Internet safety for children has become an essential tool for parents with the continuous advancement of the digital age. Parents can’t simply keep their children away from the internet as a cyber safety protocol. To do that would be to ignore all the advantages of the internet and make decisions based solely on the possible dangers the internet poses. Teenagers will always be more tech-savvy than parents so education has to be the main line of defense. A child with a mobile-enabled device can overcome any technology you may install at home. The strongest method that you can use is to have a clone of their phone on an old phone you may own. However, you may understandably feel this goes against your relationship of trust. Stories, such as a the suicide of Molly Russell obviously concern us all. But shows that these things can happen to any of us.
“We often hear so much about the risks associated with children using the internet, but less about how we can build their online resilience and digital skills,” said Priscilla Idele, Deputy Director at the UNICEF Office of Research in Florence, Italy. “We should help children navigate how to use the internet in the same way we help teach children how to cross the road.”
This article discusses internet safety for children, what you can do in the short term, and, more importantly how they can learn to look after themselves.
Understanding the Dangers to Children Online
To protect your child properly, it’s vital to understand the dangers for children online. They include:
- Oversharing. Oversharing is one of the passive dangers of being online. Many adults struggle with this because there’s such a thin line between sharing and oversharing. An example of oversharing includes posting intimate details about personal drama, family, and friends. Other examples of oversharing include sharing private videos, posting embarrassing pictures of oneself or others, and putting everything one is doing online, including meals. Oversharing can come back to haunt your child later in life.
- Inappropriate and Unsafe Content. Another danger is the possibility of encountering inappropriate content, such as pornography and obscene language. For places like Twitter and Facebook, all it takes is for someone to retweet or share a post, and your child will inevitably encounter it.
- Cyberbullying. Cyberbullying and cyberstalking are prevalent dangers online too. The former involves using social media to deliberately harass, embarrass, threaten, intimidate, and torment another person. While the latter involves the use of social media to repeatedly contact someone to the point of making them fear for their safety.
- Fraud. Then there are the dangers posed by phishing and piracy. Phishers use seemingly real social media profiles to direct naive users to phishing websites, where they can collect sensitive information such as credit card details and social security numbers. They can also use them to target your child into disclosing images or details that they can use against them. For instance, manipulating them to do things they would not otherwise do.
- Avoiding Viral Stories. It is not just inappropriate content, sometimes images and news goes viral that young children will find disturbing as they are not emotionally ready to handle. It is important that, if you think this is the case, you help them.
Ways to Keep Your Child Safe Online
Having highlighted some of the dangers of using the internet, below are ways of keeping kids safe on the internet.
- Start discussing online safety early. It’s crucial to start talking to your children about internet safety early. “I think one of the key things is to start discussing online safety with your children at an early age when they start to do anything that involves the Internet,” says David Emm, a senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab. This presents you with the opportunity to explain how the internet works, the dangers involved, the signs to look out for, and the tools available to enable safe usage. Make the discussion an ongoing one.
- Explore the internet together. Going online with your child lets you share their experience while also checking the apps and people they interact with. If you spot any odd or inappropriate behavior, explain to your child why it’s inappropriate and how to do things going forward. Teaching your child about the internet isn’t something they’d grasp in one sitting. So taking the opportunity to go online with them is a way to keep the lessons going. If you think of it as becoming ‘street smart,’ it gives the idea that it takes years. And you just send your child out on the street to learn how to act around drug dealers etc.
- Agree on boundaries and rules. When your child starts using the internet, you need to agree on boundaries and rules together. One of the first rules you should set is screen time. Let the child know the designated time for surfing the internet. This protects them from getting hooked, leading to internet addiction. Another critical thing to agree on is a code of conduct, such as online behavior, appropriate content, and language. Discourage oversharing and plagiarism; encourage fact-checking. Teach the child always to keep their location private. Many devices have geotagging features that can reveal a user’s whereabouts, increasing the likelihood of predators or stalkers coming after them.
- Use technology to protect them. Younger children who use the internet may need extra help. Your child can mistakenly click on a malicious website or enter a search term. The search engine misreads their search intent, bringing a different set of search results. This can prompt the child to veer off. It is the same with adverts on a page that may be linked to a search that you did earlier. Software can filter the web, protect webcams, block malicious websites, stop online tracking, and ensure safe searches. Typically, this software is versatile and family-friendly, such as Qustodio, Circle Home Plus, Sophos, Cloudflare Gateway, and Safe DNS.
- Teach them what to do about online harassment. The likelihood of experiencing online harassment is fairly high for internet users. According to Security, the probability of online harassment increases by 2 percent as children get older. So it’s crucial to teach the child what to do in case of online harassment. First, encourage your child to let you know about any online harassment. In cases where you’re not home, the child needs to know that they need to take a screenshot of their screen and save it as evidence, especially when the messages contain severe threats. Then they need to sign off or quit the conversation immediately, report to the social media company where applicable and block the harasser. The child needs to resist the urge to react to those messages. Online bullies are always looking for a reaction.
- Stay vigilant. Even when you’ve done everything right, it’s vital to stay vigilant. Children might not always report issues they’re having online. You must keep an eye out on their mood, especially coming off the phone or computer. Does the child withdraw? Do they come off as moody and sad? This may be a sign that something is going on. On the flip side, your child can also be the one doing the harassment. Children are difficult to understand sometimes. If your child is bullying someone online, there are subtle signs to look out for. They get angry when they can’t use the computer or when you ask about their online activities. Other signs include increased aggression, unexpected falling out with close friends, multiple emails and social media accounts, and spending a lot of time online and simultaneously on the phone with friends. Suppose you notice a combination of the signs above. In that case, you may want to speak with your child to understand the situation better.
Final Thoughts on Internet Safety for Children
Internet is too broad a term to mean one thing. Do we mean cyberbullying or fraud? Access to porn to gambling? There are many forms of technology and software that you can use to make it harder for your child to access inappropriate sites. You can be vigilant and confiscate your child’s phone if they are doing something that is wrong. However, the most important thing you can do is talk to them. Let them know that pornography often has a human cost, both to those appearing in it, and they themselves have a mistaken idea of what normal is. If you would not tell a stranger in the park something, don’t put it on social media. We have many articles on this section of the site going through each of these topics. But, like most things, just keep talking to your child.