Protecting children online: Internet safety tips for kids (and parents)

September 14, 2020

Learn how to protect your children online with these internet safety tips

Several children safely doing schoolwork on the internet

Texas schools are now in session and many children are going to class remotely. Even children attending classes in person are still using the internet for homework, tests, and communication. The internet can, of course, be a great resource — but there are also plenty of dangers that lurk behind the links. So, how can you protect your kids online without preventing their ability to learn? How can you guide them to make the right decisions when communicating with peers and even strangers? Check out our internet safety tips for kids (and their parents) to make their experience on the web both safe and educational.

Start with the right software

You probably wouldn't let your child go just anywhere in the physical world, so you shouldn't let them go just anywhere in the digital world. Begin by installing the right software on your child's devices and restricting the apps that they can install. Router options make it possible for you to control your home network — even if other children bring other devices into your home. But your child isn't always going to be at home, so you also need to be able to control the settings on their devices, too.

Use VPNs with parental control options

VPN technology can be used to create a child-safe connection to the internet. When you use a VPN, everything accessed is filtered through that VPN. The VPN can automatically take out anything that might be considered inappropriate for your child, as well as sites that could potentially be a security risk. Just as many adults utilize VPNs for security when working remotely, these tools can be used to protect children when connecting for school work and when browsing the net recreationally. 

Turn on Google Safe Search

Students today are using Google increasingly for their studies. But because Google is just a search engine, its search queries may lead them to inappropriate places. One of the best ways to protect children is through Google Safe Search. Google Safe Search will remove any instances of them accidentally seeing something inappropriate. But Google Safe Search can be subverted if a student is especially tech savvy, which is why VPNs and apps tend to be more secure.

Consider using child safety and monitoring apps

There are many apps that can monitor what your child is doing online and report back. It's not always possible to protect your child from everything. A determined child today can be quite skilled at defeating site-blocking software. Monitoring apps will provide a failsafe; if your child does get onto any inappropriate sites, you'll at least know. Discuss the monitoring apps with your child transparently and go over them together. It will make your child feel like you're "in this together" rather than being the enemy.

Keep it on neutral territory

It's impossibly difficult to keep an eye on a child with a computer in their bedroom. Moreover, it isn't really healthy for young children to be able to retreat in that way; they'll spend too much time online and may become too absorbed into the digital world when they need to be concentrating on other things. For younger children, keep the device use out in common, neutral areas. As children get older, desktops and laptops can be moved into bedrooms.

Learn more about what your children are watching

It's really inevitable: We all end up out of touch. But it's easy to get back in touch again. Talk to your child about what they're doing, what apps they're using, and what sites they use for research. Ask them to explain more about the things they like to watch and the content creators they keep up with. You'll be able to guide them better if you know more about their habits, and you'll be able to head off any dangerous interests with knowledge and experience.

Educate your children regarding "bad internet neighborhoods"

Just like adults, children should know the basics of internet security. First, help them learn how to identify internet "bad neighborhoods": Areas of the internet that are likely to have a lot of ads, phishing attempts, malware, and so forth. Make sure children know what they shouldn't share on the internet and how to tell whether a site could be a "scam." Being more skeptical will serve your child in many ways, not just this one.

This may also be a good opportunity to teach your children about privacy on the internet. Make sure they understand what sorts of personal information they shouldn't give out, such as their names, home address, and phone numbers. While adults routinely share this information with online stores and services, children may not be able to discern when, where, and with whom to share sensitive information. For that reason, it's important that they understand to be cautious if and when a site (or individual) on the internet asks for such information.

Make sure to secure your webcam

In the past, restricting access to a webcam was as simple as unplugging it from your computer. Today, it's nearly impossible to find a device without one. As webcams have become more commonplace, it's important to teach your children how they can be used and how they can be misused. While many students may have uses for webcams for remote work, it's important that they understand who might be on the other end of the camera. 

While most webcams are physically integrated with devices, there are products that can help you block the camera when it isn't in use. Remember, even if you deactivate your camera through software or settings, the only sure way to be sure it is disabled is to physically block it. 

Consider when to lift restrictions

Children aren't children forever. As children get older, you may want to give them additional freedom. If they get all their freedom at once when they're 18, it could be more dangerous than if they had acquired it earlier, under your guidance. By giving children a little more freedom at a time (such as giving them more devices, or removing parental restrictions), you give them time to acclimate to making their own decisions and risk assessments.

Talk about social media

Like many things, there are positives and negatives associated with social media. It can be a way for children to organize, communicate, and stay in touch outside of school, but it can also be a venue for cyberbullying. Furthermore, it can be nearly impossible to restrict the types of content your child may be exposed to on a social media platform. While you will be the ultimate judge of when and if your child is allowed on social media, it's always a good idea to speak to them about it beforehand. 

If you feel they are ready, make sure they understand that the content they post may last forever - pictures, videos, comments, and posts can be difficult, if not impossible, to remove from the internet. Give your child the strategies to deal with what can happen online and make sure they understand how their online life can impact their offline life.

Foster transparency

The best way to engage your child is to listen to them. Make sure they're involved in your choices regarding their internet use. Explain to them why you're making the decisions you're making, and tell them what to do in the event that they experience issues online. They shouldn't be afraid to come to you because they've done or experienced "something wrong." Instead, they should understand that you are on their team and that your only interest is in protecting them.

Watch your digital wallet

Finally, there's another insidious threat to children: micro-transactions. Make sure your children understand that they need to be wary of online purchasing and in-app purchases. Don't connect credit cards or digital wallets unless you have to, and make sure everything is hidden behind a PIN or a biometric lock. Even adults regularly fall for online credit card fraud.

Lead by example

Remember: You're in this together. If you have limits on your child's internet access, lead by example by showing them that you're limiting your access, too. It's probably healthy for you both! Obey any digital curfews you have, and show your child how you're obeying your own security rules, too. Your child will be more likely to follow these rules if they know that you're being cautious about the internet too.

At the end of the day, kids are going to be interacting and learning online. They'll be in and out of chat rooms and forums soon enough. A parent has as little control of their child's online life as they have control over what they talk about at school. As kids get older, they get savvier — and the technology is everywhere. To truly protect their children, parents need to foster a healthy attitude of communication and transparency. Parents can only educate their children of the dangers, protect them while they're young, and hope that they will come to them if they have questions or concerns moving into the future.

A child safely learning math on the internet

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by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Strategist at Germania Insurance.

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