According to a study by Pew University, 45% of kids and teens are online almost constantly. From computers to smartphones, there are a lot of ways to be online in our digital age. Unfortunately, there are many dangers of modern technology. While many adults have heard time and time again about viruses and scams, some kids have iPads or tablets in their hands before they can read. Even if they don’t, your child will interact with the online world at some point, either through school or when they’re an adult, and they need to be ready. Let’s take a look at some of the dangers of digital technology and how to talk to your child about online safety.
How to Keep Your Child Safe Online
Whether on social media, chatrooms, or video comments, we encounter a wide variety of people online all looking to share their opinion. Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing that can be shared. Let’s take a look at some of the dangers that come from contact with others on the internet and how to keep your child safe online.
- Cyberbullies – Kids socialize online, through school, social media, or gaming, and some of those people they encounter are not kind. Cyberbullies post cruel or threatening messages, often anonymously.
Solution – If your child ever has an interaction that leaves them feeling uncomfortable, make sure they feel safe talking to you about it. Avoid blaming your child and instead listen. Check your state’s specific cyberbullying laws and report the incident. Discourage your child from responding and instead block, delete, and ignore. Here are some more Troomi tips on identifying cyberbullying and helping your child.
- Phishing scammers – Like cyberbullies, scammers are an ever-present threat to your child, although less targeted at your child’s self-esteem and instead targeting their (or your) personal info. They will use tricks to get your child to reveal personal information so they can steal identity or credit card info.
Solution – Talk with your child about the kind of information they share online and why it is important to stay safe online. Names, phone numbers, addresses, and even extended family members can all be information useful for phishing scammers. Remind your children that information shared online is there forever so make sure that information is okay to be shared. If they are uncertain, help them feel comfortable talking with you about any of their questions or concerns. Remember, phishing scammers target the vulnerable. The same tricks they use on Grandma they might also use on your kid. If they receive an odd message from a friend or family member, check to verify who it really is.
- Fraud and scams – One of the most important parts of teaching kids how to use the Internet is teaching them to avoid fraud and scams. Sometimes people will try to sell broken products, or worse, empty promises. Fraud and scams are attempts to make you or your child pay for a product and deliver nothing. While adults sometimes are caught up in the thrill of a great sale, children have even more attempts at their money with even less of the life experience to protect them. Fraud is easier to spot with things like clothes or furniture, but trickier when it comes to things like “Youtube giveaways” or the illusive promises of free iPhones.
Solution – Have a real, pragmatic talk with your child about what to realistically expect from their influencers. Encourage them to come to you with any deal they hear about so you can help them vet the real from the fake. Set up rules with online purchases, making sure everything is approved by an adult (who you can rely on) before buying.
- Sexting – Sexting refers to a combination of sex and texting. This can include explicit messages, pictures, or videos. Because of child pornography laws, it can be especially dangerous for kids to send or receive explicit content. While chances are your kid likely won’t send sexts, they need to be aware of the risks associated. Emotional and legal damage is possible.
Solution – Sit down with your kid or teen, and talk with them about the dangers of sexting, including the legal and emotional ramifications. Be calm and level headed throughout the conversation. Talks of this kind aren’t always comfortable but try to make it as safe and understanding as possible. Pictures or videos sent can never be unsent so make sure they understand that when they send something, they are no longer in control of it. Make sure your child understands they are safe to come to you with any pictures, texts, or videos they have received and help them take the appropriate steps.
- Predators – Now there is a threat most dangerous of all. Predators will target your children through chat rooms, social media messages, or gaming chat features. They seek to exploit your children, abusing them (potentially sexually abusing them), and some even try to meet up in person with your children. Kidnapping, grooming, and psychological damage are all scary possibilities of encountering a predator online.
Solution – Predators are a scary concept for parents but even more dangerous for children. Like with everything, talk with your child about the real dangers of interacting with strangers online. Figuring out how to talk to your child about online safety can be tough. Make sure you don’t inadvertently discourage your child from coming to you with scary scenarios because they are worried about your reaction. Help them understand that if anything online makes them uncomfortable, they are safe to talk to you about it without fear of repercussion.
Those aren’t the only dangers of digital technology, but they are some basics for you to teach your children. Remember, make sure your child feels safe to come to you when they encounter something online that makes them uncomfortable. These people-based dangers of the digital age don’t need to be overwhelming for you or your kid if you have solutions for each as they arise.
Teaching your child Internet safety
Unfortunately the Internet isn’t just made up of other people, it is also deluged with impersonal content. From pictures to videos to ads, everything can be concerning for a kid online.
- Obscenities or age-inappropriate language – One of the dangers of modern technology is the lack of age restriction on language. Now, I’m not saying the majority of the Internet needs to be regulated so all young children can use it, but as a parent, you should be aware that adult content and language is present everywhere.
Solution – Social media accounts and subscriptions do actually have an age limit (13 years old) thanks to COPPA laws, which will help keep your children safe up to a point, but they still need to be educated. On social media, people can post whatever they like, which includes obscene language or curse words. Talk with your children about their own vocabulary. Let them know that some words are not okay to say and some hold meaning they aren’t aware of. Make sure you have these conversations with your children early on so they are ready when they are exposed.
- Violent or graphic videos – The violence depicted in movies is not the same level as the real life violence and graphic content easily accessible on the Internet. There are horrific, graphic videos available online and curious kids might click. Once seen, some things can’t be unseen.
Solution – Movies and TV shows have content warnings or ratings to help parents make sure it’s safe for children. Online videos don’t have the same safety built in. While Youtube has a kids version of their app, it’s monitored by algorithms and not human eyes. Make an effort to watch what your children are watching. Teach them what is appropriate to view. When they are watching things on their own, they might come across content that disturbs them. Make sure they feel comfortable coming to you about them.
- Sexual or pornographic content – Even without searching for it, porn is everywhere on the Internet. Pop-up ads and trailers are constantly barraging the screen. Even social media can have explicit content, with adult Instagram or Facebook accounts.
Solution – Kids don’t have to be searching for sexual content to stumble across it, but whether or not they are, they might be hesitant to approach you about encountering it if they don’t feel safe or comfortable confiding in you. It is so critical you make sure your kids feel that safety. I’ll say it a hundred times. Don’t punish your kids for talking with you. Don’t make them feel they’ve done something wrong by coming forward about content that made them uncomfortable. It’s hard as a parent to see your child struggle with something and assume they should know better. Make it easier for them and you. Be aware of places that might have adult content so you can be ready for those conversations.
- Permanent – Once uploaded, posted, or shared, content can’t be removed from the Internet. It’s permanent. Even as adults, we sometimes mistake the delete or hide button for a solution to an unwanted post, but once online, it’s there forever. Malicious people can dig through code or screen-shot posts, making any content posted online there forever. At least you can remove a tattoo, but there’s nothing you can do about what’s online.
Solution – Have a conversation with your kid about the danger they might give their future self. Information uploaded can’t be removed and so an address will be online forever. A credit card photo can’t be taken down. Identity theft has real, lasting consequences. Help them understand that this information is valuable and so people can try to steal or abuse it. From cyberbullies to scammers to predators, all the information they post online can be used. Or, at best, it might embarrass them when they grow older.
The above risks are all specific to their identity or safety, but it’s not the only part to be wary of when using the Internet. The online dangers also extend to your tech itself. Your computer or phone are both susceptible to hacking, viruses, and more. These breaches in security can also leave your personal information exposed.
- Viruses – Viruses can destroy a computer or phone’s software, steal information, or, at worst case, both.
Solution – One of the first steps of teaching your child Internet safety is teaching them to avoid clicking suspicious links. You never know what links might contain malware so make sure your firewall is up to date. An up-to-date computer or phone has plenty of security features to make sure you are kept safe, but it won’t always catch everything. Watch out for those downloads and make sure you have your essential information backed up in multiple locations, whether those be on hard drives or the cloud.
- Spyware – Spyware is quieter than a virus or other malware, but is just as dangerous. Spyware monitors your computer, finding personal information and sending it back to the hacker who created it.
Solution – Teach your kid to be careful of downloads. Update your software as soon as a new update appears. Make sure they feel they can come to you any time the computer or phone does something unexpected.
- “Drive by Downloads” – Sometimes, you can do everything right and still have something go wrong. With drive by downloads, you don’t even have to click a link or download any software. These access your computer by piggybacking off a legitimate app or website. You as the user don’t have to do anything to initiate the attack, but you are still susceptible.
Solution – Keep your firewall updated and be careful of anything you click. Teach your kid to make sure sites are secure and regularly updated before using them.
General Tips to Keep Your Kids Safe Online
- Create a family online safety plan
- Keep your computer updated and have a current firewall
- Have the computer your kids use in a central, public part of the house
- Use child-safe search filters or settings
- Disable your computer or phones webcam to avoid taking surprise photos
- Make sure your kid comes to you before downloading anything
How to Talk to Your Child About Online Safety
Above all, talk with your children openly about the dangers of the digital age and online world. While many parts of the Internet are useful, we all need to be careful in how we use it. Like with a powerful cleaning spray, some parts are too dangerous for kids and they need to be taught to keep clear. Make sure they are comfortable talking with you about what they’ve seen or might see. Experts agree that one of the very best ways to keep kids safe in a digital world is by talking with them. The online world is consistently evolving, but you are a constant for them. Be a safe, reliable constant.
Even with that being said, you might wonder, “How can I talk to my child about online safety when we don’t have a good relationship?” Here’s an entire article about building a relationship of trust with your teen to help. Remember, above all else, be calm and kind.
Troomi phones are designed to be safe for kids on every level. With safelisting features keeping scam callers or cyberbullies from contacting, they are great for teaching kids to be safe with tech without the added stress of dangerous strangers. All app downloads are vetted first by Troomi’s team and then by you, the parent, to make sure everything is safe and personalized for your child’s safety. The threat of viruses are eliminated and all that’s left is a smartphone designed to grow incrementally with your child’s skill.