The internet is a wonderful tool. You can find information in an instant and connect with people around the world as well as work, play, travel, share and learn. Kids are especially lucky, especially those who grow up always having the internet and always being able to tap its vast resources. This can set them up for future success and learning in so many ways. However, with this great resource comes the need for children to be responsible, careful, and cautious about their internet usage. With a rise in cyberbullying, the danger of online predators, and the increasing prevalence of social media, kids need to learn a healthy respect for the tools they have been given. While fear is not the answer, understanding the dangers is the first step in keeping kids safe online.
Kids are naturally curious, which is great! However, on the internet, that curiosity should come with some general warnings and lessons. If you are around children, you should be a role model in your internet usage. Don’t bully or post hateful comments, don’t share your information with people you do not know, don’t share your password or click on suspicious links, and so on. It is also important to both monitor and limit the amount of time kids spend on the internet. By breaking up sessions into smaller chunks, you can have many conversations with your child about the importance of internet safety and monitor their activity more easily.
- New York Public Library: Internet safety tips for children and teens
- United States Federal Bureau of Investigation: Kids, safety tips
- KidsHealth: Internet safety
Passwords are a point of concern for every internet user, not just kids. You should never write your passwords down in a place they could be found or easily accessed. Even though kids are not likely to have bank accounts or investments, they still have passwords and access that should not be shared. The wireless internet password for your home, for example, should be secure and not shared with others. Any social media accounts your kids have should also have secure passwords that are changed regularly.
Also, while using their passwords to gain access to their accounts is not a nice thing to do, an open dialogue and communication channel is far better. Kids should still save their passwords and share them with you in case of emergency. One great way to do this is to create a secure text document file that is password protected and kept on the central computer in the house.
- S. Department of Education: Cybersecurity: 7 ways to keep kids safe online
- Consumer Reports: Everything you need to know about password managers
One of the most important things to teach children is that it is okay to be friendly online, but that they should never share personal information. This includes their full name, age, hometown, address, phone number, and other personal information. Kids should also avoid sharing pictures that have their location tagged or that show that they are away from home or regularly go to a recognizable spot. Again, fear is not the way to look at this precaution. One of the most important lessons children can learn about the internet is to stop and analyze what they share or post before they do it, so a healthy level of responsibility and analysis should be the goal.
- Federal Trade Commission: Protecting your child’s privacy online
- The United States Attorney’s Office Northern District of Georgia: Protecting yourself while using the internet
Social media can be a great tool and creative outlet for kids. Many classrooms are using it to encourage collaborative project-based learning and are giving children an outlet to share their ideas and creativity, which is hugely important for kids. However, there are some basic social media rules that should be followed. Kids should always have private accounts and only add or friend people they actually know. They should never share their full name or other personal information and should never post photos that show their home address or phone number. Kids should also be taught that creativity is great, but that they should think before they post anything. Nothing on the internet ever wholly disappears.
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Social networking and children
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Social media and kids: some benefits, some worries
- Pew Research Center: Concerns about children, social media, and technology use
Cyberbullying is bullying over digital devices and social media accounts. While this can happen over almost any digital media, kids should be especially vigilant about bullying in text messages and on social media accounts. Teaching kids that other people are sometimes mean, and it is a reflection on the person being mean, not the kid, is important, but so is monitoring the communications your child receives. Opening a dialogue that you are going to periodically check their communications early on in their online lives is important, but so is talking to kids about cyberbullying. They should not bully, and if they are being bullied, they should know that it is okay and important to talk to an adult.
- StopBullying.gov: What is cyberbullying?
- GirlsHealth.gov: Cyberbullying
- National Science Foundation: Recognizing a cyberbully
Although most kids do not have real money or access to money, they can still fall victim to online scams. Phishing scams can still happen to kids who are purchasing anything online, and kids should be aware of scams involving high price goods sold for a fraction of their actual cost. These are often scams and, at best, result in an undesirable product. Kids can be embarrassed by falling victim to these scams and not want to tell an adult, so having an open dialogue and monitoring all purchases is a good idea. Kids should also be taught that online scamming is akin to stealing from someone in real life, and that is punishable and illegal.
One of the most unfortunate things about the internet is the rise of online predators. While many of these predators are easy to spot and avoid, some are much more sophisticated in their approach. Talking to your kids about these dangers and how to avoid them and deal with any unwanted attention or questions is key. While there is monitoring or control software available, an honest and open dialogue is much more useful and gives kids ownership of and advocacy for their online presence.
- American Bar Association: Top ten tips for parents to protect kids from online predators
- San Diego County District Attorney: Protecting children online
- PBS: The predator fear