The internet provides useful information and fun for kids. But the risks associated with kids online can be very serious. In some instances, they may stumble upon inappropriate images or fall victim to predators online. So, it's up to parents and teachers to keep kids safe online.
Below are warning signs and other issues to consider in keeping kids safe online. Regarding kids, internet safety should be part of a larger conversation about keeping them secure in general. Also known as "esafety," security online is very important for kids, as they can often face online risks in a digital and remote world.
Online Safety, Safety Tips, and Cyberbullying
The term "cyberbullying" means the use of online media (such as social media sites and social media apps) to tease, harass, embarrass, intimidate, or humiliate kids online.
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 kid's cyberbullying.
State laws generally address the following, when it comes to cyberbullying and keeping children safe online:
- Identifies cyberbullying or online harassment as a form of bullying
- Includes criminal penalties for cyberbullying or online harassment
- Includes school penalties for cyberbullying
- Requires schools to have a cyberbullying policy in place
- School penalties include off-campus instances of cyberbullying
For example, David's Law in Texas applies to acts committed both on and off school grounds and campuses. The law was named for a young man who committed suicide after being the victim of cyberbullying. The law requires schools to enact cyberbullying policies that, for example, deal with the following:
- How to notify parents of the alleged victim and the alleged bully
- Lists counseling and therapy options for students involved in cyberbullying
- Lays out a process for anonymously reporting acts of cyberbullying
As smartphones have gotten so common, it's not just a question of only worrying about what your kid is up to online when they are at home at the family computer. Now kids are at risk online anywhere that they carry their phones. Even before someone could use their phone to access chatting platforms anywhere, there were many places online for chatting with people all over the world in real time.
Popular with even very young children, chatting platforms can also be especially risky for adolescent kids who may be feeling the need to break away from a parent's control. In fact, many of these apps are especially designed to "hide" the messages after a certain period of time. An example of such a platform providing the option to do that is SnapChat -- a messaging app where messages "disappear" after a certain amount of time.
One of the greatest dangers to young people and their online safety includes sexual predators. These predators hang around in social networking platforms, chat rooms, games, online gaming apps, or other online platforms under the disguise of an innocent child or friend. In such disguises, they hope to find an unsuspecting child to chat with and lure into dangerous situations in real life.
It's a good idea for parents and teachers to tell kids about the importance of not connecting and chatting with strangers online and to recognize the danger signs. In its tips for parents, The Department of Justice (DOJ) also recommends that you consider adjusting the privacy settings of your kid's devices. The DOJ also recommends using parental controls on your kid's devices. Using privacy settings and parental controls, you can better protect your kid. You can keep your kid from viewing inappropriate content. In these ways, you can also keep your kid safe from online predators.
Warning Signs That Your Child May Be at Risk Online
Everyone's situation may be a little different, but 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. This may be an indication of high risks, and you might consider setting limits on your child's screen time.
- 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 quickly turns off the monitor to hide what they were viewing when you walk by.
- Your child withdraws from family activities.
- Your child uses an online account belonging to someone else.
What You Can Do to Keep Your Child Safe Online
There are some important things you can do to protect the safety of your kids online. You could start by talking with your kid about online dangers. Just as you would teach them about the safety of using a helmet when riding a bike, you also should teach them about the dangers of talking with strangers online. Some examples of safety measures are:
- Never agree to meet with a stranger in person
- Never give out personal identifying information, such as a full name, birthdate, address, phone numbers, and email addresses
- Never download pictures or other files from an unknown source or share pictures or other files with an unknown person
Make sure to spend time with your child online and know what they're actually searching for. Also, when your child is offline, continue talking with them about what they have been doing online.
You might also consider talking with your kid about what is acceptable for them to be doing online. Acceptable uses of computer time might include the following:
- Researching information for school projects
- Downloading 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 consider using software blocking controls or other parental controls offered by your internet service provider. Consider setting time limits on your child's online activities and internet use, as well.
Perhaps, you might also randomly check your child's email account and text messages. In this way, you could more easily identify signs of child predator acts. You might consider checking their browser history, as well. Set ground rules for how your child uses their computer and smartphone.
Concerned About Your Kids' Online Safety? An Attorney Can Help
More and more often, kids are spending a lot of their lives online, whether it's texting with friends or playing video games. It can be difficult to understand the risks they may be dealing with. If you believe your child's online safety is at risk or want to learn more about specific laws that apply wherever you live, it may be best to contact a local family law attorney.