While some kids may feel confident that they know how to be safe online, the reality is that they are being directly targeted. It is our job to make sure our kids stay safe in the modern digital age. Find out how you can teach your kids about online safety through our tips at Bridging Freedom.
As it becomes more normalized to introduce technology and social media to younger children, there is a greater need and importance in teaching online safety. With social media and Internet games continuing to grow in popularity, it is becoming easier for online predators to find their victims and sexually exploit them.
If children and teenagers don’t know what to look out for, then they can fall victim to online dangers. Let’s find out more about the types of online dangers, online safety teaching points by age, parental approach to safety, and a FAQ regarding online safety.
Types of Online Dangers
Online predators are experts in manipulating and playing mind games with kids in order to sexually exploit them. Sadly, recent statistics from the FBI show that more than half a million online predators are an active danger to children and teenagers (KOAA News5). They can manipulate a child or teenager to do what the predator wants by establishing a relationship or instilling shame, fear, gifts, lies, or flattery. Each of the following online dangers can be used as tactics by online predators to pursue or desensitize kids to their intentions:
- Pornography / Sexual Images: Online predators can use sexual content online to desensitize kids and teenagers to their sexual intentions.
- Obscene Language: The predator may try to tell the child or teenager that they should be treated like an adult, compliment them, or send them inappropriate messages/images.
- Cyberharassment / Sextortion: If the predator does not get what they want, they may resort to sextortion and cyberharassment to threaten the victim. This is where they may claim that they already have revealing images/videos of the victim and will send them to people. They may also make fake social media accounts with the victim’s private images.
Through confusion, fear, and persistence, a child or teenager may fall victim to the online predator’s trap. Remember: they aim to threaten and scare their victims into remaining quiet and secretive about sexual exploitation. This is why it is important to tell your kids that they can and should talk to you if that happens.
Online Safety Teaching Points by Age
- Pre-School (0-5): While we used to not have to worry about preschool-aged kids being online, more and more educational resources and online games are being geared towards this younger crowd. Many parents may allow their pre-school-aged kids to play on their phones or tablets to keep them occupied. While there is nothing wrong with doing this, it should be in a very controlled and safe setting.
- You will want to make sure to check the apps and devices for age-appropriate ratings and if they offer a kid’s version like YouTube Kids, Nick Jr., and Netflix Kids.
- Additionally, by setting aside a time for your child to use a parental-controlled device with you in the room, you can control their level of exposure while allowing them to have fun. You can even offer the idea to play the games together.
Since they are young, there are a lot of things on the internet that they would not understand, especially when it comes to strangers.
- Make sure your conversations are basic enough for a young child to understand without skipping any safety details. You can use words like “bad guys”, “stranger danger”, or “tricky people”.
- For a good resource to teach your preschooler about online strangers, you can watch the short YouTube video below together.
- Young Children (6-10): For the most part, most young children are not on social media. They may be playing games on a family tablet, computer, or sibling’s phone. Before they start using the internet and online games, there should be a direct conversation about what they can and cannot do. They should be taught about what is not allowed to be shared or searched, especially regarding private information.
- Parental controls, privacy settings, and password-protected accounts should all be encouraged before letting your kid play on your devices.
- Additionally, if there are older siblings, there should be a conversation with them to make sure they are not sharing anything inappropriate and keep their younger siblings safe.
- Watch the YouTube video below explaining internet safety geared towards young children.
- Pre-Teen (11-13): At this age, some children in your kid’s class will start being on social media or talking with gaming friends in chat rooms. While it can be a very exciting time for your child to connect with friends online, there are more online safety measures that should be taken. It is at this age, 10-15, where there are more than 50% of victims of online predators.
- Before allowing them to create accounts, talk to them about the dangers online, what they should do if they receive unwanted messages, how you can support them, and what is okay and not okay to be sharing online.
- You can teach them how to block strangers, set up privacy settings, and add parental controls. This will allow your pre-teen to feel a level of independence while maintaining their safety and protection.
- Check out the video below explaining the danger of online strangers for kids, especially kids that use chat rooms or messaging apps.
- Teens (14+): If your child wasn’t already on social media, this would be the age where they may want to make an account. This is how many of their friends and classmates will choose to socialize outside of school and make plans. While many positive experiences come from social media with your teens’ social life, there is an onset of new challenges that they may be exposed to.
- Pornography, sexting, and cyberbullying can all be new topics to discuss with your teen to make sure they know what they are, what to do, and how to talk to you about it.
- You will want to teach them about what is appropriate and inappropriate to post, share, or message online.
As for your level of involvement, it is important that you and your teen come to a general agreement and understand what the rules are with their online presence.
- During this discussion, you can talk about what you see as fair for managing their devices while still allowing them to have some level of privacy.
- You want to show them that you can trust them while still having a level of protection around them.
- Here is an informational video you can show your teen explaining their digital footprint and the importance of not oversharing on social media.
Parental Approach to Safety Guidelines for All Ages
While you can try to protect your kids as much as you want, you will have to trust that what you have taught them and the safety measures you have instilled will continue to protect them. Here is a general safety guideline that is applicable for all ages on how you can teach your kids how to be safe online.
- Stay Educated. Talk to your kids about the risks and dangers of being online. You can customize the topics and wordage to be relevant to their age.
- Set Boundaries. Your kids would want to be on their devices all day if they could, but that increases their exposure to people and things they should not see. Instead, set specific time periods where they can be on their devices or areas they are allowed to play on their phone.
- Be Private. Make sure all of your devices (tablet, phone, computer, gaming) have privacy settings. This will protect your kid from accidentally sharing any personal information with a stranger. You can also block unwanted people or wordage that may be offensive.
- Post Safely. If your kid has social media, you can tell them about what is okay and not okay to post online. For example, you can tell your child that certain photos should not be posted as well as certain language with other people online.
- Be Open. You will want to make sure your kids know that they can come to you if they have seen something bad online or have had a stranger message them. By having an open conversation about online safety and telling them they won’t be in trouble if something comes up, your kids will feel safer talking, rather than hiding.
If you want to learn more about how you as a parent can protect your child from online predators, watch this 5 minute YouTube video from Robin Dreeke of the Innocent Lives Foundation.
Q: When should I start teaching my kids about online safety?
A: This will vary depending on when your kids start using the interest, especially alone. A good rule of thumb is to start teaching your kids the moment you allow them to have internet, phone, or tablet time.
Q: Don’t most children / teens know not to talk to strangers?
A: Children and teens only know what they are taught. Even if they have been taught from a young age not to talk to strangers, they may not realize that they are doing so. Think of how many online users are on the internet and social media. Many of them will pose to be someone younger or have a different online identity to gain trust.
Your kid may think they made a new gaming friend or social media friend but in reality, they could be talking to an online predator behind the screen. According to a TED Talk by Detective Richard Wistocki, the average online predator will have around 250 victims. This is why it is so crucial to teach children online safety even with online users that appear to be their own age.
Q: Should I check my child/teen’s gaming chatroom and social media pages?
A: FBI Crime Statistics show that 89% of conversations and contact from a predator were through chat rooms and instant messaging like DM’s (FBI Crime Stats). Statistically, since this is the medium many online predators choose, it is important to add privacy settings to further protect them from strangers visiting their page or sending them unwanted messages.
While this will vary from parent to parent, if you have any suspicion that someone is reaching out to your kid or they are hiding something, then you should most definitely further look into it. Rather than doing it behind their back, you can ask to do this with them in the room or if they would prefer to be out of the room for it. It is important to approach this conversation without judgment and without blaming them. You can explain to them the danger of talking to strangers online, even if they appear to be their own age.
Q: Will this cause my child/teen to be more sneaky if I check on their social media and chat rooms?
A: If you don’t approach it properly, you can create distrust between you and your child/teen. That is why it is so important to be mindful and gentle in the way you go about it. Since there should be different privileges and rules with screen time for a child vs a teen, you will want to customize a system that works for your family based on their age (refer to teaching points above). If they feel like you check their phones sneakily behind their back, they will be less inclined to open up to you. Instead, you can install privacy settings, and parental control, and be transparent when wanting to see their phone. Ultimately, at the end of the day, you want them to be able to feel comfortable coming to you when something bad comes up rather than hiding it.
Q: My children don’t have social media, but I post pictures of them online. Are there any risks to doing that?
A: Unfortunately, child predators are lurking everywhere online. While many of them will directly reach out to a child or teen, some may go about it in a more secretive and convenient way. If they see images of your child on your social media without a swimsuit on, in a swimsuit, or even in a diaper, they can use those as free images for their own pleasure. It is absolutely disgusting to think someone would view an innocent photo and child in that way, but at the end of the day, their safety is most important. A good rule of thumb is to have your accounts private so that only people you know are following you. Another good rule is to cover up or crop photos where needed. Not everything should be posted online since there are online predators who will sexualize a child.
- Protecting Your Kids — FBI
- Sextortion: What Kids and Caregivers Need to Know — FBI
- Pre-teens (11-13) online safety advice | Internet Matters
- Digital Citizenship: Teach Your Kids About Online Predators – Bark
- Internet Safety for Kids: Teaching Kids About Internet Safety (gcfglobal.org)
- Parental Monitoring for Phones: All Parents Need To Know (mmguardian.com)
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