The internet is essentially a digital reflection of the world—it contains both good and evil just as the world does.
While many parents experience a natural desire to totally shield their children from the evils that can lurk on the internet, that’s becoming harder to do as the world goes online. Parents must instead prepare their children at an age-appropriate level to navigate the digital world.
Help Your Child Be Safe, While Spending More Time Online
The COVID-19 pandemic has, of course, only increased online activity and the corresponding need to prepare children to safely navigate the internet. As video-chatting to see family and online courses become even more common, the internet and its capabilities can’t be ignored. They must be addressed and it’s best for children when parents take an early lead.
Thankfully, helping children learn how to navigate the internet is often not as difficult as parents think it will be. Remember, the internet is essentially a digital reflection of the real world. Many lessons on how to navigate the real world also directly apply to the internet — parents just need to add a few "digital nuts and bolts," so to speak. These internet safety tips for kids should help with that process.
1. Know The Online Threats Your Children Might Face
Knowledge is power, and it’s the antidote to fear when it comes to online threats. Before you get worked up about an imagined digital boogeyman, make sure you have a firm grasp of the real threats that children face when using the internet. Knowing what the threats are will help you realize the real risks and better position your children to guard against them.
In general, children face three distinct types of threats on the internet:
- Inappropriate Content: Over 55% of teens (age 10-12) have been exposed to violent content online, and almost 60% have seen sexually explicit material. These stats included unintentional and intentional exposure to inappropriate content.
- Cyberbullying: 14.9% of high school students report being electronically bullied within the past year, and the issue isn’t limited to teens. Across all public schools, 9% say that cyberbullying affects the school environment.
- Online Predators: FBI statistics show that half of all victims who succumb to online predators are in 7th to 9th grade. A vast 98% majority of predators never meet their victims in person, but they can still cause devastating harm.
When preparing children for the internet, it’s important to keep all three of these threats in view. Bad parts of town and unlit areas should both be avoided as you walk down a street at night. Coach your children on what to avoid and how to respond when they encounter a threat.
2. Familiarize Yourself With Tools to Protect Yourself and Your Kids
Regardless of whether you’re an Apple, Google, Windows, or Linux family, there are lots of tools that help with internet safety for kids. Apple, Google Play, Chromebook devices, Windows 10, Xbox One, Youtube Kids, Google Search, Amazon FreeTime, and Netflix all offer parental control or content restriction options that improve online safety for kids. Familiarize yourself with the controls and options for whatever devices/services your children use, and put the settings you want in place.
In addition to these controls, additional software is also available. A plethora of firewalls and filtering software products can be further used to safeguard your children’s online experience. Research these, and choose one that fits your family’s needs.
As you set up various tools, don’t keep the controls and settings a secret from your children. Instead, tell them what you’ve put in place and explain why. This isn’t so that your children can debate, argue, and complain, but to educate your children about the internet and establish trust between you.
3. Build Trust With Your Children
Of all the controls, tools, rules, and other measures you can put in place, nothing will be more powerful than developing trust with your children. A strong, trusting relationship that features open and honest communication will make it easier to discuss the threats that exist, how to protect oneself, and what to do if something bad does happen.
There are many things you can do to help build trust with your child. Start by:
- Establishing an open channel of communication
- Sharing the truth in an appropriate way whenever possible
- Listening to what they have to say
- Spending time connecting with your child
- Keeping the promises you make
Explaining the controls that you put in place is one example of the type of communication you’d like to have about online activities. To continue with this level of candor, both you and your children must respect one another. This requires being straightforward about actions, and responding in charity and understanding if your child does fall victim to a threat.
That last aspect—responding to pitfalls with understanding—is an especially important element of trust-building. The internet is vast, and some of the forces online are powerfully manipulative and deceptive. Even adults can end up in places where they didn’t intend to be or fall for dishonest ploys. Keep in mind too that those above-cited statistics for children are high.
If you learn that your child accessed inappropriate content, was cyberbullied, or was taken advantage of, be careful in how you approach them, allowing them to tell their side of the story and seeking to understand (not just punish). There likely will be mistakes to identify, address, and correct, but overall you want your child to know that they can trust you and come to you if a problem were to arise in the future. Finally, make sure you check on and care for your child who’s been impacted.
4. Establish Habits for Smart Online Behavior
From a very young age, parents teach children how to walk around streets. Young children learn to look before crossing roads, and older children learn to walk in well-lit areas at night. These carry into adulthood and provide a lifelong habit of being aware of one’s surroundings.
Similarly, you can help your child learn how to navigate the internet. These habits may start out as rules, just like crossing streets begin as “you need to hold a hand when crossing the road.” However, the rules will eventually transition into habits where children are self-aware of their actions.
A few rules or habits to include:
- Don’t share personal or family information online without permission.
- Don’t talk online with strangers you haven’t met in person.
- Don’t meet people you “know” online in an in-person setting.
- Make sure you’d be willing to view this content with Grandma in the room.
- Only download or upload items with permission.
- Only post pictures with permission.
- Only visit secure websites (https protocol).
- Only access the internet in shared family spaces.
- Avoid staying online too long or too late at night.
Help Child Victims of Online Sexual Abuse
Even with the best intentions and preventions, children can still become victims of online sexual abuse. Depending on how you feel called to help these children, here are three ways you can help these victims:
First, if you know a child who has been victimized, you can help direct them to the support and assistance they need. If you are not a trained professional, you should not try to take the place of law enforcement, social workers, or therapists; however, you can offer a listening ear, tell them they are safe, and connect them to the local support services they need. You can start on the RAINN website and by calling 911.
Second, many organizations are working to help children around the world who are victims of sexual abuse during this time. MercyWorks is one of those organizations, and a small donation to MercyWorks will do wonders for a child. If you feel called to help a child heal from the trauma of abuse, you can learn more by visiting our website.
Third, please keep all child victims of sexual abuse in your prayers. Prayers are powerful and there’s always hope for children in the hands of our loving Savior, Jesus. Pray that the children would come to his outstretched arms and find healing through him.
Finally—Trust Your Heavenly Father
Raising children during the age of the internet can be daunting, but take solace — you can navigate this with wisdom, and your children can learn to act responsibly online. Also, remember that you don’t have to do this alone. As you navigate the challenges of internet safety with your children, know that your Heavenly Father is watching over both of you and always present for help.