Children are spending more time online than ever before. Although this can be a rewarding experience for them and allows them to learn new things.
There is the darker side where all manner of menaces awaits to take advantage of their innocence.
The internet is becoming an increasingly dangerous place for children to hang out. While threats may not be obvious, the culprits are coming up with more devious ways to lead children into a false sense of security.
There are countless ways that children are under threat, from exposure to inappropriate content to identity theft, or they are befriended by sexual online predators in social networking who tries to encourage them to meet in person.
In this kid’s guide to internet safety, we will look at what the threats are, and what parents can do to help their children remain safe while they are browsing the internet.
COPPA and How it Helps Protect Children
COPPA is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. It was written in 1998 in the US and was to protect the privacy of children under 13 years of age.
This is now becoming more strict. Any site which seeks personal information from children, without the express permission of a parent or guardian, can find themselves in trouble.
This can help, as sites need to take the responsibility of what they do, but it can only go so far as kids will still have access to these sites.
Social platforms are one area where children under 13 are disallowed from using the services, yet in reality, many children are using these services like there was no law in place.
Internet Safety is Important
Children that are at school-age love to go online for all manner of reasons. They either connect with friends and family; they play games or watch videos.
With some luck, children will be using the internet to do their homework or school-related activities.
Nowadays, with the changes in technology, they can do this with desktop computers, tablets, TV’s and tablets, or laptops.
Children of this age or younger are becoming more independent while online. In the majority of cases, they are unsupervised, or they sit in such a position, the parent has no idea what they are watching or accessing.
Children can be online interacting with anyone, and parents are none the wiser of their children’s activities.
There needs to be some form of internet safety in a home or on a child’s device. There can be much of it that is common sense, yet in many cases, children are more tech-savvy than their parents.
Online Risks for School-age Children
When you begin looking at the risks younger children face, these can be grouped into three specific areas.
- Risk of dubious content: here, you can find anything that children may think is disgusting, upsetting and makes them feel uncomfortable. This kind of content is often discovered accidentally or has been placed by predators who want children to find it.
All this can include pictures or videos of cruelty to animals, pornography, and even simulated or real violence.
- Risks of contact: This can be one of the worst situations any parent wishes to face. From adults posing as children in social media to attract kids for all manner of reasons. It can be to glean personal family information like social security number or phone numbers, among other things.
The worst scenario being the online chats can be to make a child feel comfortable where they agree to meet face to face.
- Risks of conduct: Here, you can find they are either a victim or a perpetrator. They can either be a victim in cyberbullying, or they are the bully. Aside from this, they can take spite of against something a friend or sibling has done, or they can make in-app purchases while online without anyone knowing, including themselves.
When you look at the statistics, it can be harrowing for parents, yet it is sobering that they have to take action in one way or another without making their children feel like they are the ones being reprimanded.
Here are a few online statistics which show the extent of online problems.
- Over 45 million children between ten and seventeen use the internet
- Online crime is seeing an increase in children being the victim
- 20% (1 in 5) of children who frequently use the internet has been solicited sexually
- 25% of children have seen pornography that has been sprung on them rather than by choice
- Around sixty percent of teenagers are contacted through instant messaging or email by strangers. Around half of these children have replied to this contact.
How Much Supervision Do Parents Give?
The above statistics can be shocking, and these are just a few of the real story. Once we know this, anyone would tend to think parents are always giving their children the correct supervision while they are online.
This, in reality, is far from true as these statistics show:
- Up to twenty percent of parents don’t supervise their children at all when they are on the internet
- A little over fifty percent of parents offer little supervision of their children when online
- Nearly 75% of parents don’t supervise their children when online once they reach the age of 14
- Almost three-quarters of teenagers claim their parents have no clue as to what their online activities consist of
It can be easy to lay blame on parents, but as there are so many devices which the internet can be accessed, it is nearly impossible for parents to monitor all their children’s activity while online.
However, one of the key things parents should do, and according to more statistics, they aren’t doing.
Parents need to talk to their children about online safety. Statistics show that less than half of parents are speaking to their children about theirs, or other online behavior.
Just under this figure (around 40%) are parents who speak to their children about staying safe online.
From here, there are ten percent of parents who don’t want any parent control or wish to talk to their children.
In the last two places are parents who want to talk about it, but don’t feel comfortable. Then there is the same percentage of parents who do wish to speak to their children, yet the children won’t let them.
Rather than appearing like law enforcement, parents need to speak to their children while respecting their child’s online independence.
Top 10 Safety Tips to Keep Children Safe Online
Here are ten tips you can follow, which help to beef up online security. These can be done quickly and without much effort.
1. Make sure computers are in a home’s common area
While this doesn’t stop predators from making contact. It can make children more aware you are watching.
It doesn’t mean you have to see what is on the screen, yet it can make them conscious of what they are doing.
On the other hand, if your child is facing a cyberbully or a sex offender is trying to become acquainted, it can be more difficult for them when you can see the actions and reactions of your child.
Many of these issues when children take their laptops or phones into their bedroom, and they have no one watching over them.
2. Understand computers and the internet
There is a new generation of kids who know more about computers and the internet than their parents.
One of the best starting places to help kids stay safe online is to understand the technology.
You can find information on this from your ISP, online resources, or you can purchase many books on the subject.
Rather than a physical book, you can purchase an online version where you can read it on your device.
3. Spend internet time together
If you wish to talk to your kids without confrontation, this can be one of the easiest ways to go about it.
There is so much you can do online as a family, from watching movies to browsing the web. As you go along, you can switch on the safe filter on your search engine and spend some time going through the internet.
Parents can find this is the best way to deal with cyber safety for kids without sitting them down and preaching to them of how they need to behave.
4. Children’s behavior and gifts
Any guide to the internet will inform parents to keep an eye out on the behavior of their children.
Even when children are a victim from a predator or a bully, they can become defensive as they think they have done something wrong.
Additionally, they can be hiding the fact they are communicating with someone online, or they are up to online activities they don’t want parents to know about.
One thing to add to this is if your children appear to have something new. Many predators send children gifts or some token to show their affection toward a child. This is a means of seducing children.
This means they have met online and agreed to meet in person, or they know the address where to send such gifts.
5. Know children’s passwords
Depending on the age of your children, it is advisable to create an account specifically for them. You can do this under your name so it won’t expose your child’s name.
You will also have a password for this, so let your child know you will be checking their account on occasions to be sure everything is in order.
Parents who spy on their kids in this manner can find they lose their child’s trust. However, there are ways you can carry out monitoring of devices that are internet-connected and used by your child.
6. Limit chat room exposure
Children and teens will make use of chatrooms and instant messaging apps. These can be a great way to keep in touch, yet it is these which predators hang out.
It may not be possible to stop children from visiting chatrooms, yet make sure their time is limited.
You can also enforce that kids are sure they know the person they are talking to. These can be strangers who are trying to meet in person.
7. Set reasonable time limits for internet use
This can be one of the most challenging things parents try to do to keep their kids safe. Kids won’t want to be restricted in their internet use, but it is one of the most effective ways to keep kids safe online.
If they are using the internet for homework, then this time shouldn’t be included in their allocated times.
It is hard enough to tell them when to stop, but cutting this down with studies will make it almost impossible to enforce.
8. Check browsing history
Parents may feel they are spying, yet if they check on their kid’s browsing history, they can see if any sites have been visited, which shouldn’t. Not all online threats are from outsiders, and children instigate some.
9. Uploads or downloads
One of the ways children compromise themselves is by downloading some software that is full of malware.
This will leave the system open for anyone to use as they wish. One other area of this is where children want to upload pictures of themselves at someone’s request, or they want to send the child a picture of themselves.
Always make sure a child never uploads or downloads anything without your permission.
10. Call the police
If you feel something is wrong and your child shows signs that they are being approached, the best thing to do is call 911.
Doing this and not touching your computer until it has been looked over for evidence can help stop or catch an online predator who makes contact.
How to Protect Children Online
Even with all the safety tips above, there are things you can do to make sure you protect children online.
Here are some of the best ways you can do this.
Use Modern Internet Browsers
Instead of using the default, which comes with your device, like older computers, which still run IE. The newer ones do a lot to protect every person who goes online.
You can choose from the incognito mode, which clears browsing history, site data, and cookies or any information entered into online forms.
The information which may still be visible is your ISP, employer, or school and any sites you visit.
You can also install browser extensions that block ads and prevent any tracking sites from following you. Two of the best for this are uBlock Origin to take care of the ads and Disconnect Me is one of the top extensions for preventing tracking. Ghostery and Privacy Badger are great alternatives. All these are free for use.
You can find many of these available packages, and what they do is watch everything that happens on a device.
It allows parents to see what their child sees. Some can see inside social media apps, and the better ones send email alerts if there is suspicious activity seen.
This can be inbound or outbound when a child tries to access a site or something the software deems as suspicious.
It does need this app installing on a child’s device, and luckily, some will not show they are active and running while your child is online.
Parental Control Software
The above monitoring software can come as part of a parental controls package or as a standalone piece of software that watches all the online activities explicitly.
However, for parents who want to stop these threats from reaching their child, they can use security software, which automatically adds parental controls.
The newer forms of this are all built on top of antivirus and malware software. This protects against cyber security threats at the base level while offering much more for child safety by what is happening while they are actively online.
Some of the features you need to check with this kind of software are:
- Time management
- Suspect activity alerts and reports
- Blocking of pornography and other adult-oriented content
- Child-friendly internet filter
- Controls parents can easily set
Set Parent Controls Manually for All Devices
Even with some software setting these child internet safety controls, they may not cover all devices.
Not all apps run on every device, so knowing how to do this can be a safer way of protecting children online.
One thing to note is that even though these are effective, they are still not a 100% guarantee, nothing can compromise the safety of a child when online.
Here are some of the more popular areas where you find these controls:
Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) can be an excellent way to begin managing what your child can access online.
A lot of what is available will depend on your internet provider; however, if your child has a smartphone, you will need additional protection unless your child uses a data connection through your provider.
Operating system controls will offer a degree of commands you can set. Windows allows parents to set times, games that can be played, or any programs which can be accessed.
Apple has a filter that can use three modes. Unrestricted, whitelist, and automatic. All parents need to do is choose the appropriate one that matches the age of your child.
Controls are also available for Android and iOS, iPad devices. Parents can turn off in-app purchases, social platforms, Bluetooth, and access to the camera.
Aside from this, both Apple and Google allow restrictions on what can be accessed from their relative stores.
We have seen how browsers can block content, and each developer will have more in-depth articles on how to set these. Check Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.
Search engines also allow a degree of control with the safe search. Google, Bing, and Yahoo all have controls, or you can install and use one of the child-friendly search engines which are available.
If you use video sites, then there are some which come with controls to restrict access.
YouTube, as part of Google, can limit content and should improve with COPPA in the next couple of months.
Netflix also has levels you can set for varying degrees of maturity. You can locate this in your account and under manage profiles. You have four you can choose from and comprises little kids, older kids, teens, and adults.
What Else Can I Do for Children’s Online Safety
All of the above look at stopping bad things happening on the internet through setting controls. However, to a degree, all of these can be circumvented.
There is one hardware device you can use for all your devices at home. Circle with Disney connects to your network and allows you to set any of the limits to all the devices from one app.
This takes things to the next level for controlling how children interact with the internet while making it easy for parents to manage.
One other area which is highly beneficial is through the use of a VPN. With military-grade encryption, no one can see what you are doing online.
Add to this, and you can set the client app to be in another city or country. This means tracking sites can’t target your home with ads because they don’t know your home IP address.
Other areas of benefit are when your kid is using Wi-Fi away from home. No site or service can give away their real location. Predators who visit these public hotspots would not bother with a child who appears to be thousands of miles away.
The best VPN service delivers lots more in terms of security and privacy. Using one of these is the first and one of the best ways to protect all the family.
Looking for more online safety tips, check out our Internet Safety for Seniors Guide.