For parents who want to provide internet safety for kids, life can get complicated. It’s easy enough to use parental blocks to prevent your curious children from viewing material intended for mature audiences. You can also stop your precocious kindergartner from buying the entire bestseller toy list on Amazon. But did you know that much of the danger comes from popular websites?
Even these seemingly innocent websites can prove to be dangerous places for children. The predators who target little ones know exactly where to find them. Let’s face it: the internet habits of children make it easy. After all, over two-thirds of all kids have a cell phone by age 12.
And what are they doing on them? According to research, chatting with strangers, viewing questionable material and giving out personal data to virtual strangers.
There is power in being informed as a parent. You can keep your children safer with a little knowledge, some frank conversation, and the right tools. Here’s what you need to know.
Basics of Internet Safety
From the moment those little fingers tap out the first query on a cell phone, tablet or OtterBox-encased computer, you can begin to teach your child how to be safe online. Children are entitled to some privacy, but for the first few years of computer use, it’s wise to keep a close eye on your child until you are sure he or she understands the basics of internet safety. Many problems can be circumvented by keeping computers out of your child’s bedroom. Instead, put them in common areas of the home so you can monitor what goes on. Follow these rules from the start:
- Conventional wisdom suggests that children should be at least 13 years old before they open a social media account. However, this is a personal decision and should be driven by the ability of your child to understand the consequences of their actions.
- Instruct children to keep private information private. You can get more specific with older kids, but you can’t go wrong with warning little ones not to give out any numbers.
- Set up strict privacy settings on children’s social media accounts. This prevents divulging information to strangers.
- Teach children about malware and phishing scams. Instruct them not to download anything or click on free offers. Don’t forget to run a periodic scan, such as Chrome Malware Scanner, to minimize the danger of unwelcome intruders that can steal private data.
- Warn children against posting anything on a website that they wouldn’t want Grandma to see. Remind them that once something is posted on the internet, there is no do-over. Deleting it will not make copies disappear — something that both children and adults tend to forget.
Hidden Dangers of Popular Sites
It’s impossible to block all of the websites that children should avoid. New ones crop up all the time. But there are certain categories to be aware of. Set expectations for the types of activities that they can safely engage in online, then watch closely to ensure that they follow the rules. These websites have features that might not be safe for kids to use unsupervised:
YouNow and Other Video Streaming Sites
YouNow allows users to broadcast from anywhere. It offers live streaming and video chatting with users from around the world. You must be 13 years of age or older, but there is no verification. Users can tip each other with points that are purchased for cash, meaning your child can get paid to broadcast their life.
There are many more but these popular sites also allow video streaming:
Omegle and Random Stranger Meetup Sites
This website offers a place to meet new friends and chat with random strangers. Anyone can sign up, although you are supposed to be 18 or older (again, there is no real age verification for this site). The home page of the site warns users to be careful because predators are known to frequent the site.
Other stranger meeting sites include:
ASKfm and Group Opinion Sites
ASKfm is an online social media site where users can post and answer questions. Everything you post appears on your profile. In the past, the site has been linked to cyberbullying and teen suicide. Reddit operates similarly, and allows users to post and respond to others anonymously — which can make it difficult to track what your child has been exposed to, and who might have compromised their personal information.
Remember that even on the most child-friendly websites, children must never arrange to go alone to meet another child they’ve connected with online in real life. Make sure your child understands that you will be involved in any physical meeting. It’s difficult to think of any circumstance where a child would meet an adult unless, of course, they win dinner with a celebrity — but then, you’d probably want to have chicken tenders with Taylor Swift, as well.
The Privacy Balancing Act for Children
As a parent, you’ll want to balance your child’s right to privacy and growing independence with your responsibility to provide a safe environment for your family. Children don’t always recognize the cues that signal danger. It’s important that you monitor your child’s online activity and keep close tabs on their friends and interactions.
Keep the lines of communication open. If you feel uncomfortable about any of the people in your child’s orbit, ask questions. If you need to do further research to ensure your child’s connections are presenting themselves accurately, you can use Spokeo to research names, addresses and emails. Much of our lives are public and, as a concerned parent, you can use the information to make prudent decisions to protect your child’s wellbeing.