The Internet can be wonderful for kids. They can use it to research school reports, communicate with teachers and other kids, and play interactive games. But online access also comes with risks, like inappropriate content, cyberbullying, and online predators. Using apps and websites where kids interact, predators may pose as a child or teen looking to make a new friend. They might prod the child to exchange personal information, such as address and phone number, or encourage kids to call them, seeing their phone number via caller ID.
Parents should be aware of what their kids see and hear on the Internet, who they meet, and what they share about themselves. Talk with your kids, use tools to protect them, and keep an eye on their activities.
Internet Safety Laws
A federal law, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) helps protect kids younger than 13 when they're online. It's designed to keep anyone from getting a child's personal information without a parent knowing about it and agreeing to it first.
COPPA requires websites to explain their privacy policies and get parental consent before collecting or using a child's personal information, such as a name, address, phone number, or Social Security number. The law also prohibits a site from requiring a child to provide more personal information than necessary to play a game or enter a contest.
Online Protection Tools
Online tools let you control your kids' access to adult material and help protect them from Internet predators. Many Internet service providers (ISPs) provide parent-control options. You can also get software that helps block access to sites and restricts personal information from being sent online. Other programs can monitor and track online activity.
Getting Involved in Kids' Online Activities
More important than blocking objectionable material is teaching your kids safe and responsible online behavior and keeping an eye on their Internet use.
Basic guidelines to share with your kids for safe online use:
- Follow the family rules, and those set by the Internet service provider.
- Never post or trade personal pictures.
- Never reveal personal information, such as address, phone number, or school name or location.
- Use only a screen name and don't share passwords (other than with parents).
- Never agree to get together in person with anyone met online without parent approval and/or supervision.
- Never respond to a threatening email, message, post, or text.
- Always tell a parent or other trusted adult about any communication or conversation that was scary or hurtful.
Basic guidelines for parental supervision:
- Spend time online together to teach your kids appropriate online behavior.
- Keep the computer in a common area where you can watch and monitor its use, not in individual bedrooms. Monitor any time spent on smartphones or tablets.
- Bookmark kids' favorite sites for easy access.
- Check your credit card and phone bills for unfamiliar account charges.
- Find out what, if any, online protection is offered by your child's school, after-school center, friends' homes, or any place where kids could use a computer without your supervision.
- Take your child seriously if he or she reports an uncomfortable online exchange.
Call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at (800) 843-5678 if you're aware of the sending, use, or viewing of child pornography online. Contact your local law enforcement agency or the FBI if your child has received child pornography via the Internet.
Watch for warning signs of a child being targeted by an online predator. These can include:
- spending long hours online, especially at night
- phone calls from people you don't know
- unsolicited gifts arriving in the mail
- your child suddenly turning off the computer when you walk into the room
- withdrawal from family life and reluctance to discuss online activities
Talk to your kids! Keep an open line of communication and make sure that they feel comfortable turning to you when they have problems online.
The Internet and Teens
As kids get older, it gets a little trickier to monitor their time spent online. They may carry a smartphone with them at all times. They probably want — and need — some privacy. This is healthy and normal, as they're becoming more independent from their parents. The Internet can provide a safe "virtual" environment for exploring some newfound freedom if precautions are taken.
Talk about the sites and apps teens use and their online experiences. Discuss the dangers of interacting with strangers online and remind them that people online don't always tell the truth. Explain that passwords are there to protect against things like identity theft. They should never share them with anyone, even a boyfriend, girlfriend, or best friend.
Taking an active role in your kids' Internet activities helps ensure that they benefit from them without being exposed to the potential dangers.
Cyber Safety Tips
Parents all over the world know that the advantages of the Internet far outweigh its disadvantages. Children learn more, understand more and accomplish more with the aid of the Internet. In a recent survey conducted by Norton by Symantec, it was observed that globally, 60% of parents allow their children access to the Internet before age 11. Even though 78% of parents agree that children today face more online risks than children five years ago, only 50% check their children’s browser history and 46% limit access to certain websites and apps.1
This generation of parents is raising children in a rapidly evolving cyber landscape. Children naturally learn and adapt quickly, but even more so in this age of technology. Besides the numerous responsibilities that come with parenting, now parents have the additional burden of keeping up with their kids’ Internet habits and also guiding their children safely through the digital frontier.
Just as you have taught your child to look both ways before crossing the street, it is important to teach them a few essential cyber life skills.
1. Never leave your device unattended.
One minute it’s there and the next minute it’s gone. Smartphones, laptops, and tablets have a decent resale value. Besides, now cybercriminals make more money by stealing the data that’s stored in these devices than from reselling them. Information like passwords, addresses, birthdates of family members, and Social Security numbers fetch a pretty price in the underground economy. Criminals can patch together the information on all these devices to commit identity theft.
Children make excellent targets for device theft because there is a high probability for all this information to be on their devices due to school and sports activities that require this information. Teach your kids how valuable these devices are, and to keep them close.
2. Click with caution.
Whether subtle or bold, phishing is dangerous. One careless click is all it takes for malicious software to get into devices and wreak havoc. Talk to your kids about not automatically clicking on links in emails. Show them how to hover your mouse over the link to make sure it is going to a reputable address. Spelling mistakes, odd emails from popular companies, and threatening messages urging quick action are some of the telltale signs of a phishing email designed to install malware on your device. When in doubt, do not click on the link. Instead, go straight to the company’s website and contact the person concerned or the customer service department to ensure such a mail was sent to you. Fortunately, most high-quality antivirus software, like Norton Security, will catch these phony emails before they come to you.
3. Never, ever share your password.
You may think that everyone knows the importance of keeping passwords a secret — but maybe your children don’t. After all, 76% of people share passwords.1 It takes just one moment of poor decision-making and you risk exposing everything stored in your device. Teach your kids to protect accounts with strong, unique passwords that use a combination of at least 10 upper and lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers to confuse password-stealing bots that scour the Web. Change your passwords every three months and don’t use the same password across different accounts. If it’s too difficult to remember all those passwords, then use a free password manager like Norton Identity Safe.
4. Be wary of using social media.
Many social networks require users to be at least 13 years of age, but some allow children to sign up with their parent’s permission. If your children have accounts, check their privacy settings. The default settings may expose more information than you’d like. Change settings to the highest level of privacy. You never know who is snooping around their social media profiles. Teach your kids not to accept friend requests from people they — and you — don’t know. Some friend requests come from bots that will spam friends lists.
There are many risks that come with social accounts, but stalking and bullying are two very real dangers that can haunt kids online and off. Publicly broadcasting your location is not the safest thing to do. To deter stalkers, disable location services on your child’s phone and apps.
5. Be a good online citizen.
Remember, the Internet is forever. So anything said online stays online. Nothing really gets deleted, not even on Snapchat. Unfortunately, since the Internet is the new playground, bullying can plague children offline and on. Teach your children to practice good online etiquette and to never say mean things. Instead, they should be kind and not participate in negative posts. Let them know that the law protects cyberbullying victims, so they should tell you if they are being cyberbullied or know someone who is.