It’s virtually impossible to keep your kids away from the internet these days. From researching homework assignments to FaceTiming with grandparents, the internet is a fact of life.
Unfortunately, the internet is not limited to academia and family connections—the internet can be a risky place, especially for children. We’ve identified the top digital threats to your children’s well-being along with some tips for keeping kids safe online.
Internet Safety for Kids
The internet enhances our lives every day but, as with many technological innovations, there are downsides – especially when it comes to kids. For parents in the digital age, one of the most ever-present concerns is Internet safety.
That’s not to say the internet is solely a negative for kids and their development. There are plenty of positives that come with it. The internet gives them access to learning and information, exposes them to different cultures, allows them to do research on anything they’re curious about and helps them to keep in touch with family and friends.
Despite these positives, there are certain risks involved with letting your child go online. The reality is that kids are growing up in an increasingly digital age, which means parents have no choice but to eventually allow them to access the internet. The good news is there are steps you can take to make sure they’re doing it in the safest way possible.
The bottom line is that the internet is a tool. Like any other tool, it can be used to achieve good or do harm. It’s up to you to make sure that your child uses the internet for the former, rather than the latter.
The Dangers of Using the Internet
There are quite a few dangers lurking on the internet. Here are the top three potential threats that kids face when they log on.
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over devices like cell phones, computers and tablets. It’s basically any hostile, aggressive or mean-spirited harassment that occurs via electronic communication (text messages, direct messages, public social media posts, etc). As many as 34 percent of children aged 12-17 have experienced cyberbullying in their lives. Up to 11.5 percent have admitted to bullying one of their peers.
Online predators are adults using the internet to solicit children for sexual abuse or other types of child exploitation. The FBI estimates that there are anywhere between 500,000 and 750,000 sexual predators active on the internet in any given day. Predators will generally try to develop a relationship first with a child before attempting to arrange an in-person meeting, and the internet is unfortunately the ideal place for them to do just that.
Inappropriate content is one of the most prevalent threats that kids come across online and with regularity. It’s a broad term that describes all kinds of material you wouldn’t want your child to view. Everything from hate speech, extremely vulgar language, violent or sexual images can all have long-term effects on impressionable kids. One in five parents have said their children have been exposed to unwanted sexual material online and over 55% of tweens (age 10-12) have been exposed to violent content on the internet.
How to Keep Kids Safe Online
There’s no miracle solution for keeping your kids safe online. It starts with fully understanding the dangers yourself and communicating with your child.
How to Deal with Cyberbullying
- Understand: Do your research on where it happens online, how to spot it and the outward effects it can have on your child. Teach your child to be aware of any interactions that make them feel uncomfortable, threatened, scared or sad.
- Talk: Make sure your kids know they can come to you to talk about cyberbullying. Proactively starting the discussion before you see any of the warning signs is the best way to show your child that they can come to you with any digital bullying they face.
- Monitor: Institute a rule where the family’s computer or tablets are kept in a common space. If you let your children use social media, make sure that you have full access to their accounts and check direct messages as well as public interactions. Parental control software can be a great way to stay on top of your child’s online activity.
- Limit: Set time limits on screen time – and enforce those limits.
How to Protect Kids from Online Predators
- Understand: Learn where predators congregate online, the strategies they use to attract kids and how you can spot the warning signs in your child.
- Talk: Talk about what types of online interactions are okay and what aren’t. Explain to your child that online contact from strangers is never okay.
- Monitor: Like above, one of the best ways to keep your child safe is by putting internet-connected devices in a public space. Be sure that you check chat logs (if able) to make sure they aren’t speaking with anyone they shouldn’t. If you don’t recognize a username, look it up on Spokeo to search for the user’s identity.
- Limit: Make sure that you control all access your child has to digital cameras and photo apps on every device.
How to Protect Your Kids from Inappropriate Online Content
- Teach: Talk to your kids about internet etiquette, how to use search engines safely, how to identify a secure website (https) and when they should come to you for help.
- Talk: Tell your kids that bad stuff can come from all kinds of different sources, including text and direct messages. Talk about inappropriate websites, pop-ups and other sources of lewd or violent content.
- Relate: Talk to them about a time where you came across something inappropriate online. This will make them realize that they aren’t at fault and be less afraid to talk if something happens.
- Limit: Use whatever built-in child-safe features come with your devices. Block all websites that aren’t safe for children. Be sure that you’ve got all search engines set to Safe Search.
Is YouTube Safe For Your Child?
One area of particular concern for parents (due to its popularity amongst kids and teens) is YouTube.
YouTube is the most popular video sharing site on the internet. Over a billion people use YouTube and 400 hours of videos are uploaded to the site every 60 seconds, according to MLive. The vast scale of content uploaded means it’s difficult to control what your child watches on the site.
While there are content filters in place to recognize inappropriate content, it’s not a perfect system. There have been instances of violent or sexual content accessed by kids on YouTube before the videos were removed for violating the site’s policies.
Here’s an alternative if you’re hesitant to trust those filters – try introducing them to YouTube Kids.
The site is kid-friendly. It shares kid-oriented videos including cartoons, kids’ stories, and nursery rhymes. It also has some cool features that you can use to further control what your children watch. With YouTube Kids, you can disable the search feature on the site to disable recommended videos from appearing.
In addition, with a new parental control introduced by YouTube in September last year, you can use it to whitelist channels that you deemed inappropriate for your kids to watch. Or disable search functionality in general — so your kids can’t search for inappropriate content on the site.
If you’re still not comfortable allowing your child on YouTube, you can use YouTube alternatives. Sites like Nick Jr., Noggin, or PBS Kids are great because they feature curated entertaining and educational content that your kids are sure to enjoy – and learn from!