The internet is such an omnipresent part of modern life that it comes as second nature to our children. While many of us are still getting to grips with the online world, children are born into it.
This can be a great thing. If a curious child has a question, the answer is only ever a Google search away. Naturally, however, this is not always a good thing. Anything that can be used for good can also be exploited – especially where children are concerned. There is a fine line between innocence and naivety.
It’s important that we keep our children safe online. Thankfully, even though the internet can appear to resemble a lawless Wild West at times, there are a number of steps that we can take to do just this.
Important Conversations to Have With Our Children
Some children may take the internet for granted, not understanding the risks found throughout the online world. Ensure that you explain the dangers of the internet to your children.
There are three particularly pivotal pieces of advice that must be imparted to our children.
· Not everybody online is who they claim to be. The internet hosts a great many people pretending to be somebody else. This may just be for fun, or it could have a more sinister intent. provides useful advice on how to identify an online predator. If you have any reason to believe that your child is at risk of exploitation online, report the behavior to the .
· Everything posted on the internet is permanent. Your child will need to understand that the internet never forgets. Just take a look at various instances of social media posts coming back to haunt public figures in recent times. , a division of the national PTA, explains this is in greater detail. Explain to you child that they must always think carefully before posting anything on the internet.
· The internet is filled with amateur detectives. Children need to understand that even the most innocuous piece of information can reveal their identity. offers child-friendly advice on how to choose an online identity that cannot be traced. If information surrounding your child’s identity falls into the wrong hands, their address or personal contact details could follow. This will obviously result in their safety being compromised.
General Online Safety Advice and Resources
There is no shortage of information and guidance on how to keep children safe online. There are also a number of charities and private companies working tirelessly in this area. For more information on how to keep children safe online, take a look at some of these resources.
· is a charity dedicated to preventing children from gaining access to online pornography and other harmful material.
· provides child-friendly advice on how to use the internet safely.
· offers personal accounts of compromised internet safety, and general advice for staying safe.
· The discusses the dangers that could appear to children online. It’s a dry read, but an important one.
· is a densely populated site dedicated to all elements of online safety for children. is operated by the same team, and will appeal to older children.
· review various applications, websites and forms of media, explaining whether they are safe for children.
Safety on Social Media
When parents think of social media, they usually consider the Big Three networking sites.
· Facebook has a in place, which largely keeps children safe. Most interactions will also take place on a public wall, which you can monitor. The site also has a private messenger facility similar to email, but this .
· Instagram is entirely picture-based, and does not have a private messaging facility. This means that you will be able to see all of your child’s interactions, and keep an eye on them.
· Twitter is a tougher site to keep on top of. Many young people use Twitter to communicate, and they even attempt with their favorite celebrities on the platform. To keep your child safe, you can from appearing in their feed, and from interacting with – or even seeing – your child’s profile. Also explain that somebody in the public eye should have a blue tick by their name. This is called .
There are new social media sites cropping up every day, however. Some of the other popular sites and apps that should be approached with caution include:
· What’sApp is a text messaging platform that’s very popular with young people, as it enables picture messages to be exchanged for free. What’sApp messages can be encrypted, and easily hidden. It’s inadvisable for any child younger than a teen has access to What’sApp, and even then, it should be monitored.
· Snapchat is potentially hugely dangerous. This is a social media platform that enables pictures to be sent to users, which are then deleted almost immediately. If somebody knows your child’s Snapchat username, they can send them a message of whatever they wish. sheds more light onto the dangers of Snapchat.
· Kik is a new private messaging app that is becoming increasingly popular. According to , it is very unsafe for vulnerable people. The British website appears to back up this view, claiming that the site leaves children exposed to a high risk of sexual exploitation and above average risk of bullying, violence and criminal activity.
When monitoring your child’s messages, it may initially look like a foreign language that you do not speak. The internet comes with its own long list of shorthand acronyms.compiles a list of these. Some of them are truly terrifying to a parent. Learn them well, and understand what your children are saying online – and just as importantly, what people are saying to them.
Gaming and Video Content Online
Many young people now access all of their entertainment online. Streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu have replaced hard copy media such as DVDs for most teenagers.
That can make it easier for children to access material that you would rather they didn’t, even with adult filter blocks in place. Would you really be comfortable with your tween watching Game of Thrones, or Orange is the New Black?explains how set parental controls on your video streaming sites.
In addition to this, you should also keep an eye on video upload sites that your child may be using. YouTube is commonplace, but there are many others that you may not be familiar with. Check if your child is watching live streams of video games on, for example. It may sound like pulling teeth to you, but children and teens love it!
On the subject of video games, many young people play online with strangers. Monitor your child while they do this, and ensure they are not spending too much time online. Popular blogshares insights on how to keep your child safe while they play games online.
Blocking Content on the Internet
If you are concerned about what your child is looking at online, you can block particular sites. Your child may need to use Wikipedia for their homework, for example, but why would they need to look at an adult dating site?
· explains how to block particular searches in Google and other popular search engines.
· lists the many and varied pieces of software that parents can use to monitor and block sites that their children may be accessing.
· offers general advice on blocking adult content from your internet browser.
Many children struggle with bullying online. This can be a very serious problem, as in the modern age of smartphones and tablets there can be no escape from targeted harassment. There are a number of resources dedicated to helping your recognize, and prevent, cyber bullying. These include:
· is a charity that works tirelessly to put a stop to this harmful behavior.
· is a site dedicated to offering advice on this problem.
· The breaks down research on patterns and behaviors that surround online harassment.
· is a site that specializes in informing children as to what is appropriate behavior on the internet.
If your child complains about being bullied on the internet, take it seriously. It’s not as simple as just not going online. The web is too commonplace for this.
Please see below for a summary of the links that we have discussed throughout this article.
· Common Sense Media –
· Cyberbully –
· CyberBullyHelp –
· Cyberbullying Research Center –
· The Dadcade –
· Enough is Enough –
· Kids Health –
· Natl Center of Missing and Exploited Children –
· NetSmartz –
· Online Sense –
· Our Children –
· Smart Words –
· TeenSafe –
· Teen Angels –
· That’s Not Cool –
· US Computer Emergency Readiness Team –
· Web Wise Kids –
· Wired Safety –
Whether we like it or not, our children are living in the Internet age. While most previous generations were introduced to the online world later in life, it’s waiting for children today. This means that they may not possess the innate cynicism that can sometimes be pivotal to safety.
The Internet can be a great resource for children. They’ll have access to more information that any collection of print encyclopedias could ever hold, so for a curious youngster it’s a marvel. Sadly, the web also has a well-known dark side.
The truth is, you can keep your children safe online – and you can do so without looking over their shoulder every time they use a computer. You’ll just need to know a few hints and tricks. We’ll discuss techniques for a safety-first approach throughout this guide.
Blocking and Filtering Online Content
Children need to make their own mistakes, but there needs to be a limit to their freedom. Allowing children to place themselves in danger is a no-no, regardless of how liberal your parenting style may be.
With this in mind, preventative steps can and should be taken to protect your child from the darker side of the Internet You can place blocks and filters on a range of websites and platforms to prevent misuse from young people.
- Gadgets 360 explain how you can block particular websites on any online browser. This will not impact apps downloaded to a smartphone or tablet, but it’s a good start.
- Boomerang explains how to block app downloads on Android devices. Unfortunately, this is no longer an option with Apple devices. You’ll need to be vigilant about monitoring your child’s iPhone or iPad.
- Think about your child’s viewing habits, too. The likes of Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime do not have a watershed, and without restriction, anybody can watch anything. Mashable explains how you can set up parental controls on these video channels.
- Consider purchasing web filtering software. Pluckeye lists the options. With the aid of a filter, you can block sites that contain pornography, references or images to self harm, dating sites, references to drugs, or anything else that you’re concerned about. Check with your Internet provider before making a financial commitment, though. Some suppliers offer this service as standard.
Safety on Social Media
Social media plays a major role in all of our lives, but it’s more important than ever for young people. Children use social media to communicate with each other, and it allows them to feel connected to their celebrity heroes.
Unfortunately, the very nature of social media is ripe for exploitation. Opportunistic scammers set up fake profiles, imitating friends of public figures, and abuse the trusting nature of children. They may ask for money, or something even worse, such as illicit photographs.
Teach your children how to spot a fake social media profile – Cybint Solutions have a useful guide – and be aware of the additional risks to young people on social media.
- The American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatryexplains just why young people find social media so fascinating – and why it’s not always a force for good.
- Everybody knows about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but how about TikTok, Tellonym and Voxer? Family Education lists the many social media apps that young people may be using without your knowledge. Common Sense Media elaborates further on some of these.
- Gooseberry Planet discusses the latest and greatest risks posed to young people that use social media. Stay Safe Online and Get Safe Online also have some basic safety tips.
- If you spot anything untoward on your child’s social media channels, report it. The Family Online Safety Institute explains how to flag inappropriate content on every major online platform.
Dealing with Cyber-bullying, Trolling and Exploitation
Bullying used to be limited to the playground. That doesn’t make it positive, and we’re certainly not pining for a return to the ‘good old days’ when kids were just terrified to go to school, but bullying is now a remote experience.
Children can be picked on 24/7 through social media, making their life a constant misery. In addition, there are additional concerns. Children can be coerced into unsafe behaviors by nameless, faceless online entities.
- Trolling, or the art of being a nuisance online, is not currently a legal offense in the United States. Movements like Anti-Troll are attempting to change this. Mental Health America offers advice and support for anybody being trolled.
- ADLprovidesparents and guardians withadvice on identifying cyber-bullying. As the Pew Research Center explains, this is a significant problem throughout the country.
- Global Network discusses the terrifying realities of child sex exploitation, or CSE, online. Internet Safety 101 lists a wide range of acronyms and codes and every parent or guardian should be on their guard against.
- Online Sense discusses the early warning signs of online grooming, and other predator behaviors. You can identify the definition of grooming on US Legal.
Gaming Addiction and Excessive Screen Time
The dangers of the Internet do not only stem from strangers. Your child may be a victim of compulsion, becoming reluctant to detach from the screen and re-engage with reality. Sometimes, the virtual world offers a comforting and protective blanket.
If you are concerned about how much time your child spends online, do a little digging. We need to accept that the world has changed, and the lives of young people are more screen-centric than others. All the same, there’s always a limit.
- The University of Georgia has published an enlightening study on the impact of the Internet on young people.
- The Child Mind Institute debates the fact and fiction behind Internet addiction in young people. The Center for Parenting Education discusses this further.
- The World Health Organization now recognizes addiction to video games as a mental health condition, referred to as Gaming Disorder. Keep an eye on your child’s online gaming time, and be aware of the warning symptoms. Parenting Science also provides a common sense guide.
- The UK’s Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health discusses the impact of screen time on children, and provides advice on how to manage it. The Cleveland Clinic offers particular warnings about children under the age of 5 spending too time at the screen.
Use your judgment, and stay calm when assessing online risk. It’s easy to become overly protective when we read the mainstream media, and become convinced that nothing is safe. That can result in driving children further into the waiting arms of those that seek to exploit them.
Discuss online safety with your child, and make sure they understand that you are concerned for all the right reasons. With a productive, open dialog, you can forge a positive relationship with the online world.
Please see below for a summary of the links that we have discussed throughout this article.
- ADL – www.adl.org
- American Assoc. of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry – www.aacap.org
- Anti-Troll – www.anti-troll.org
- Boomerang – www.useboomerang.com
- Center for Parent Education – www.centerforparentingeducation.org
- Child Mind Institute – www.childmind.org
- Cleveland Clinic – www.health.clevelandclinic.org
- Common Sense Media – www.commonsensemedia.org
- Cybint Solutions – www.cybintsolutions.com
- Family Education – www.familyeducation.com
- Family Online Safety Institute – www.fosi.org
- Gadgets 360 – www.gadgets.ndtv.com
- Get Safe Online – www.getsafeonline.org
- Gooseberry Planet – www.gooseberryplanet.com
- Internet Safety 101 – www.internetsafety101.org
- Mental Health America – www.screening.mentalhealthamerica.net
- Online Sense – www.onlinesense.org
- Parenting Science – www.parentingscience.com
- Pew Research Center – www.pewinternet.org
- Pluckeye – www.filters.pluckeye.net
- Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health – www.rcpch.ac.uk
- Stay Safe Online – www.staysafeonline.org
- University of Georgia – www.getd.libs.uga.edu
- World Health Organization – www.who.int