Ten Things Parents Can Do Right Now To Keep Kids Safe Online

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Our children are growing up with the Web as an integral part of their lives. However, along with all the wonderful resources the online world has to offer comes a dark side that we as parents need to educate our children about protect them as necessary. 

What are signs that a child might not be safe online?

safety online

Some warning signs that your child might be using the Internet in unsafe ways are:

  • Your child is online for excessive amounts of time, specifically when nobody is home, or late at night
  • You find pornography or other inappropriate or explicit photos of your child or his/her friends on your child’s computer or smartphone
  • Your child acts flustered or abnormal when you walk into the room by changing the screen, turning the monitor or quickly changing the view on his/her smartphone
  • Internet history and cookies are deleted regularly after your child uses the computer/smartphone browser

What is an appropriate way to respond if kids see something bad online?

The most important thing is to remember is that you want to keep the lines of communication open. Don’t overreact if you think that your child is viewing or using inappropriate or questionable content and websites.

Remember, these acts are not always malicious and your child may not know the severity of their actions, so calmly discuss with your child the dangers associated with visiting inappropriate web sites and be open to answering any questions they might have. It is not too soon to have these conversations. Do not wait until middle school to talk about consequences of inappropriate behavior online.

What steps can parents take to make sure their children are safe online?

For most families, the days of keeping the computer in a central location are over because so many kids have laptops and smartphones. Parents don’t realize that with smartphones, their children have the power of the Internet in their hands, literally. If your child has a laptop, you need to create a “doors open” rule when your child is on the laptop so that you may watch what they are doing.

Also, don’t forget to pay attention to what they are doing on their smartphone. Chances are that if your child has a smartphone, you are the one paying the bill. Set clear expectations when you give the smartphone to your child, that ultimately you, the parent, are the owner of the device, not them. Therefore you should have access to it whenever needed. Your job as a parent is to protect your children, first and foremost. Keep track of the hours they are using the phone and if there is an excessive use of data, as this can also signal dangerous behavior.

What about sharing inappropriate content online?

One of the things parents needs to be concerned about is the creation, sending and receiving of sexually explicit or suggestive digital videos across the internet. These videos can be easily produced via the high-definition cameras that come with most mobile devices, i.e. laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

Are kids aware of the possible danger associated with sharing content online?

Most kids are unaware of the dangers associated with sharing explicit or suggestive content online. One major risk associated with this trend is when predators use the sexually explicit content to locate the subject and bully or intimidate them to get sexual favors or additional material from the individual(s) in the video.

Other dangers include the content being made public, whether those involved know it or not, and the legal repercussions for having such content on your devices. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) study just revealed that 88% of self-made sexual or suggestive images and videos posted by young people are taken from their original online location and uploaded on to websites called porn parasite websites.

It is illegal to take, send or even receive sexually revealing pictures and videos of someone under the age of 17 (even those pictures meant for the high school boyfriend). Many states impose criminal penalties for sexting and Sexcasting. Child pornography laws can be referenced and the individual(s) who receives the sexually explicit content may be required to register as a sex offender.

How can parents approach the subject of staying safe online?

Let’s face it, this is not an easy discussion to have with your children, but the consequences of not talking about it could be significant and extremely dangerous. Here are some tips on how to handle the discussion:

  • Keep an open line of communication. Ask questions and listen with an open mind, be non-judgmental and focus on building a stronger relationship.
  • Use current events in the media about teens the same age as your child who have suffered as a result of poor decisions online. This can help make the reality seem “more real” to your child. Chances are, you can even find examples right in your own community.
  • Make sure your children understand the legal consequences. They need to know that consequences can be life-long and detrimental.
  • Talk about the emotional price tags of sharing inappropriate content online. Those videos and scenes might be forever available to future boyfriends and girlfriends, spouses, employers, children, and grandchildren.
  • Know how your child uses technology. If your child has access to a video camera, smartphone or other device that enables video production, make sure you have security controls in place that can monitor what is being recorded and control what is being shared.
  • Remember it is not enough to just keep technology devices out of bedrooms and in central locations of the home. Remember that the smartphone is a powerful tool that kids use to go online and that there is no substitute for a watchful eye.

How do you recommend we teach children about sharing safely online?

Remind your child that when a picture is posted or text is sent, that piece of information lives online forever. While they might delete that piece of information from their accounts, friends, friends of friends and friends of those friends may still have that picture or email in their inbox or on their social media account. Also, keep in mind that digital messages are often shared and forwarded to other parties. You cannot wait until your child’s photo is on the Internet to have this conversation because at that point it is already too late. This conversation must happen today. Don’t wait.

Further resources for helping kids stay safe on the Web

Make no mistake - the Web is a fantastic resource, to be sure, but kids don't always have the common sense and maturity to avoid the most basic of pitfalls. If after reading this article you would like more information about keeping your children safe online, please read the following resources: