The Guide to Internet Safety for Parents

Updated March 8, 2019


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Are you concerned about your child’s online activity? Do you worry about the things they may see online? Or who they may end up talking to?

These are the normal concerns of almost every parent and so they should be as the dangers of online grooming, cyberbullying and explicit content are unfortunately far more common than they should be.

Undoubtedly, the internet also has many benefits: it connects people like never before and provides them with a means to socialize, learn, share information and access entertainment at the click of a mouse.

As a parent information is the principal weapon in your arsenal and by being more knowledgeable you can easily take the necessary steps to ensure your kids use the internet safely.

HOW DO KIDS USE THE INTERNET?

HOME INTERNET USE BY AGE

%
Aged from 3 to 5
%
Aged from 6 to 11
%
Aged from 12 to 17

Source: ChildTrends.Org

DEVICES KIDS USE

SMARTPHONES & TABLETS

Portable devices such as smartphones and tablets have become commonplace and essentially allow kids to stay connected to the internet wherever they may be. In fact, one study carried out by Pew found that nearly 75% of teens own their own or have access to a smartphone. For this reason, these devices can be used in much the same way as a larger device such as a computer and so pose the same potential dangers.

Since these devices are portable, they have the added propensity to make your child feel anxious by not giving them a break. The same study by Pew found that 24% of teens go online frequently aided by the use of a smartphone. [Lenhart 2015]. 

GAME CONSOLES

Today Game Consoles don’t just allow kids to play video games, but also allow them to connect to the internet to play online with others. This obviously has its benefits and allows kids to play their favorite games with friends, but it also holds inherent risks, especially when they are communicating with strangers.

They are also usually equipped with web browsers so also allow your kids to use them much like a normal computer and even access social media.

LAPTOPS & COMPUTERS

At home kids typically have access to a computer or laptop connected to the internet and as such commonly use them to surf the internet, log into social media networks, play online video games and talk to friends via live chat.

PUBLIC WI-FI NETWORKS & DEVICES NOT AT HOME

Many parents assume that their kids will be protected simply by applying parental controls and content filters, which may be the case at home and on their own devices.

Unfortunately, outside of the home, your child may access a public wifi or other internet connection that does not have the same restrictions. That is why it’s essential to educate your child about the potential dangers and not just rely on the practical measures that may only work at home.

They are also usually equipped with web browsers so also allow your kid to use them much like a normal computer and even access social media.

PLACES KIDS GO ONLINE

As a parent, it’s easy to assume what your kids may get up to online, but only by truly knowing what type of sites and activity they are partaking in can you know how to effectively approach the situation.

BROWSING THE INTERNET

One of the most routine tasks carried out on the internet is using search engines and browsing websites. The danger for kids lies in the fact that they can unintentionally come across inappropriate or even worse – explicit content.

You can check reviews and determine risk of certain sites & apps using the following resources: 

1. Common Sense Media 
2. Internet Matters 

 

ONLINE GAMING

Particularly popular among the youth are online video games that allow them to play together online with friends as part of a group. This can include both genuine friends they have actually met as well as those they befriend through playing multiplayer in a live community.

These games often involve communicating as part of the group, which can be in the form of text, audio, and even video chat. This holds all of the potential dangers many other forms of online communication hold, including sharing of personal information.

SOCIAL MEDIA & INSTANT MESSAGING

Social networks are incredibly popular among youngsters and teens and it’s often this area that parents are less familiar with. Social media includes websites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, other popular websites such as YouTube also have many of the functions and features often associated with Social Media Networks.

These are some of the most common ways kids and teens use these sites:

Interact and Chat

Popular websites such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as apps such as WhatsApp, provide the ability to communicate with others, both publicly and privately. This can be via audio, text and even video

Share links, files & Images

Popular websites such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as apps such as WhatsApp, provide the ability to communicate with others, both publicly and privately. This can be via audio, text and even video

Share links, files & Images

Social media is updated each and every second and allows kids to keep up to date with the latest news and even their favorite celebrities

THE MAIN INTERNET DANGERS

While you may think you already know all of the dangers of internet activity for kids, there are some potential risks that are not always clear to parents. Thankfully, once you re aware there are many steps you can take, through both education and more practical measures to ensure your child is safer online.

INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT

Unfortunately, it is so easy for kids to find themselves unintentionally on a site filled with inappropriate content or exposed to it inadvertently while browsing social media networks.

This type of content includes things like violence, pornography and hate speech such as racism and other forms of discrimination. Children who come across this type of inappropriate content by mistake are likely to experience a whole host of negative emotions including anger, sadness, fear, and anxiety.[Flander 2009].

In recent years the fake news has also been a hot topic and one that is concerning too many parents who feel it may misrepresent the reality of a specific situation. For this reason, it’s essential to teach your child to have an open mind, practice practice critical thinking and carry out their own research.

COMMON TYPES OF INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT

Here are some of the most prevalent categories of content online today that is completely inappropriate for children:

  • Pornography
  • Violence
  • Hate Speech
  • Animal Cruelty
  • Extremism

HOW TO DEAL WITH INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT

Here are some effective steps to take to deal with inappropriate content, both proactively and actively in the event of a mistake:

  • Make your expectations clear - Make it clear about the types of websites they are allowed to visit and what the consequences of breaking those rules will be. If they want to visit a new website explain that they need to seek your approval first.
  • Parental Controls - Be proactive and make the most of all of the tools at your disposal. Internet Service Providers often provide free controls for parents that allow you to monitor your kid's online activity, restrict certain categories of content and even limit screen time.
  • Educate - It's a good idea to talk about things before they happen as it's extremely likely that at some point your child will stumble across content by mistake, whether it's posted on social media or other sites. Therefore talk about how they should respond in such situations and encourage them to approach you whenever it occurs.

ONLINE GROOMING

Online grooming is defined as behavior designed to foster trust in order to encourage a meeting with the user, either in real life or privately online. This is often motivated by the desire for a sexual encounter or other more sinister outcomes.

The danger online is that individuals can easily create fake or misleading profiles that are purposely set up to deceive and/or mislead the child into believing they are someone else.

This often results in the child accepting them as a friend, resulting in them now having access to more information about them. From this point onwards, it’s easier for them to build trust and communicate.

Groomers will often use this as an opportunity to organize a meeting, request personal information such as email addresses and phone numbers, often resulting in private communications where the conversation can escalate and real-life meetings organized. [Diomidous 2016].

TIPS TO PREVENT ONLINE GROOMING

Although it can be tempting to rely on parental controls or believe you will be able to monitor your child at all times, the reality is that there are going to be times where this isn’t the case. The best way to safeguard your child is to educate them about the potential risks and how to stay safe.

1. Become a Friend – One of the best ways to keep up to date with your child’s online activity is to follow or befriend them on their social media accounts.

2. Fake Profiles – Explain to your child that not everything is always as it seems online and people can make fake profiles and aliases in order to deceive and mislead them.

3. Meet Ups – Make it clear that meeting up with strangers they meet online alone is completely off-limits. Explain that you would need to accompany them in a public space for their own safety.

4. Be Supportive – As a parent, it’s very easy to overreact, especially if you believe your child may be putting themselves at risk. However, you need to remember that this doesn’t always foster a trusting relationship, which is essential to maintain honest, open conversation.

SIGNS OF ONLINE GROOMING

Sometimes children can be extremely secretive and successfully hide things from you, therefore, it’s useful to be aware of some of the common signs of online grooming:

1. Emotional Changes – Children can often appear to be emotionally affected by grooming, as feelings of fear and anxiety are a common symptom.

2. Unusual Activity – Has your child’s routine suddenly changed? Could they be secretly meeting someone they met online?

3. Secretive Behavior – Isolating themselves from friends and family and becoming more secretive are also common signs.

4. Increased Online Activity – Are they suddenly spending much more time online? Why? Don’t be afraid to ask and monitor them more carefully.

 

CYBERBULLYING

This is simply defined as bullying but by utilizing electronic devices. It is often associated with bullying in real life, such as at school or college, which then extends onto social media and apps.

Some people believe this is much worse than previous forms of bullying, since children, who often have portable devices such as smartphones have little rest bite from perpetrators and creates additional stress for the victim.

This ever-looming threat from bullies can also reduce the likelihood of them seeking help from parents and caregivers. It is also associated with an putting victims at increased risk of mental health issues including depression. [Garett 2016].

FORMS OF CYCBERBULLYING

Unlike traditional playground bullying, cyberbullying isn’t always so obvious, so it’s helpful to be aware of the different forms:

Hateful Messages

This is probably the most obvious sign of bullying and can occur via public comments, private messaging on social media and emails to personal email addresses

Public Humiliation

Perpetrators may share embarrassing media in the form of screen grabs, photos, videos, and audio. This can lead to substantial panic, anxiety, and depression

Troll Accounts

Trolling is when somebody sends deliberately aggressive and offensive messages, often in a public domain such as a forum, group or as a status

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT ONLINE BULLYING?

There are many effective ways to deal with cyberbullying, here are some of the best steps to take:

  1. Offer Support- The best place to start is to discuss the situation together as a family, offer your support and reassure your child that you are going to find a solution.
  2. Put a Stop to It – Often cyberbullies are so effective as they have constant contact with your child through electronic means. Therefore, put a stop to it as soon as possible by blocking the perpetrator on all platforms they have been active.
  3. Increase Privacy – Many bullies will attempt to add and often make new accounts or get their friends to join in. In these circumstances change the privacy settings on websites to ensure only friends and close family members can see your account.
  4. Collect Evidence – Take screenshots of the messages, comments and other media they share and save any email addresses or aliases they use. This information can be used as evidence if you decide to report it to the authorities.

SPENDING MONEY & ONLINE SCAMS

Goods and services are traded online via e-commerce stores, blogs, apps and other vendors. If you use a shared computer with your child or if they have easy access to your payment details, then this may put your finances at risk.

Online scams are also increasing year on year with phishing scams being particularly common. This is the process in which a fraudster attempts to trick a person into releasing personal details, bank details and other sensitive information that may put you at risk of fraud.

COMMON WAYS KIDS SPEND & FALL VICTIM TO SCAMS ONLINE

Typically received via email, these are scams made with the intention of collecting personal information that can be used fraudulently or to gain access to bank or other online accounts. Hallmarks of these scams include poor grammar and English, suspicious looking email addresses and requests.

Kids can often get tempted to purchase things when using apps, the worst part is that these can often be done via the click of a button, especially if payment details are already set-up and saved.

Advertisements for products are everywhere online, so it’s not surprising that kids can become tempted to make purchases they shouldn’t be. Online retailers, blogs, and other websites all offer products and services, so kids have lots of opportunities to make transactions easily.

HOW TO PREVENT SCAMS & SPENDING

Teach your child the importance of carrying out their own due-diligence when they receive emails or other messages from suspicious email addresses or other individuals. Explain that there are a lot of scammers out there who can be quite convincing and that if they are ever unsure about any emails they receive to consult you.

Most parental control software allows you to control where your payment details are saved and displayed and to block transactions from being made without your password.

Regularly check your bank account for unusual activity, apps will often be easy to spot. If your child has their own bank account ask for a statement on a routine basis so you can check they are acting responsibly.

INTERNET ADDICTION

In recent years there have been many reports of people, including children feeling like their satisfaction is dependant on their internet use. This dependence on online activity is often fuelled by a feeling that they need to do certain things online in order to feel fulfilled, for instance uploading a new selfie to social media on a daily basis.

This obsession with online activities is often associated with feelings of anxiety, depression, frustration, and impatience. In extreme cases, it can even lead to sleep disturbance, aggression and the inability to concentrate. [Hale 2015].

Internet addiction is not always obvious so ensuring you know the signs can really help you identify and address problems before they get any worse. Here are some of the most common signs of internet addiction and how to deal with it:

SIGNS OF INTERNET ADDICTION

Kids and teens that are dependent on electronic access commonly become anxious, angry and impatient.

Does your child constantly feel the need to have their smartphone with them? Are they struggling to find balance and time for other activities?

Does your child look tired? Are they struggling to awake during the day due to low energy? It may be a sign that they are staying awake due to obsessive behaviors associated with internet use.

HOW TO DEAL WITH INTERNET ADDICTION

This will allow you to easily monitor your child’s online activity and time spent online.

The American Society of Pediatrics recommend no more than 2 hours of screen time each day. 

Parental controls often include a feature that will enable you to determine the time the internet can be accessed each day. This is a great way to ensure your kids aren’t becoming obsessed and can pursue other hobbies and interests offline. [AAP 2001].

You should also consider reducing and limiting the amount of time you spend on the internet each day too. There is no doubt that kids learn from you, so by setting a good example, they are more likely to adopt healthy habits.

THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF PEDIATRICS RECCOMENDS:

  • No screen media at all for infants under the age of 18 months
  • Limit screen time to 1 hour for children aged 2 to 5
  • Consistent limits for children aged 6 and older

WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?

Now that you are aware of many of the potential dangers and risks that come as a result of navigating the virtual world, you are probably beginning to ask you can do as a parent.

Thankfully, there are many things you can do to safeguard your child when using the internet, which involve both practical precautions, as well as effective communication with your child.

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

Communicating with your child about the potential dangers of the internet is one of the best ways to grasp your child’s current understand and educate them further. By talking to them, you can explain all of the pros and cons of the online world and build a knowledge base with them. Explain all about the dangers of information sharing, grooming, sexting, cyberbullying and online scams such as phishing.

It’s also essential that your child trusts you so that they know that they can approach you for advice and support if they ever encounter anything suspicious or sinister online in future.

Obviously, it’s important for them to know the consequences of actively searching for things you don’t deem appropriate. Although, it is still important for your child to know they can trust you not to overreact if they do encounter anything potentially harmful by accident.

Therefore, reassure your children and make it clear that they can approach you in such events without fear of repercussions.

MONITOR ONLINE ACTIVITY

Just as you would monitor your child playing in the park, you ought to be by your child’s side monitoring their activity online, this is especially true for younger children. You may get bored after watching the trillionth YouTube video, but at least you’ll know exactly what they are doing.

For older kids and teens make sure you familiarise yourself with their online escapades and where they hang out online. A great way to do this is by showing a genuine interest and asking what their favorite websites, games, and apps are. This way you can get to understand the online etiquette and functionality of certain sites and social networks.

Here are some great ways to keep on top of your kid’s activity:

After getting your child to show you all of their favorite games, apps, and sites, you can do your own research into whether they are appropriate or not. Common Sense Media is a great site that allows you to check age appropriate reviews of many different online platforms and deem whether they are suitable for your child.

Although it’s never a good idea to rely too heavily on parental controls, since there is always the chance that your child may access the internet outside of the home, they are certainly a great way to mitigate risk.

Today many Internet Service Providers provide free and easy access to parental control software you can install on your computer and other devices. This software is often password protected so only parents can change the settings and from the control panel, you can block certain websites based on category filters.

Some of the best parental control software also allows parents to set a timer so that kids can only use the internet for a certain amount of time each day. This is a great way to ensure they aren’t getting addicted and can pursue other important activities recommended for healthy and balanced lifestyle.

COMMON TYPES OF PARENTAL CONTROLS

  • Browser Filters – These allow you to block adult and inappropriate content from being displayed. They have a limited success rate and many parents find more success with internet browsers made to be “child-friendly”.
  • Monitoring – Some types of parental control software allow you to easily view your child’s search history and other online activity.
  • Spending Block – This function allows you to switch off the ability for things like in-app purchases to be made by your child.
  • Time Restrictions – This allows you to limit the amount of time your child spends on the internet each day. This is ideal for parents aiming to limit screen time.

MAKE YOUR EXPECTATIONS CLEAR

Ideally before your children ever use the internet on any type of electronic device you should make your expectations obvious. Decide the amount of screen time you want them to have each day and which websites and apps you find acceptable, by making the rules as clear as possible, you can be certain there will be no mix-ups.

At this point, it is also a great time to explain the possible consequences of flouting the rules.

This is also a good time to create a list of sites they are ok to visit without seeking your approval and make it extra clear that if they wish to search or lookup any site not on the list they must ask you first.

MAKE AN AGREEMENT

You can involve your child in the rule making the process by making an official written “internet agreement” together. This way your child will feel like they have had some say in their creation and are more likely to respect and follow them.

There are some really great agreement templates provided by several organizations. These are some of the most popular ones:

In the agreement, you can make compromises as a family and involve parents and kids, this way you can lead by example. It’s also important to remember that your agreement should be age appropriate and be subject to change as your children mature.

Here are just some of the things to outline in the family internet agreement:

It should outline the websites they can visit without your permission. If they want to visit any other sites, not on the list they should seek your approval.

Isolating device use to locations where you can easily keep surveillance is essential as it allows you as a parent to easily monitor their activity. Therefore, outline where they can and can not use electronic devices.

How much screen time can they have each day?

Are they allowed to download anything? Do they need to seek your permission?

When they sign up to a website, forum, social media account do they need to ask you? Do they need to provide you with the login details?

Are they allowed to accept new friend requests and messages without your permission?

Can they buy anything online? What are the rules? Do they need to seek permission?

References

  1. http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/09/teens-social-media-technology-2015/
  2. https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/home-computer-access
  3. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/10/19/peds.2016-2591
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4789623/
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0145213409002166
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5344141/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4437561/
  8. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/10/19/peds.2016-2591
  9. https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Announces-New-Recommendations-for-Childrens-Media-Use.aspx
  10. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/107/2/423

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