The Covid-19 pandemic has caused kids to become even more glued to their screens. Children spend more time online now than ever, which has led to an increase in a variety of problems, including cyberbullying, online predators, and inappropriate content — the top three online dangers.
More than a third of kids aged 12 to 17 have experienced cyberbullying. Furthermore, there have been almost 30 million reports of child sexual exploitation in 2021, up 35% compared to 2020.
So, how can you protect your children from these terrible situations? For starters, you can read this guide. We’ll cover everything you need to know, including topics such as:
The top online safety threats for kids
How to deal with cyberbullying
How to deal with sexual predators
Using social media safely
And much more…
How much time do children and teens spend on the Internet?
Most children and teenagers spend a lot of time online via their phones, computers, gaming consoles, etc. They use the Internet for school, entertainment (video streaming, listening to music, playing games, etc.), and staying connected with their friends and family.
According to a report from the Pew Research Center, approximately 95% of teens use phones; 45% of teens reported their Internet use was almost constant.
Furthermore, according to The Center for Parenting Education, kids and teens aged 8 to 28 spent 6.35 hours per day in front of digital screens before the Covid-19 pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has increased the amount of time American teens spend online. Throughout the pandemic, kids spent over seven hours a day on digital technology.
Online places where kids can be at risk
Unfortunately, there are plenty of online places kids and teens frequent where they are at risk, including:
Chat rooms: Many kids still use chat rooms to communicate with friends and strangers in real-time. According to recent studies, one in five teenagers who enter chat rooms falls victim to bullying.
Online games: Most kids play video or computer games, and many of these games are online. Some strangers they encounter while playing can be dangerous.
Social networking sites: Nearly all teenagers use social media, whether it's Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok. Because so many kids and teens are on these platforms, predators and other nefarious actors take advantage of these apps.
Instant messaging apps: Apps like WhatsApp, Messenger, or Messages for iOS have billions of users worldwide, attracting kids and those who wish to harm them.
Email: Although kids and teens do not use it as often as IM apps, email is still a popular communication medium that predators use to target kids through malicious email attachments and phishing.
Software download sites: Many software download sites or sources are unsafe. Kids who interact with these sites can be exposed to adware, spyware, or trojans, allowing predators to spy on them.
File-sharing networks: Online piracy is still an everyday occurrence. Kids who want to download pirated games or movies use pirate networks and P2P file-sharing clients like uTorrent or BitTorrent. Many pirated files contain malware.
There are plenty of online places kids and teens frequent where they are at risk.
Top online threats for kids and teens
The following are the most common and dangerous online safety threats for kids.
Cyberbullying — Cyberbullying is a type of online harassment that can take many forms, such as name-calling, spreading rumors, or sending threatening messages. It can be just as harmful as physical bullying and, in some cases, worse.
Sexual predators — An online sexual predator is someone who uses the Internet to pursue sexual relationships with minors. These people can be strangers or someone the child knows personally.
Dangerous or inappropriate websites — Many websites feature dangerous or inappropriate content for children, including pornography, violence, and other harmful content.
Cyberbullying, online predators, and inappropriate content are the top three online dangers for kids.
How can I protect my children from cyberbullying?
According to a report from the Pew Research Center, 59% of U.S. teens have experienced cyberbullying. Check out how to keep kids safe from online bullies and what to do if your child is bullying others.
Here are some tips to prevent your kids from being cyberbullied:
Set these ground rules with your children to protect them from online bullying:
1. Make sure your child has a strong sense of self-esteem. Kids who experience cyberbullying are more likely to be targeted if they are insecure or have low self-esteem.
2. Promote body positivity. Teach your children that all bodies are beautiful and that they should be proud of their shape. This will boost their self-esteem, protecting them from negative influences online.
3. Help your child build positive relationships with their friends and classmates. Kids with supportive friendships are less likely to be bullied on and offline.
4. Monitor your child's Internet use. Keep an eye on their social media profiles, including who they talk to online.
5. Teach your children how to defend themselves. Kids need to know how to protect themselves and be assertive in the face of bullies.
6. Tell them not to respond to harassment. The National Center on Missing and Exploited Children recommend teaching your children not to respond to cyberbullies.
What can I do if my child is a victim of cyberbullying?
If you think your child is experiencing cyberbullying, there are a few things you can do:
1. Encourage your child to speak up. It's important to let them know they can come to you with any problem, big or small.
2. Talk to your child about what's going on. Having an open and honest conversation with your child about their experiences is essential.
3. Report the bullying to the service or platform where it's occuring. Many social media platforms and websites feature reporting tools that you can use to report bullying.
4. Save evidence of bullying, including screenshots and messages. According to The National Center on Missing and Exploited Children, this can be helpful if you decide to take legal action.
5. Contact law enforcement. In some cases, cyberbullying may be a crime. You can contact law enforcement if you think your child is in danger.
What to do if your child is cyberbullying others:
If your child is bullying someone online, there are a few things you can do:
1. Talk to your child about their behavior. Having a conversation with your child about why their behavior is wrong and how it can hurt others is essential.
2. Help your child develop empathy for others. This includes teaching them how their words and actions can affect others.
3. Apologize on behalf of your child. If your child is bullying someone, it's important to apologize on their behalf. This can help to repair the damage done.
4. Take away your child's privileges. This includes taking phones and computers and limiting their time online.
5. Get help from a professional. In some cases, getting help from a therapist or other professional may be necessary. This is especially true if your child has trouble controlling their anger or engages in other risky behavior.
How can I protect my children from online predators?
It’s not uncommon for online predators to pose as someone they’re not to gain a child's trust. They often use fake profile pictures and other details to appear more believable.
Online predators can be very manipulative. Scare tactics, including threatening to hurt a child or their family members to get what they want, are not uncommon.
Often, predators will ask for personal information or try to set up meetings. In some cases, they will attempt to kidnap a child once they’ve agreed to meet up in person.
You can do a few things to keep kids safe from online predators. As a parent, you should monitor their Internet use and check their social media accounts. Consider the tips below, too.
Teaching kids how to stay safe online from predators
Make it known that not everyone is who they say they are.
Kids should not share personal information online, including their name, address, phone number, or school details.
Teach your child they should not agree to meet someone they've met online.
Explain to them they should never respond to messages from people they don't know.
Teach them to block and report strangers who harass them online.
Emphasize the importance of telling a trusted adult if they encounter anything that makes them feel uncomfortable online.
If you think an online predator is contacting your child, save the evidence, including any type of communication with that person. If your child is in danger, call 911 immediately. Alternatively, visit CyberTipline.com to report a crime against your child. Here’s a harrowing fact: CyberTipline received 29.3 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation, up 35% from the previous year.
CyberTipline received 29.3 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation, up 35% from the previous year.
How can I protect my children from inappropriate online content?
Protecting your children from viewing inappropriate online material, including pornography and websites with harmful or violent content, is essential. Here are a few tips to consider:
Talk to your child about why pornography is harmful. Explain that pornography can be addictive and leads to distorted views of sex.
Keep your family computer visible so you can see what your child does online.
Keep an eye on how much time your child spends online. You should also be aware of the websites your children visit and what they view online.
Install parental control software on your child's phone, computer, or other devices to filter out offensive content and set time limits regarding online access.
Use a kid-friendly search engine. Some search engines are designed specifically for kids, such as Kiddle.co, KidsSearch.com, and KidRex.org.
Teaching kids to stay safe from other threats
The following online risks are less common for children than cyberbullying, predators, and unsuitable content. That said, parents and caretakers should still be aware of them.
Malware is malicious software that infects computers and other devices. Hackers use it to steal personal details or damage and disable devices. Common forms of malware include viruses, spyware, and ransomware.
Although it can be dangerous, you can protect your computer from malware by using an antivirus program and being careful about the websites you visit. For additional security, don't open attachments or links in emails unless you're confident they're safe.
Online fraud and scams
Online scams like phishing, fake contests, or sweepstakes are becoming increasingly common, and protecting your children from them is vital. As scammers often attempt to take advantage of unsuspecting children, teaching them how to spot a scam is crucial. Signs that a website might be a scam include:
The website looks unprofessional and poorly made.
It asks for your child's personal information, such as their name, address, or phone number.
It asks your child to buy something without providing details about what they’re buying.
It asks your child to click on a link or download a file.
The website promises gifts or money in exchange for help.
If your child comes across a scam, they should not respond to it and immediately tell an adult.
Texting and driving
Texting and driving can lead to debilitating accidents and, in some situations, even death. Did you know that texting while driving is responsible for one in every four automobile accidents in the United States? According to the National Safety Council, from the 1.6 million incidents each year, texting while driving accounts for 390,000.
Here's what you can do to prevent your teen from texting and driving:
Talk to your teen about the dangers of texting and driving. Explain that it's not worth risking their life or the lives of others for a text message.
Set rules about how much they can use their phone while driving. You may wish to consider banning all phone use while driving or setting limits on the number of minutes they can spend on the phone daily.
Install a driver safety app on your child's phone. These apps will disable the phone's texting and calling features while the car is in motion.
If your child is still texting and driving, take their phone away until they prove they can obey the rules.
Texting while driving is responsible for one in every four car accidents in the United States.
Eye strain, wrist strain, and other injuries
Prolonged use of computers and mobile devices with Internet access can lead to eye strain, wrist strain, and other issues. Here are a few tips for preventing computer-related injuries:
Sit up straight with your shoulders back. This will help to reduce strain on the neck and back.
Keep your elbows close to your body. This helps to reduce strain on the wrists.
Stretch your arms and wrists often to prevent pain and injury.
Take a break every 20 minutes to prevent eye strain, wrist strain, and other injuries.
Internet addiction is a real problem, and it's becoming more and more common. Kids can become addicted to online activity in the same way that they can become addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Signs that your child might be addicted to online activities include:
Spending more time on the computer than they should.
Neglecting schoolwork or other responsibilities in favor of the Internet.
Withdrawing from friends and family members.
Becoming irritable or angry when they cannot use the Internet.
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they can't use the Internet.
If you think your child may be addicted to the Internet, talk to them about it and seek help from a professional if necessary.
How to secure your children’s devices
Technology and apps are an excellent way to secure your children’s devices. However, it’s important to remember that they are just additional tools, not a substitute for open conversation. Check out these essential online safety tips for your kids’ devices:
Install security software
Security software solutions like Bitdefender, Norton, and McAfee stop malware from harming your devices, including spyware, ransomware, and trojans. They also include a wide range of safety features like parental controls and network safety.
Install a VPN
A VPN will encrypt all the data your child sends and receives, making it difficult for anyone to hack into their devices. VPNs can also stop Internet Service Providers from viewing your online activity. Some of the best VPN services include CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, and PrivateInternetAccess.
Parental control software
Parental control software allows you to restrict the type of content your child has access to and the amount of time they spend on their devices. Bitdefender, Norton, and McAfee include some of the best parental control features on the market.
Set up WPA security on your router
WPA security is the most secure form of wireless security. It encrypts your network and protects your child's devices from hackers and other online dangers.
Use a child-safe browser
A child-safe Internet browser like Kidoz or CyberSitter allows your child to browse the Internet without exposure to harmful content.
Create strong passwords
Strong passwords that are difficult to crack are a great way to protect your child’s devices. Consider using a password manager like LastPass to create and manage strong passwords.
Set a password for your router
Setting a router password will improve your child's online safety by preventing unauthorized access to your network.
Use two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security to your child's devices. It requires the user to enter a one-time code in addition to their password to gain access.
Control administrative access
Administrative access is used to change the settings on a device. You should disable administrative access on your child’s devices unless you trust the person using it.
Enable Windows security options
Windows has several helpful tools that you can use to protect children. These include BitLocker, which encrypts all the data on your child's device, and Family Safety, which allows you to restrict the type of content your child can see.
Tweak macOS security options
macOS Internet safety options enable you to protect kids online easily. One key feature is FileVault, which encrypts all the data on your child's device. Another feature is Parental Controls, which offers parental supervision features and restricts potential dangers.
Manage iOS security options
The iOS Internet safety features for keeping children safe online include Activation Lock, which prevents someone from wiping your child's device, and Restrictions, which allow you to restrict the type of content your child can see.
Control Android security options
Android has many Internet safety features for protecting kids from online danger. These include Device Administrator, which allows you to lock or erase your child's device remotely, and App Lock, which enables you to restrict the type of content your child can see.
Security apps are an excellent way to secure your children’s devices, but they can’t replace an open conversation.
Using smartphones responsibly
Smartphones can be an excellent way for your child to stay connected with friends and family. However, they’re also targets for predators and online bullies. Here are a few tips for using mobile devices responsibly:
Create a strong password: your child's smartphone should have a strong password that is difficult to guess.
Set privacy settings: privacy settings allow you to control who can see your child's personal information. You should enable privacy settings on all of your child's devices.
Install parental control programs: a parental control app like Bitdefender Family Pack allows you to monitor your child's activity and protect them from online threats.
Discuss geolocation services: when your youngster uses their mobile device to post online, it might inadvertently reveal their position. Before purchasing a phone, ensure you know how to turn off location services for photographs and other postings while still utilizing the phone’s built-in GPS for map-related functions.
Using social media safely
There’s a good chance your child uses social media to express themselves, create content, or stay connected with friends and family. However, social media can also be a platform for predators and cyberbullies. Make sure your child's social networking profiles adhere to the following rules:
Keep your posts private. Your child's posts should be private, only shared with people they know and trust.
Don't post personal information. Your child should never post their address, phone number, full name, birth date, or other personal information on social media. There are plenty of identity thieves that can take advantage of this information.
Don't accept friend requests from strangers. Your child should only accept friend requests from people they know and trust.
Check your privacy settings frequently. Privacy settings can change without your knowledge. Check them frequently to ensure that your child's profile remains private.
Be aware of what your child is posting. Make sure you know the type of content that your child is posting on social media. Talk to them about why it is inappropriate to post harmful content.
Think before you post. Your child should be aware of the consequences of posting harmful content online. They may be embarrassed, fired from their job, or even arrested in some circumstances.
Online predators and cyberbullies commonly use social media to target children.
How do I set rules? The Family Online Safety Contract
Once you've taught your kids safe and responsible online behavior, you may wish to put it in writing. Create an Internet safety contract with your kids explaining what is and is not allowed when using the Internet. Have them sign it and keep it in a visible place near the computer.
To make things easier, downloadable contracts are available online for print. One example is the Family Online Safety Contract, which includes an agreement for parents.
The contract will give your child a better insight into the risks of the Internet and how they should act. A contract may also jump-start conversations about safe online habits and the amount of time your child spends online. Keep conversations open as your children grow older.
Internet safety tips for kids: key takeaways
When it comes to Internet safety for kids, being proactive is critical. Many potential dangers lurk online, and it's essential to take steps to protect your children from them.
Antivirus software solutions like Bitdefender and Norton provide an essential barrier against threats like online predators, inappropriate content, malware, and scams.
In summary, here's how you can keep kids safe online:
Talk to your kids about Internet safety early and often to make them aware of the dangers on the web.
Warn them about cyberbullying and how to deal with it.
Warn them about the strangers they may encounter online.
Talk to them about the risks of viewing inappropriate content.
Install reliable security software on all family devices to protect them from malware.
Use parental control software on all your kids' devices to protect them from harmful online content.
Secure your kids' devices using kid-friendly technology and security settings.
Show them how to spot fake websites and emails to avoid scams.
Tell them about the hazards of texting and driving.
Teach them to use smartphones and social media responsibly.
Create an Internet safety contract and sign it with your kids.
Octav Fedor (Cybersecurity Editor)
Octav is a cybersecurity researcher and writer at AntivirusGuide. When he’s not publishing his honest opinions about security software online, he likes to learn about programming, watch astronomy documentaries, and participate in general knowledge competitions.