Today is Safer Internet Day—9 Internet Safety Tips for Children and Parents

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Kids age seven and younger spend on average two hours and 19 minutes per day on screen media, and that number rises to about four and a half hours for kids ages eight 8 to 18.

Are you comfortable with what your children are watching, what information they are sharing, and who they are communicating with online?

According to PCMag’s 2018 Consumer Cybersecurity Trends survey, while the vast majority (76 percent) of parents are concerned about their child’s safety online, 36 percent of the survey respondents haven’t had proper education on cybersecurity, making it difficult to pass on that important knowledge.

In honor of Safer Internet Day, which aims to create a safer and better internet primarily by educating young people, let’s take a look at how parents can help keep their kids safer online.

The Internet Can Be a Risky Place for Kids

Let’s face it–anyone who uses the internet (both adults and children alike) is at risk for having their information misused. The difference is that a child likely doesn’t understand what information is safe to share online and may not be aware of the privacy settings on the devices, apps, and sites they use, or how to change them.

To make matters worse, many of the apps and sites designed for children actually solicit personal details from them—including seemingly harmless information like favorite music and games to more questionable details about where they live and photos of themselves and their friends.

In the more frightening scenario of a criminal who actually targets children, the criminal may use unique tactics that are hard for kids to resist, such as offers of free music or games, links to fan sites that contain malicious links, or messages that look like they are sent from friends.

Gaming May Open the Door to Mature Content, Predators, and Thieves

Sixty two percent of children play games in which they communicate online with other players, and this has parents concerned. Parents worry that a fellow gamer could be a sexual predator (75 percent), bully (61 percent), cybercriminal (60 percent), or drug dealer (37 percent).

Some of these fears are well-founded.

Gaming can allow potential predators to build trust and camaraderie with a child by playing as a teammate or even coming to their defense. Gaming profiles and playing history can contain a wealth of information about the child, and some games even have a feature that enables users to disguise their voice in chat sessions.

The Majority of Teens Have Been Bullied or Harassed Online

Teens may face particularly difficult challenges in the virtual world. Fifty-nine percent of teenagers in the U.S. have been bullied or harassed online.

Cyberbullying is defined as “willful and repeated harm” inflicted through the internet, interactive technologies, or mobile phones, such as humiliating posts or comments, threatening texts, or explicit or harassing images.

Fortunately, several organizations have stepped forward to provide anti-cyberbullying campaigns for teens, parents, and educators, including Common Sense Education and the U.S. government’s program StopBullying.gov.

Internet Safety for Children and Families

There are many ways you can better secure your child’s privacy, set guidelines, and start the conversation about internet safety.

  • Check Privacy Settings – Review privacy settings together with your child. InternetMatters.org provides step-by-step guides for how to set controls on a variety of mobile and gaming devices, and operating systems. Do the same for every browser, app, and social network your child uses. Pay attention to location services, sharing of contacts, photos and calendars, access to bluetooth, microphone or video, and advertising preferences.
  • Create a Safe Screen Name – The first thing your child might do when buying an app or joining a game is selecting a screen name, which is a great opportunity to talk about your child’s screen name and what it reveals about them. A safe screen name won’t divulge the child’s full name, age, where they live, gender, email address, or even seemingly innocent information like a jersey number. It also shouldn’t contain any vulgar or suggestive words as this can attract the wrong type of attention.
  • Train Them to Recognize Inappropriate Online Behavior by Others – Sometimes it can be difficult for children to detect intrusive or predatory behavior online. One option is to role play and talk with them about what they’d do if someone was asking nosy questions in person or was standing too close to them. Then talk about the online equivalent of that inappropriate behavior and actions they can take if they encounter it.
  • Discuss the Pervasive Nature of Information on the Internet – Explain to your child that usually what goes online, stays online. Even if a photo, post or comment is later deleted, older versions or screenshots may still exist. Encourage kids, no matter what age, to think about the language, photos, and videos they post online, as all too often employers, coaches, teachers, college admissions officers, or even the police may see the information. For older children, type their name into a search engine and talk about the results.
  • Practice the Basics of Cybersecurity – There are many techniques that both adults and kids need to know in order to avoid malicious links, email scams, or theft of personal or financial details to commit fraud or identity theft. ConnectSafely provides a thorough cybersecurity guide for parents, including advice on keeping software up-to-date, not clicking on unknown links or opening unknown files, avoiding email or phishing scams, using secure Wi-Fi and secure websites, and creating strong passwords.
  • Instill a Healthy Dose of Skepticism – It’s too good to be true, it probably is, and that may be particularly true for offers that pop-up for kids on the internet. It is helpful to teach children to navigate the internet with a healthy dose of skepticism, such as being wary of free offers movies, music, or software.
  • Make a Media Contract – Some parents find it helpful to write and sign their family guidelines for device and internet usage. Guidelines may include what type of information can be shared online, what photo or video content can be shared, and who children can communicate with via chat features. For younger children, rules can be relatively simple, like ‘Ask Mom or Dad first,” or “You can’t play a game at a friend’s house that we haven’t tried at home.” Common Sense Media provides a sample media agreement for families based on the child’s age.
  • Use Parental Control Technology – Parental control technology can help you filter out some inappropriate or malicious content, monitor internet use, and set time limits on device or internet usage. Common Sense Media provides some parental control technology recommendations based on specific goals.
  • Recognize Cyberbullying and Take ActionStopbullying.gov is one website that has resources for kids, parents, and teachers, including how to recognize and report cyberbullying.

What If You See Something Suspicious Online?

If you or your child sees offensive online content or other criminal behavior, document the activity as much as possible and report the issue to local law enforcement or the local office of the FBI. If you suspect an online predator, report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline. 

Happy Safer Internet Day

Safer Internet Day is a global awareness-raising campaign now celebrated in more than 100 countries. Safer Internet Day aims to not only create a safer internet but also a better internet, where everyone is empowered to use technology responsibly, respectfully, critically, and creatively.

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