The internet provides useful information and fun for kids. But internet usage presents online risks that can be very serious for children. Kids may stumble upon harmful content or fall victim to predators online. So, it's up to parents and teachers to keep kids safe online.
Online security is very important for kids, as they can often face danger in a digital and remote world. Internet safety should be part of a larger conversation about crime prevention and child safety training.
Consider the warning signs and other issues below to keep kids safe online.
Cyberbullying, Online Safety and Safety Tips
"Cyberbullying" is the use of social media sites and social media apps to tease, harass, embarrass, intimidate, or humiliate kids.
Cyberbullying has become a big concern among parents and teachers. This is especially true in light of high-profile cases involving cyberbullying-related deaths. Nearly all states have passed laws making cyberbullying a crime. Some of these laws also hold parents criminally and/or civilly liable for their child's cyberbullying.
- State laws generally address the following when it comes to cyberbullying:
- Cyberbullying or online harassment as a form of bullying
- Criminal penalties for cyberbullying or online harassment
- School penalties for cyberbullying
- Requirements for schools to have cyberbullying policies
- School penalties for off-campus instances of cyberbullying
For example, David's Law in Texas applies to acts committed both on and off school grounds. The law was named after a young man who committed suicide after becoming a victim of cyberbullying.
The law requires schools to enact cyberbullying policies that address the following:
- Ways to notify parents of the alleged victim and the alleged bully
- Resources, including counseling and therapy options, for students involved in cyberbullying
- Procedures for anonymously reporting acts of cyberbullying
Life on our smartphones has become more common post-pandemic. Now, kids are at risk online wherever they carry their phones.
Chatting online can be especially risky for adolescent kids. In fact, many apps are designed to "hide" messages after a certain period. One example is Snapchat, an app where messages "disappear" after a certain amount of time.
One of the greatest dangers to young people and their online safety includes sexual exploitation from predators. These predators lurk on social networking platforms under the guise of an innocent child or friend. They look for an unsuspecting child to chat with and lure into dangerous real-life situations.
It's a good idea to inform kids about connecting with strangers on social media platforms and recognizing danger signs.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) recommends that you adjust the privacy settings of your child's devices. The DOJ also recommends using parental controls and age verification on your child's devices.
By using privacy settings and parental controls, you can better protect your child. You can keep your child from viewing inappropriate content while keeping them safe from online predators.
Warning Signs That Your Child May Be at Risk Online
The following is a list of warning signs that may indicate your child's safety is at risk online:
- Your child spends a large amount of time online
- You find pornographic or inappropriate images on your child's computer
- You receive phone calls from people you don't know or whose number you don't recognize
- Your child receives mail or gifts from people you don't know
- Your child turns off the screen to hide what they are viewing when you walk by
- Your child withdraws from family activities
- You notice a decline in your child's mental health
- Your child uses an online account belonging to someone else
What Is the Kids Online Safety Act?
The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), first introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in 2022, aims to empower kids and parents to better protect well-being online. The bill addresses the growing mental health crisis among children and teenagers.
KOSA offers families transparency, tools, and safeguards to protect against online threats. The bill would require social media platforms to focus on children's safety by providing minors with options to protect their information, disable addictive features, and opt out of algorithmic recommendations.
The bill aims to create accountability for social media platforms by imposing a duty to mitigate harm to minors. Such harms include content promoting self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse, and sexual exploitation. Additionally, the bill requires platforms to undergo an annual independent audit assessing risks to minors.
KOSA also aims to make "black box algorithms" transparent by granting academic researchers and non-profit organizations access to critical datasets from social media platforms. This will allow the study of potential harms to minors' safety and well-being.
KOSA has not yet become law. The bill has stirred some controversy with groups concerned with data collection and children's privacy.
What You Can Do To Keep Your Child Safe Online
There are some important things you can do to protect your kids' online safety. Some examples of safety measures are:
- Never agree to meet with a stranger in person
- Never give out personal identifying information
- Never download pictures or other files from an unknown source
Make sure to spend time with your child online and know the content of what they're actually searching. When your child is offline, continue talking with them about their online activities.
You might also consider talking with your child about acceptable online behavior. Acceptable uses of computer time might include the following:
- Researching information for school projects
- Listening to music
- Communicating with friends
It may help to move the computer out of a child's bedroom and place it in a common area. This will make it easier to spot signs of online danger when the computer screen is visible and in the open.
You also may want to use parental controls offered by your internet service provider. Consider setting time limits on your child's internet use as well.
Set ground rules for how your child uses a computer or smartphone. Require your child to provide all phone, email, and account passwords so you can randomly check email and text messages. In this way, you could more easily identify signs of child predation. Consider checking the browser history of each device as well.
How Can Law Enforcement Help Protect Your Child's Online Safety?
Law enforcement agencies and the FBI can help protect your child's online safety.
If you suspect that your child is a victim of online harassment, cyberbullying, or exploitation, you can report the issue to your local police department or the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
Law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, also provide resources and educational materials to help parents, teachers, and minors understand the risks associated with being online. These resources can help you teach your kids how to protect their online activity.
The FBI and other law enforcement agencies work with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) on efforts to combat online crimes against children.
If your child has been a victim of online exploitation, law enforcement agencies can give you referrals to counseling or other forms of online services that you or your child might need.
Concerned About Your Kids' Online Safety? An Attorney Can Help
Kids spend much of their lives online. You may understandably find it difficult to understand the risks they could encounter. If you believe your child's online safety is at risk, contact a local family law attorney.