Online Safety for Kids
As more and more companies throughout the United States and abroad adopt temporary and permanent work-from-home policies, it’s increasingly important that parents take online safety seriously. While working remotely can offer many great benefits, it does potentially put you and your family at a higher risk of various cyber-threats.
The recent influx in online traffic also presents the perfect opportunity for hackers and other malicious entities to take advantage of less protected systems and poor internet practices. Children, in particular, may be less informed about how to protect against possible threats. Taking the time to educate younger generations about these dangers and how to avoid them can be helpful, but more hands-on action is likely needed.
The unfortunate truth is that cyber-crime and abuse is here to stay. Internet use for entertainment and educational purposes is also on the rise and this trend isn’t likely to change anytime soon. This means it is up to you to take precautions to keep little ones safe as they learn and enjoy the internet.
Online Safety for Children and Teens
Luckily, there are several ways parents may be able to protect children and teens from encountering dangerous material, scammers, and other hazards online. You can take the first steps to safeguarding your household by becoming more educated about the various threats and establishing the necessary safety protocols. This page will take a more detailed look at potential online dangers for children and provide a comprehensive list of helpful tips and resources available to combat them. It will also address methods for creating and maintaining a safe online learning environment for students who are at home due to school closings, summer breaks, and holidays.
What Dangers Might They Encounter Online?
The internet can be dangerous for anyone, but young people are particularly vulnerable. According to the FBI, thousands of children become victims of various crimes each year. As some of the most active internet users, this demographic regularly faces potential threats from peers and strangers. Children and teens are often highly motivated by a desire for the attention or approval of others. This can lead to taking actions or sharing information online that is not appropriate.
Add to this the fact that young people often do not understand the importance of protecting personally identifiable information (PII) to online ‘friends’ or even strangers. PII includes any data that can be utilized to identify a single person including a social security number, mailing address, phone number, login IDs, and digital images. While many adults have learned to set social media accounts to private, children and teens are more likely to have public accounts. Eager to share experiences and engage with peers, this can often lead to extremely compromising situations. Even a seemingly innocent post including the dates of a future family vacation can lead to the house being targeted by thieves or vandals.
Similarly, it is extremely easy to share personal information that can damage future opportunities. Inappropriate statements and images can haunt children and teens years after they are posted, especially if obtained by college officials and/or future employers. Automated digital archives make it very difficult to truly remove anything from the internet and, once comments or photos are shared, even on private accounts, others can circulate them freely for as long as they want.
The risks are not limited to personal behavior, however. In fact, some of the most significant and dangerous threats come from other people who want to take advantage of your child or teen. The worldwide web is also overflowing with content that is unsuitable for young people and/or can negatively influence emotional development.
The internet is full of potentially inappropriate content that your child or teen can search for or find by accident. This includes sexually explicit content, images of violence, illegal activity, extremist websites, and profane language. According to a report prepared by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress in 2009, over 72% of college students surveyed reported viewing online pornography before the age of 18. Another study found that most participants were exposed to sexually explicit websites accidentally or unintentionally.
Bullying that occurs online is referred to as cyberbullying. It can take place via social media platforms, instant messaging, email, gaming communities, forums, or text and is generally characterized as the sharing of negative, harmful, false, or mean content about another person. According to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice, 15% of students age 12-18 were bullied online or by text in 2017.
Predators and Internet Offenders
According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, predators and other internet offenders pose a significant threat to young people. In fact, the Youth Internet Safety Survey (YISS) found that one in 25 youths received a sexual solicitation and were encouraged to meet offline. These individuals usually appeal to young people’s desire to be appreciated, understood, and learn more about sex. While some rare cases do result in abduction, forcible rape, and/or murder, most encounters result from the victim willingly seeking affection from the offender on multiple occasions. While children ages 12 and up can be targeted, teens age 13 to 15 are most susceptible to this danger.
Unfortunately, young people are also sometimes easy marks for internet scams because they have not yet learned to be cautious of offers that are too good to be true. It is relatively easy to lure them in with the promise of free access to online games or other forms of entertainment. Information gained from scams can be used in many ways, including identity fraud. According to the 2018 Child Identity Fraud Study released by Javelin Strategy & Research, more than one million children were victims of identity fraud in 2017.
Another threat is phishing, which is the sending of emails containing malicious links and attachments with the intent of stealing valuable information. Children and teens have a particularly difficult time spotting this type of correspondence because the documents are designed to appear legitimate. Content can appeal to the recipient’s fear, curiosity, greed, or obligation. Spear-phishing, or messages tailored to target certain demographics (i.e. children and teens), can be quite convincing. Information obtained can be used for financial gain or in other malicious ways.
Children and teens may also accidentally download malware onto personal or family computers. It’s especially likely for teens who are usually more comfortable downloading music, movies, or other media without the knowledge of their parents or guardians. This software, usually hidden and unknowingly installed, can perform a variety of harmful actions, including stealing personal information. Mobile malware is also on the rise. According to Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report 2018, the number of malware variants on mobile devices increased 54% in 2017. Young people may think they are only downloading a free game, computer background, book, or song but end up with much more than that working its way through their computer, putting not only their information at risk, but the information of the entire family.
Child grooming is yet another concern. It generally consists of an older individual becoming friends with or establishing an emotional connection with a younger person with the intent of lowering inhibitions so that a sexual encounter becomes more likely in the future. The resulting relationship may also be used to lure children and teens into other dangerous situations for profit, including child trafficking, child prostitution, child pornography, and/or cybersex trafficking.
Safety Basics for Kids Using the Internet
While there are undoubtedly many potential dangers to young people online, removing access to internet is not a realistic option. In fact, many schools require the use of tablets, laptops, and other smart devices for research and social connectivity purposes. Additionally, this would put your child or teen at a significant disadvantage later in life, as so much of society now relies on this type of technology. There are, however, steps you can take that will help keep them safer as they learn and continue to utilize the internet.
The act of keeping your child or teen safe online starts with becoming familiar with the various threats and regulations intended to prevent them. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), was established in 1998 and imposes requirements on websites and online services directed to children under 13 years of age. The act is intended to give parents more control over their children and/or teens’ online privacy and prevents entities from collecting personal information without parental permission. The more familiar you are with the various regulations, the more able you will be to identify and report violations, thereby helping to make the internet a safer place for all young people. If you find a website that violates the ruling, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online or by phone.
Sharing what you learn with your children is also important. Many of the worst online dangers could be mitigated or avoided if young people were more informed. Because internet use is integrated so completely into everyday activities, it is impossible to merely shield children and teens from the various threats. You must also give them the knowledge and tools necessary to protect themselves now and in the future.
Establishing household online safety rules is a great way to introduce the risks while also creating an enforcement process. Sit down with your child or teen to discuss potential dangers and then generate a list of guidelines that can help them avoid these dangers altogether. This ensures the entire family knows what the rules are and why each one is important. Consider including the following:
Do not give personal information (address, phone number, email address, parents’ phone number, etc.) without permission.
Tell parents if something online makes you uncomfortable.
Never agree to meet a person you know online in person, especially in private.
Ask for permission before posting pictures of yourself or others.
Do not respond to mean messages and report them to your parents right away.
Never give out your password to anyone for any reason.
Check with your parents before downloading or installing new software.
Always be kind to others when interacting online.
There are a variety of ways that you can help protect your child or teen from the many dangers of online use. The more precautions you take, and the more informed your family remains, the easier it will be to encourage safe and productive internet use.
- Educate Children and Teens
- Establish Household Online Safety Rules
- Promote Open Communication
- Encourage Kindness
- Discourage Sharing Personal Information
- Limit Computer Use to a Common Area
- Purchase a Security Suite
- Utilize a Password Management System
- Backup Data
- Prevent or Limit Downloads
- Protect Your Wi-Fi Password
- Set Up Content Filters
- Secure Social Networks
- Manage All Devices
- Check Browser History Frequently
- Watch for Behavioral Changes
- Continue Learning about Internet Safety
Supports for Parents Looking to Protect Children While They are Online
Fortunately, there are also numerous tools that give you control over access to certain online materials. Parental-control options are available on most internet service providers and certain software, hardware, and apps also give you the ability to monitor, track, and limit various activities. Every household is different and will have varying expectations. As a result, you will find that protective options vary significantly. Research each one thoroughly before determining which are best for you and your family.
Software generally describes a collection of computer programs, procedures, and documentation designed to perform a certain task. There are a wide variety of software options available for parents seeking to protect their child or teen from internet dangers. These programs can be downloaded on one or all of your household devices and work in the background constantly to promote a safer internet experience.
Most software is designed to allow for content and website blocking, which gives you more control over the information your child or teen will have access to online. Often, there are ways to set time limits on Wi-Fi and/or specific program use, including video games and video entertainment. Many also offer social media monitoring, as well as website history tracking. Additionally, some software will provide an alert when certain behaviors or language are detected.
While there are a wide variety of online safety software options available, some of the most popular solutions include:
Hardware generally describes physical equipment that can be connected to a computer or other technological device, such as a display monitor, printer, or video card. In terms of online child and teen safety, hardware will most likely interact with your home’s router or wireless gateway. When used properly, these devices can help parents protect the entire family.
Parents can use routers with advanced security and parental protections to block access to certain content and manage Wi-Fi usage per day, as well as monitor activity and see which sites have been visited. Some hardware already includes the option for establishing parental locks, but upgrades may be necessary to achieve your ultimate safety goals. It is also important to note that some devices might require regular updating to ensure the best and most efficient results.
While there are a wide variety of online safety hardware options available, some of the most popular solutions include:
In addition to software and hardware solutions, there are a number of apps that can help keep young people safe online. While similar to some software options, apps are generally designed to perform a smaller, more specific task. They also allow for real-time usage monitoring, making them an ideal oversight method.
The best apps provide the ability to filter content, limit screen time, block potentially dangerous apps and other downloads, monitor social media, and promote safe browsing. In most cases, parents will have easy access to one or more of the following: online activity reports, search history, access requests, time-extension requests, bad language alerts, and content filtering updates.
While there are a wide variety of app options available, some of the most popular solutions include:
Online Safety for Those Schooling from Home
Every child and teen is susceptible to internet dangers, but those who are homeschooled may be at an even at greater risk. While the web provides a fantastic learning platform for students and allows access to educational information 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it is important to be aware of the heightened potential for danger. Instead of limiting distance learning and collaboration between students in different locations, however, it is far better to adapt instruction accordingly.
Whereas teachers may have difficulty monitoring the behaviors of an entire classroom full of students, online or otherwise, parents have access to a variety of tools that provide them with more oversight. This actually provides the potential for superior control over precautions and, when done right, may even make learning at home the safer alternative.
To be eligible for discounts, internet access, and internet connections through the Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries, schools must comply with the Children’s Internet Protections Act (CIPA). This act mandates internet safety policies that block or filter access to images that are obscene, pornographic, or harmful to minors. At home, however, parents can implement the use of wide variety of hardware, software, and apps to do far more than just filter and block access to inappropriate photos. As previously mentioned, there are countless tools available that give parents the ability to monitor, track, and limit a wide variety of online activities. At home, however, it becomes the parents’ responsibility to safeguard internet use, which means they will need to enact the use of these safety measures sooner rather than later.
Online Kids Safety Resources
To ensure parents have the information they need to promote safe and productive internet use at home, many companies and organizations offer valuable resources. Many are designed to provide basic information about various online dangers and how to prevent children and teens from encountering them.
A non-partisan, non-profit organization, Enough is Enough strives to make the internet safer for children and families by confronting child pornography, child stalking, and sexual predation.
ConnectSafely.org is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating people about connected technology, online safety, privacy, and security through events, guides, media, podcasts, and webcasts.
By working directly with young people ages three to 18, parents, caregivers, teachers, and other professionals, Childnet provides advice and resources that help make the internet a safe place for children.
The Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC) combats crimes (including online crimes) against children by providing high quality research and statistics that can be utilized by the public, policy makers, law enforcement, and other child welfare practitioners.
- Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI)
An international, non-profit organization, the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) works with industry leaders, government, and the non-profit sector to create new solutions and policies regarding online safety, as well as offer safety messages, parental tools, seminars, and conferences to parents and educators.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) operates CyberTipline, which accepts and addresses reports of suspected online and offline child sexual exploitation and creates various prevention resources.
The Cyberbullying Research Center provides up-to-date information about the nature, extent, causes, and consequences of cyberbullying among young people.
A federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, StopBullying.gov provides information regarding state bullying laws and regulations, as well as training, advice for schools, and suggestions for bullied children.
The Federal Trade Commission offers a wide variety of resources to help parents and educators protect young people online including information on cyberbullying, computer security, online socialization, virtual worlds, and how to talk to kids about online use.
A leader in the technology industry, Microsoft is an excellent resource for online safety information and provides recommendations for protecting yourself and your family, as well as relevant research.
Safe Online Learning Resources for Kids
Despite the potential hazards, the internet can be an incredible learning resource for children and teens. In fact, there are a plethora of websites designed specifically to enhance learning from home. While some have associated fees, many are free.
Scholastic offers an instant-access, Learn at Home subscription for children ages four to 10 that tailors experiences based on age.
Coolmath.com covers a variety of mathematic topics in easy-to-grasp ways for people ages 13 to 100. Children 12 and under can access educational math games and more at Coolmath4kids.com.
Starfall is a free site designed to teach kindergarten through third grade children about language arts and mathematics through exploration, play, and positive reinforcement. A low-cost membership is also available.
TheKidzPage.com provides free access to educational games, fun activities, puzzles, and printables for children, as well as families, parents, and teachers.
Funbrain offers a wide variety of free reading and math learning resources for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Additional Sources and Resources:
- What is Cyberbullying? U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Indicator 10: Bullying at School and Electronic Bullying. National Center for Education Statistics.
- Internet Safety Education for Teens: Getting It Right. Crimes Against Children Research Center
- Phishing: Don’t Be Phooled! 2018 Public-Private Analytic Exchange Program. Retrieved on June 28 from:
- Crimes Against Children/Online Predators
- Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Federal Communications Commission
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