The internet is an incredible resource for children to learn, communicate with family and friends, and entertain themselves while you’re busy tackling the latest work emergency. But it can also expose children to both virtual and real-world dangers. While children are gaming, chatting, or surfing the internet, they can stumble onto inappropriate content and images, malicious emails or file sharing programs, or even actual predators who may use the internet to find and lure their victims. Fortunately, there are several resources out there to help educate both parents and kids about internet safety.
One of the Most Challenging—and Vital—Discussions for Today’s Parents
When you were a child, your parents may have advised you not to talk to strangers or to be home before dark. But these days, kids have to learn how to navigate in an entire virtual world as well.
In fact, experts believe that internet safety may be one of the most challenging discussions that parents have with their children in our modern world. It’s also quickly becoming a required conversation—or series of conversations—beginning when children are young.
The problem is that internet safety for kids is—perhaps surprisingly—not that simple, in part because the various uses of the Internet are constantly changing as technology advances. For example, a new social network or online game may expose a child in a way that a parent doesn’t yet understand because they aren’t familiar with the website or program.
What Kids May Be Exposed to Online
According to the US Department of Justice, internet use may expose children to:
- Demeaning, racist, sexist, violent, hateful, or false information
- Pornographic websites
- Unsolicited emails containing obscene material
- File swapping programs containing inappropriate or mislabeled content
- Online predators who may use the Internet to find and lure victims through chat rooms, instant messaging, and social networking platforms
Experts recommend that parents be aware of what their kids see and hear on the internet, who they meet, and what information they share about themselves.
The Key to a Child’s Online Safety May Be Communication
A myriad of experts—from Google’s Safe Search to non-profit KidsHealth to the Federal Trade Commission —all recommend one key element in helping kids stay safer online: open communication with their parents or guardians.
Fortunately, several organizations provide resources for both parents and kids to better understand internet safety and keep the dialogue open.
- The Federal Trade Commission’s Kids Online covers internet safety, cyberbullying, scams, and identity theft and also offers Net Cetera, a 15-page guide on how to talk to kids about online safety.
- NetSmartz, from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, offers tip sheets on a variety of topics such as gaming safety, cyberbullying and sexting, a video series for kids, and a cyber tip line to report online and offline exploitation of children.
- Google’s Safe Search provides articles for parents on online and social media safety, articles written just for kids, and a kid-friendly internet search tool.
What to Do if You Suspect a Problem
- If you or your child encounter offensive material or hear about online predators, the US Department of Justice recommends documenting the incident and reporting it directly to local law enforcement or the local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
If you believe a website is operating illegally, report the information immediately to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at www.cybertipline.com or 1-800-843-5678. Your report will then be forwarded to a law enforcement agency for investigation and action.