It goes without saying that a driver’s permit and a set of car keys don’t mean a teenager knows everything there is to know about driving. The same is true for navigating the online world. Just because a child has access to the Internet doesn’t mean they know how to participate in it wisely. Use these 11 Internet safety tips for kids to help prepare your child not only to be safe but also thrive in the online world.
Internet Safety Tip for Kids No. 1: Be prepared for seeing the unexpected
A recent study indicates that 50% of kids ages 11-13 reported having been exposed to pornography. This is also the same age range where many children receive their first smartphone or tablet.
While it could be written off as a coincidence, dozens more statistics reveal a strong correlation between a child’s access to technology and their exposure to pornography. Circumstances that prevented or made it difficult for children to view explicit content were eliminated when the smartphone became a must-have item for every member of the household. Unfortunately, this means digital-savvy parents must familiarize themselves with where kids might be exposed to pornography and prepare their children to know how to respond if this happens.
Internet Safety Tip for Kids No. 2: Create a plan for how to respond to contact from strangers
Advances in technology now enable individuals to connect with anyone all over the world within seconds, many of whom they are meeting for the first time over the Internet.
Remember “stranger danger”? It’s trickier to navigate in the digital world.
Take heart: Ultimately, it’s unlikely your kid will be contacted by a predator. But with 1 in 25 youth receiving an online sexual solicitation where the solicitor tried to make offline contact, there is a possibility.
To protect your kid, it helps to understand how predators operate. The process is sometimes called “grooming,” and it often seems innocent at first. An adult may take an unusually special interest in a child, buy gifts for them, or connect with excessive flattery. While this may seem harmless initially, this can lead to a dangerous connection with a predator. This is why it’s wise for kids to never accept requests or reply to messages from strangers.
Be particularly mindful of social media. If they’re active on any platform, it’s not a question of if a child will meet someone online, it’s when. Even narrowing the radius to just your children’s known, trusted, and real-life friends poses possible challenges.
Determine what security settings your child should have on their profiles. Most platforms today have a commenting or messaging component — even exercise trackers or e-book profiles.
Even if some profile aspects are private, certain information on platforms can still be seen by everyone. For example, TikTok allows anyone, even if your profile is set on private, to see your username, real name (if provided), and bio. Dive deep into the privacy tab for each platform to keep your child safe.
Internet Safety Tip for Kids No. 3: Focus on being financially savvy
If you choose to give your child the ability to make purchases on their device, remember you are essentially trusting them with access to the credit card connected to their device. Careless purchases and online mistakes can have a life-long impact on your credit, so it’s best to offer clear guidelines before an accident happens.
Specific points to cover on this topic may involve:
- When and where to access financial accounts — for example, not over public Wi-Fi
- Approved methods for sending and receiving money in your family — apps like Venmo, PayPal, or Apple Pay, etc.
- Guidelines for if or when it’s appropriate to share social security information, driver’s license numbers, addresses, birth dates, phone numbers, or any other identifying information
- A purchasing threshold and which items require advanced parental approval, including in-app purchases
Internet Safety Tip for Kids No. 4: Beware of identity theft
Because your child may be fairly new to the concept of a digital footprint and identity, it’s worthwhile devoting a little extra time to discuss the serious nature of identity theft. From seemingly harmless activities, like impersonating a friend as a prank, to more serious offenses, like obtaining passwords and personal information, identity theft can come in many different forms.
More than one million children were victims of identity theft in 2017, and children are 51% more likely than adults to have their identity stolen, so this conversation is a worthwhile one. Err on the side of caution by ensuring they understand what identity theft is, how people do it, and why it can pose a danger to not only them but also those they love.
Internet Safety Tip for Kids No. 5: Avoid hackers and spam
Building on the concept of identity theft, encourage your child to use discretion when clicking on emails, links, images, and messages from unknown sources. While some online predators are seeking information for personal or financial gain, many hackers and spammers are simply seeking to wreak havoc.
Bottom line: Make sure your child knows to never click a link or reply to a text from someone they don’t know, or if someone offers them something, like a prize, even from a familiar company like Amazon. Those links are not often actually from where they say they are from.
Internet Safety Tip for Kids No. 6: Admit the temptation to be addicted to technology
We often think of technology addiction as something that only affects the workaholics among us, but this is no longer an adults-only challenge. A 2019 census reported that teenagers are now clocking as many as seven hours per day of screen time, and that’s not including the extra time spent on devices during the 2020 pandemic.
The challenge even extends to bedtime, with 72% of preteens and 82% of teenagers saying they sleep with their phone next to them. That’s why boundaries and physical limitations on where devices are used can help, especially if established when a child first receives one.
Technology should serve families first, not the other way around. It offers such a high level of convenience, instant gratification, and access to infinite knowledge, it’s a slippery slope to addiction.
For this reason, it’s critical for families to discuss the realities of tech addiction and make a plan to keep the entire family accountable. Beyond the unhealthy consequences presented by any kind of addiction, consider how incessant use of technology could be undermining your values and goals as a family.
Use any of these prompts to begin the dialogue with your family:
- What are our goals, values, and priorities as a family?
- How does technology move us closer to or further away from those goals?
- Are we using technology mindlessly or mindfully?
- What tangible steps will we take to make sure technology doesn’t overwhelm our lives?
- Where are our family’s “off-limits” times and places for technology, like during dinner or in bedrooms?
Internet Safety Tip for Kids No. 7: Be smart when participating in social media
Similar to the way the smartphone has forever transformed communication styles, habits, and preferences, social media has irreversibly changed how individuals socialize, conduct business, consume news, and entertain themselves.
The ability to broadcast any piece of content to a worldwide audience with the press of a button wasn’t possible only a few decades — when most of the parents reading this were children. Kids don’t have the maturity necessary to discern what’s smart to share and what’s not without being taught.
Social media can also impact a child’s self-esteem. 45% of teenagers say they feel overwhelmed by all the drama on social media. Roughly four in 10 report feeling pressure to only post content that makes them look good or will result in likes. And 26% say social media makes them feel worse about their own life.
Parents must treat social media as a powerful tool that their child must be prepared to handle maturely and responsibly. Each platform should offer a safety center where you can adjust the settings and parental controls to suit your preferences.
Your intention with these conversations is not to micromanage them, but rather it’s to set them up for success.
As your child begins to express interest in social media, consider incorporating these key topics into your discussion:
- Does your child need to notify you before opening a new account?
- What are the parameters on private versus public accounts?
- How will usernames and passwords be shared with you?
- What kind of content is appropriate for the specific platform?
- How much time per day can be spent on the specific platform?
- How can comparison, cyberbullying, and peer pressure sour the experience?
- What steps can we take together now, as a family, to ensure we stay emotionally healthy while using social media?
- What action should your child take when questionable situations arise?
- What consequences are there if agreed-upon guidelines are not honored?
Internet Safety Tip for Kids No. 8: Watch out for cyberbullying
59% of teenagers report having experienced cyberbullying, and Instagram is the platform where this happens most often. Cyberbullying doesn’t have to be within a social media app. It’s easy for a joke in a text thread to quickly deteriorate to trashing someone who is or isn’t part of it.
Words are powerful, and once they are spoken or typed, they can’t be taken back.
The way a kid talks to or about or another person can have defining effects in childhood and adolescence. Prepare your child to identify cyberbullying and how you hope they will respond, even if it might, at first glance, seem like “just joking around.” You might also consider a conversation about how they can respond and should come to you if they are the victims of cyberbullying via digital comments, pictures, or messages.
Internet Safety Tip for Kids No. 9: Respect the boundaries of others and ask for your own boundaries to be respected
Different families have different rules for technology, posting photos, and sharing information electronically. Remind your child that before ever posting or messaging a photo of someone or personal information about someone else to ask their permission. Also, when your child has a friend take a photo of them, encourage them to ask that friend not to share it digitally if they are not comfortable with it or if you don’t allow photos of your child to be online.
Internet Safety Tip for Kids No. 10: How to respond to talk about suicide, self-harm, and abuse
The anonymity of the online world (or seemingly anonymous feeling) can lead to some kids sharing things they wouldn’t typically share in person: suicidal thoughts, stories of abuse by others, and self-harm.
As your child begins to communicate digitally, remind them that they may hear stories from other kids (anyone under age 18) about these things and should tell a trusted adult immediately.
Breaking a promise to “keep a secret” for a friend could save a life.
Internet Safety Tip for Kids No. 11: Understand what to do if exposed to content involving drugs, violence, and illegal activity
Access to the Internet is a gateway to endless news stories, how-to guides, videos, and other content about drugs, violence, and illegal activity.
Whether your child sees images or reads a message from a friend, comes across a news story, or stumbles upon dangerous content in an online search, encourage them to talk to you about it immediately. They may not know how to process what they have seen or could even help someone who is in trouble.
Even more Internet safety tips for kids!
We created an e-book full of Internet safety tips for kids and so much more for children to be safe and wise in the online world. It focuses on digital citizenship, talks about parental controls in a way that helps your child experience freedom, and has guidance on how to create a Family Technology Agreement. In fact, we even have a great example that you can download and complete together.