Kids and Internet Safety

As parents, we cannot watch our children every minute. This is especially true as kids surf the Internet and use social networking sites. Used safely, the Internet can be a rewarding experience for children.

The following strategies will help our children benefit from using the Internet and avoid its potential risks.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 23% of nursery school children in the United States use the Internet, 32% of kindergarteners go online, and by high school 80% of children use the internet.

What should parents do to promote safety on the Internet?

  • Talk About It: The single most important thing you can do as parents is to have a discussion with your children about the rewards and risks of Internet use.  Help them understand what information needs to remain private (i.e., their full name, address, social security number, phone number, family financial information).  As part of this dialogue, ensure that you talk to your children about avoiding sex talk online.  Recent research shows that teens who don’t talk about sex with strangers online are less likely to come in contact with a predator.
  • Set Limits:  Develop reasonable Internet rules with your children (i.e., time of day, length of time, people they may communicate with, and appropriate areas for them to visit when online).
  • Take extra steps to protect younger children.
    • Keep the computer in an open area so you can keep an eye on what your children are doing online.
    • Use the Internet with them to help develop safe surfing habits.
    • Take advantage of parental control features on some operating systems that let you manage your children’s computer use, including what sites they can visit, whether they can download items, or what time of day they can be online.
  • Choose search engines carefully. Some are designed for kids, and others offer kid-safe options. Google offers “Safe Search” to filter inappropriate content.
  • Use privacy settings to restrict who can access and post on your child’s website.
  • Tell your children that when they come across any material that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused to immediately tell you or another trusted adult.  Let them know that it is not their fault.
  • Help kids find information online. By searching the Internet together, you help them find reliable sources of information and distinguish fact from fiction.
  • Know how your children are getting online.  If they are doing so through their cell phones, find out what limits you can place on their phones to ensure safety.
  • Talk to your children about online bullying and let them know that it’s okay to come to you if they feel threatened or bullied online.

Strategies to make E-mail accounts safe

  • Talk with your children about their E-mail accounts and discuss the potential risks involved (i.e., senders sometimes disguise themselves, pretending to be someone else, for illicit purposes—this is known as phishing).
  • Teach kids not to open spam or E-mails from people they don’t know in person. Remind them not to respond to any online communication in a sexually provocative way.  Ask them to show you suspicious communication.
  • Report E-mails with evidence of online sexual exploitation to the CyberTipline at www.cybertipline.com or 800-843-5678.

Tips to minimize risks involved in social networking

  • Urge your children to restrict access to their profiles so only those on their contact lists are able to view them.  Explain to them unrestricted posting of profiles places their personal information in a public forum and could put them at risk from those who wish to take advantage of such information.
  • Encourage them to choose gender-neutral screen names or nicknames—such as their initials or a word.  Make sure the name doesn’t include information revealing their identity or location.
  • Visit social networking sites with your kids and exchange ideas about what you think is safe and unsafe.
  • Ask your kids about the people they are communicating with online.
  • Insist that your children never give out personal information or arrange to meet in person with someone they’ve met online without first checking with you.
  • If your child receives an IM from someone they don’t know, tell them to block the sender.
  • Encourage your children to think before typing.  Is the message they are about to send hurtful, mean or rude to someone else?

Minimizing risks for posting videos and photos online

  • Your children need your permission and supervision if they choose to post photos online or use webcams.
  • Do not allow your children to post photos of others—even their friends—without permission from their friends’ parents.
  • Remind your children that once images are posted online, they can never get them back.

Additional information can be found from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

*U.S. Department of Education, “Rates of Computer and Internet Use by Children in Nursery School and Students in Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade; 2003,” in Issue, Brief, October 2005, page 1.

Much of this information is taken from a handout entitled “Keeping Kids Safer on the Internet” and a handout called “FTC Facts for Consumers:  Social Networking Sites:  A Parent’s Guide.”  For additional information, please contact www.cybertipline.com or 1-800-843-5678, visit www.NetSmartz.org, or www.onguardonline.gov.