-school posts with a child’s name, teacher, and elementary school included, but it’s not safe to share this information. Posting such details provides predators with the exact information they need to exploit children.)
Talk To Your Friends
Your child should talk to friends about sharing personal information in public posts and respect each other’s wishes to delete uncomfortable or embarrassing posts. Always ask permission before posting photos of information of others. Modify settings to approve tagged photos before appearing on their profile.
Understand Private Messaging
Children can communicate with people online in various ways, including messaging apps, social media, and chat on online games. It’s important to talk to your child about who they’re communicating with and what they’re sharing with them.
Use settings to restrict who can contact your child and remind them not to share any personal information with strangers online. In fact, just encourage them to ignore and delete the message all together.
Recognize Red Flags
Teach your child to recognize warning signs of dangerous behavior online, such as requests for personal information or pressure to meet in person. If someone makes them uncomfortable, they can report the interaction to the host site through the “report” button or by flagging a post as inappropriate. It’s also important to save screenshots of any harassment or abuse in case the content is deleted.
Monitor Their Activity
Monitor your child’s social media use and educate them about online safety, including being careful about what they share and who they communicate with. The easiest way to monitor your child’s social media behavior is to follow their account! Make sure to follow their profiles on all social media platforms and set notifications to get notified when your child posts.
Use parental controls and privacy settings to manage their online activities and keep them safe. These controls can be set up through device settings, in-app tools, and mobile or network provider settings. Check with tech and gaming companies, account settings, or platform websites for support on how to set these up.
Consider adding a consistent weekly check-in to go over their phone and internet behaviors together. Remind your child that having a phone, internet, and social media access is a privilege, and that weekly check-ins are part of the agreement. This will help you stay up-to-date on their online activity and provide opportunities to reinforce safe behavior.
Video Game Safety For Kids
As video games have become an increasingly popular form of entertainment for children, parents have begun to worry about their safety. Video games can be a lot of fun, but they can also pose risks to children if they are not used safely. Here are some things parents can do to keep their kids safe on video games.
Check Age Appropriateness
It is important for parents to pay attention to the age ratings on video games before allowing their children to play them. These ratings are provided by organizations such as the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and are designed to provide guidance on the appropriate age range for each game. Parents should make sure that the games their children are playing are appropriate for their age and maturity level. The rating “E for Everyone” is the most appropriate rating for children.
Limit Screen Time
Spending too much time in front of a screen can have negative effects on a child’s physical and mental health. Parents should establish rules around screen time and make sure that their children are taking breaks to rest their eyes and stretch their legs.
Enable Parental Controls
When it comes to video games, enabling parental controls can be an effective way to protect your child from potential risks associated with gaming. Most video games have built-in parental controls that can be customized to fit your child’s age and maturity level. These controls can help restrict messaging options, block inappropriate content, and even limit the amount of time your child can spend gaming.
To enhance security, it’s recommended to deactivate any unnecessary features. Certain games may necessitate the use of webcams or video, however, hackers have been known to exploit this feature to access personal information. Thus, it’s advisable to disable webcams and video when your child is not actively engaged in the game. Additionally, you may choose to turn off the webcam or video option entirely if it is not relevant to the game play.
Online video games often have features that allow players to communicate with each other, whether it be through text-based chat or voice-based communication. It’s important for parents to talk to their children about the potential dangers of chatting with strangers online. Personal information such as full name, address, phone number, or any other identifying details should never be shared with someone they don’t know and trust.
Play the Game
Playing video games with your child is an effective way to ensure that the game is safe and appropriate for them. You can also set controls and establish guidelines around acceptable behavior while gaming. Playing together can be a fun and rewarding experience, creating lasting memories and discovering shared interests. Overall, taking an active role in your child’s gaming experience can help them make the most of their favorite games while staying safe online.
In our home, we enjoy having video game nights as it is a fantastic way to bond with our children of all ages. Below is a list of our family’s favorite video games:
Surfing the Web Safely for Kids
With so much information and content available on the internet, it can be challenging to monitor your child’s online activity. Here are some tips on how to protect your child from online dangers:
- Pornography: Pornography is prevalent on the internet and can be easily accessible to children. Talk to your child about the dangers of viewing explicit content, and consider setting up parental controls to restrict their access to adult websites. Over 55% of tweens (kids age 10–12) have been exposed to violent content on the internet, and nearly 60% have come across sexually explicit words or images.
It’s important to talk with our children about inappropriate content and what to do if they see it. “Good Pictures, Bad Pictures” is a helpful resource to teach kids how to recognize and respond to inappropriate content. Encourage your child to seek your guidance before clicking on anything they are unsure about and establish clear rules around online behavior. Be prepared to help your child manage their feelings if they do come across something inappropriate and let them know they can come to you for help and support.
- Catfishing: Catfishing is when someone creates a fake profile to trick others into believing they are someone else. Teach your child about the dangers of interacting with strangers online and the importance of never sharing personal information with someone they don’t know. Set rules and time limits for using chat rooms and social networks, and always follow age restrictions for websites and apps. Encourage open communication with your child and let them know they can come to you for help.
- Sextortion: Sextortion occurs when someone threatens to share intimate photos or videos unless the victim agrees to do something for them. Discuss the importance of never sharing intimate photos or videos with anyone, even if they believe they can trust them.
- Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying is when someone uses technology to bully or harass another person. Talk to your child about the impact of cyberbullying and encourage them to speak up if they or someone they know is being bullied online.
Ongoing discussions with your child are crucial in preventing and addressing cyberbullying. Make sure your child understands what cyberbullying is and what types of communication are unacceptable. Encourage them to come to you if something online makes them uncomfortable.
Look for signs of cyberbullying such as spending more time online, hiding screens from others, and emotional responses to online interactions. If your child is being cyberbullied, gently ask what’s going on and acknowledge their feelings. Block the bully immediately and use site blockers and privacy settings for extra protection. Report the bully to website and email administrators, as well as school or law enforcement officials if necessary. Most social media platforms offer options to report a user or flag dangerous posts.
Other Helpful Tips to Protect Children in the Digital Age
As a concerned parent, it is important to prioritize internet safety for our children. With technology advancing at a rapid pace, we must protect our kids from harmful online content and encourage positive internet use. Here are some additional tips for online safety for kids:
- Keep your computer and devices in a common area to monitor your child’s online activity.
- Prohibit the use of devices in private areas such as bedrooms and bathrooms to prevent inappropriate behavior.
- Establish a bedtime for devices and keep the charging station in an adult’s bedroom to encourage healthy sleep habits.
- Keep your child’s GPS turned on to track their location.
- Ensure that devices are appropriate for your child’s age.
- Install software that blocks inappropriate content and allows for parental monitoring.
- Set rules and programs that require passwords or adult consent before your child can download anything.
By implementing these measures, you can help protect your child from online dangers and foster a positive internet experience.
As parents, our primary concern is the safety and well-being of our children. The digital age has brought about new challenges that we must face, but we don’t have to face them alone. With a nurturing and proactive approach, we can help guide our children through the online world and protect them from harm.
By taking the time to educate ourselves and our children on online safety and implementing the tips and strategies outlined in this guide, we can create a safe and positive digital environment for our kids to explore, learn, and thrive. Remember, we’re all in this together, and with love and attention, we can help our children navigate the digital world with confidence and security.