What Are the Biggest Dangers?
There really are dangers kids face online, although the classic “They talked to a predator and got molested” is relatively rare. Here are some risks:
Cyberbullying, often by peers, is a huge risk when children get on social media. Even adults are often bullied and harassed or get into heated arguments that can cause issues.
Kids can easily stumble over material inappropriate for their age group. Pornography is a thing parents worry about the most, but younger children may also end up seeing nightmare fuel (such as so-called “screamers,” where an apparently innocuous video suddenly turns into a loud screeching sound that can sometimes trigger problems even in adults). Older kids are sometimes encouraged to send nude pictures of themselves.
Because kids aren’t as internet savvy as the rest of us, they’re more likely to click on a suspicious link and get their device infected with something nasty.
If they borrow your credit card to buy something or make microtransactions in a game, they’re less likely to make sure the site is secure. Kids are also really bad at remembering to log out of that school library computer when they leave.
Although not quite the huge risk that many think it is, there are people online who like to try and get kids and teenagers into relationships with them.
Posting stupid stuff that may come back to haunt them later
Adults aren’t immune from embarrassing social media posts, but teenagers are even more vulnerable. It may be as harmless as an ill thought out fashion statement, or it may be something that a future employer will look askance at, like a comment about underage drinking.
How Can You Keep Your Kids Safe Online?
There are a number of ways you can keep your kids safe online:
- Install parental controls. Make sure that the software you install has a good reputation and check to see what it filters by using it yourself for a while and ensure that it’s configured correctly. Most parental controls have forums where you can report both that inappropriate sites are getting through and that stuff is being blocked that shouldn’t be. Also, teenagers may resent parental controls. Always make sure that you are open with your child about what you might be seeing on their devices. There is a balance between spying on your child and keeping them safe.
- Make sure all of your child’s devices are kept up to date and have anti-virus installed. Depending on age, they may be able to handle it themselves. In fact, older teenagers may know better than you what the best malware protection is. Put a firewall on computers, both yours and theirs.
- It is illegal for children under 13 to be on social media. Don’t encourage them to lie about their age so they can be on Facebook to talk to grandma. Some online games allow children under 13 with strict restrictions including parental consent. If your child wants to be on a game like that, make an account yourself so you can check it for inappropriate content and see what the social atmosphere is.
- With younger kids, keep the family computer where it can be seen, so you can monitor screen time and will see quickly if they stumble across something inappropriate.
- Check the settings on their social media account, setting privacy settings high and explaining to them why it is important to keep them that way.
- Consider signing up for a VPN to protect your entire household from internet prying and hacking.
- Have a conversation with them about internet safety. This is by far the most important thing you can do. Even young kids should be kept in the loop about both the good things and the bad things about being online.
How can you Educate your Children to Keep them Safer Online?
Practicing good cyber education is a key factor. As mentioned, you should have a conversation about internet safety.
Here are some things you should go over with them, as they become mature enough to understand:
Respect age limits on sites and don’t try to circumvent them
Some parents will actively encourage this. Don’t be those parents. Remember it’s not just against the ToS, in some cases, it’s against the law.
Be careful about talking to strangers online
Make sure they know not to post their address, phone number, school, or pictures. Encourage children who are in chat rooms to use a username or handle rather than their real name, especially on online games.
When kids are old enough to have a Facebook account or similar, go through the privacy settings with them
Make sure they default to sending to friends only. Ideally, give them tips on how to identify fake or scam profiles, such as a lack of other friends. To start with, approve everyone they friend on Facebook, and explain why you are not approving certain friends so they will start to learn how to identify problems themselves.
When you give them their first smartphone or tablet, go through the setup process with them, and explain what they should allow and what they should not
Talk to them about apps they are not allowed to download and why. Parental controls can be set so they need a password to download apps, whether all apps or a subset. Make sure they know not to download apps from anything but official stores.
Talk to them about cyberbullying
Explain from the start that they can always block somebody on social media who is annoying or getting to them. Encourage them to come to you if they have a problem. If necessary, you can then intervene. For example, if the person bullying them is a teacher or sports coach, you may need to step in.
Make sure they know never to arrange to meet with someone they met online or give somebody they only know online the means to track their movement
For example, young kids should only friend people they know on Pokemon Go, as when they send gifts the app will tell the friend where the gift was sent from, which could reveal their location.
Ensure that kids never send compromising or nude photos of themselves to anyone
As a note, minors have been arrested for having child pornography for having nude pictures of themselves. Sexting is, in any case, not behavior that should be encouraged.
Communicating with your kids is the best way to keep them safe online, far better than any kind of parental controls or similar.
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