Parent’s Guide to Rock-Solid Internet Safety

by Teddy Mitova

The Web is dark and full of terrors.

It’s like an enormously thick magical book full of useful spells, gathered through the ages. But it also contains dangerous dark magic lurking, able to corrupt and destroy you if you’re not careful…

That’s why you must protect and teach your precious babies until they’ve grown enough to harness the tricky magic of the internet by themselves.

We’ll focus on internet safety today.

All parents and teachers, gather around and let me tell you about the vast online land and what you should do to ensure your children’s or students’ safety on the World Wide Web.

Don’t be quick to despair. It’s quite simple actually, as long as you follow this guide to internet safety. It will tell you everything you need to know.

We’ll start with the main risks and types of threats, then we’ll discuss the symptoms of a child in need of help, and we’ll see how to prevent dangers. In the end, you will know most of what there is to know about how to be safe on the internet.

What Are the Main Dangers?

Many people ask, is the internet safe? It depends mainly on you. Nothing is absolutely safe, and the benefits of using the Web far outweigh the risks. Especially since we can minimize the latter.

In this day and age, as technology takes over the world in ever-deeper ways, it is important to educate yourself about the dangers that come with it. You should know what may harm your child and what measures to take in advance. The main dangers you should be aware of are:

  • cyberbullying
  • cyberpredators
  • sharing private information
  • posts with delayed effect on a child’s life
  • phishing
  • scams
  • downloading malware

In no way are only children susceptible to them. Many adults fall prey as well. By reading these internet safety tips for parents, you will learn how to protect both yourself and whoever you’re responsible for. With all this unlimited access to information, it would be a shame not to make good use of it.

So let’s study carefully the modern types of threats mentioned above. Let’s also look at the internet safety tips for dealing with them.

Types of Threats (in Details)

According to all internet safety articles, these are the most common and serious threats:

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like smartphones, computers, and tablets. In SMS, text, on apps, social media, forums, or in gaming – it has many media.

A cyberbully would send, post, or share negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone. Click To Tweet This can include exposing personal or private info about them to cause humiliation or embarrassment. Common examples are calling someone “fat” or “stupid,” and posting embarrassing photos of the victim.

cyberbullying

Most commonly, cyberbullying happens on social media (such as Facebook and Snapchat), and via text message, instant message or email.

Kids nowadays become well acquainted with technology early on and while bullying has always existed, the internet provides a new way for them to do it.

If the content they share is public, like photos or comments, the reputation of both sides can be damaged.

The worst is that cyberbullying can be quite persistent, since young people spend a lot of time online, and digital devices flood with notifications.

Moreover, it is harder to detect because parents or teachers may not see or recognize it.

This is why you should stay vigilant. In addition to scanning children’s and teens’ online profiles and checking behavior for suspicious signs, encourage them to communicate openly with you.

But, in the first place, teach them in advance about these dangers and how to deal with bullies.

Cyberpredators

Kids are easily-trusting, as they have no reason not to be. That makes them vulnerable to online predators.

These people hunt on social media and game sites children frequent. This way they exploit children’s favorite platforms and games and mask their intentions as well-meaning, or as “just having fun.” They will probably start with innocent friendly chats. After they’ve earned the child’s trust, they will move toward probing questions and eventually send and demand photos that will make the child uncomfortable. Often their reassuring phrase will be “We’re just playing” to trick children into feeling safe as if playing a game so that they do what they’re asked for.

Authorities monitor the internet for such predators, and strict laws exist. Still, the best defense is to have open communication with your child and making sure they will talk to you immediately if they feel threatened or uneasy.

You should stay alert, and act even if there is the least suspicion that your child is going through something.

Later in this article, we will focus on specific symptoms that can reveal when a child is in distress and in urgent need of help.

For the time being, let’s leave it at that and move on to the next digital threat.

Sharing Private Information

Children have not yet grasped social boundaries. They might post personal information online, for example on their social media profile, that shouldn’t be there, or at least shouldn’t be available to everyone. This includes images of embarrassing personal moments, and, more frighteningly, addresses.

Social media outright stops children below a certain age from creating a profile for a reason. Those internet safety rules are time-tested and proven, and they’re a good guideline for your kids as well.

That said, they will need some guidance at the beginning of their online existence.

Operative word – some.

Trying to “guide” them too much can easily turn into a desire to control them, which could lead to them not sharing their thoughts and concerns with you.

Simply teach your children what information they shouldn’t share (phone, address, school, parent’s names and places of work, debit and credit card details, etc.); gently remind them when they post something inappropriate or public, which needs to be private.

Make sure they add only people they know. Have a calm discussion about public boundaries. Explain the reasons behind your advice; that’ll show them you actually care rather than trying to limit them.

No one likes being told what to do in a patronizing voice (or in a “Because I said so” manner), especially when they’re a kid discovering the world around them. Remember your own feelings when you were growing up and it’ll be easier to put yourself in your child’s shoes.

Posts With Delayed Effect on a Child’s Life

This is similar to posting private information, but in this case, we are talking about embarrassing or inappropriate posts, photos, and comments that may have a negative impact on a child’s life later.

For example, universities, employees or future dates may check your online profiles for clues and get the wrong impression if they find such posts (drunk, vulgar, racist, violent pictures or comments, etc.)

It is a silly mistake to make. An easy solution you can tell your kids is to always post awkward photos or controversial opinions with a “private” filter.

Later they can go through all their posts and photos, and decide what to delete or keep. It is best not to add strangers as friends, as they will have access to all your information, and they might have malicious intents.

Phishing

In this kind of fishing, you’re the big fish that malicious people are hoping to catch. Essentially, phishing uses emails to trick people into clicking on malicious links or attachments. There is also “smishing” – the same thing, but with text messages.

phishing

Usually, such messages are short and designed to pique your curiosity, such as “Wow! Look at that!” but don’t be fooled! Even if you think it’s sent by a friend, double-check with the sender and don’t be quick to open any suspicious URLs.

Children are quite prone to phishing due to their natural curiosity, innocence, naivety, and excitement. Again, it occurs the most on social media, gaming and other websites popular with children.

Low blow, I know!

Cybercriminals, who create such messages, keep track of users on convenient websites and gather information about email addresses and friends’ lists to target later.

Simply teach children not to click on messages and emails from strangers or such that seem to be from a friend but contain no personal message.

Scams

We’ve all seen scam emails offering you lots of money, claiming you’ve won the lottery, etc. Children might not be interested in those but messages that promise free access to online games or something similar that they crave often work.

The process is similar to that of phishing – cybercriminals monitor information on popular sites to single out potential victims and then promise them something tempting. Of course, there is a catch – they need the parent’s credit card information first.

Teach children to be wary of offers that are too good to be true. Make sure your child knows never to touch your credit cards and share such information without your permission. If there is good communication and they know to consult you first, there shouldn’t be any problems.

Downloading Malware

malware

Malware is malicious computer software that is accidentally installed without the knowledge or permission of the victim. It performs harmful actions on the computer, and depending on the virus, can have very serious consequences, costing you time and money to fix.

Malware may steal personal information from your computer, or hijack it for use in a botnet. Phishing is one way of sending malware.

Again, with children, the easiest way to trick them into downloading an infected file is to disguise it as a game.

As with scams and other threats, the best policy is to educate children in advance. They should first ask themselves, is this website safe?

Moreover, don’t forget to install a strong antivirus program and similar security add-ons to help protect your and your child’s computer. A lot of internet security products offer specific parental controls as well, so take advantage of them.

Too Much Time Spent Online

There are many parents and teachers who are worried children get too much screen time. This means any time spent in front of a digital screen of any kind.

Too much time in front of a screen may have a negative impact on children’s physical and mental health. It increases chances of becoming obese, of having a harder time getting to bed and of developing depression, anxiety, and attention problems.

Often children and teens become obsessed playing online games all day. They don’t want to leave the house and to top it off, they’re munching on unhealthy snacks.

Moreover, they might talk to friends online on social media or while playing a game but have difficulties communicating and expressing themselves in real life.

Lastly, being on your phone or computer until before going to sleep is not recommended because the light from the screen keeps you awake. The adrenaline of playing a game also prevents people from falling asleep quickly and might cause nightmares too.

Bringing down your child’s screen time is a quick and sure remedy for everything you’ve just read. Instead, you can encourage them to spend more time outside in physical activities, or simply reading. Later you will see specific measures you can take to decrease the time children spend online.

Symptoms

Now let’s see how you can recognize when a child has unhealthy online habits and/or is under attack by any of the threats described above.

Spending too much time online may eventually start affecting your child’s life – such as performance at school, maintaining friendships in the real world, doing sports, and having a good sleep regime.

Lying about how much time they spend online, who they talk to and what they do online is also a red flag. It might be an internet addiction or a sign they are being influenced by a cyberbully or a cyberpredator.

Getting agitated and/or angry when interrupted or asked about their online activities, getting irritated when you deny them access to the Web, and moody or depressed after a couple of offline days are also warning signs.

If your child receives text messages, phone calls and emails from strangers, it is a very alarming sign, which may point to online predators. As soon as someone attempts to contact your child, you should find out who they are and what they want.

Finding sexually explicit photos or videos on your child’s devices is another sign. Perhaps it’s just a teen who is curious and wants to have fun. Still, you should set certain restrictions and explain to them how serious the consequences of their actions can be. For starters, they might come in contact with an online predator, and there is also the danger of them being charged for porn distribution because of sexting.

If your child has become too secretive:

  • using hidden social media accounts and secret emails
  • changing passwords
  • deleting browser history and chats or parts of the conversation
  • and quickly switching off the screen when you enter the room

… those can be warning signs as well.

This definitely means they want to hide something. It’s optimal if you can find out what that is without being too direct or strict with them.

Getting upset, sad or angry when online, and showing signs of depression or sadness might point to a cyberbullying problem.

Withdrawing from family and friends might also occur in this case.

Refusing or being reluctant to participate in activities previously enjoyed, refusing to go to school, or expressing anger or dissatisfaction related to it – even making up illnesses to stay at home, are key signs not only to bullying but possibly cyberbullying.

An unexplained decline in grades might also be a result of your child being a (cyber)bully’s victim.

This is a long list, I know. Fortunately, you can bookmark this internet guide so you can always have it available.

Prevention

Let’s see how to prevent any potential threats and communicate with children effectively. Here are the web safety tips:

Number 1 on the list is communication. Start early and create a healthy habit of talking openly with your child about everything. That way, they’ll know they can trust you without feeling judged or scorned whatever they’ve done.

This will most certainly come in handy later. When they encounter an obstacle or a danger online, they will come and ask for guidance and help.

Having a serious conversation with your child before you let them use the internet is important. Click To Tweet Explain to them everything about online predators, bullies, social media, malware, etc. so they are fully prepared.

Just make sure to present all this information in a short and simple manner they can process easily. Choose a convenient time for this conversation when your child will be receptive and engaged instead of tired or distracted.

Asking your child or teen for advice on how to do something online is a good conversation starter because they will feel appreciated and proud they can help you. Then it won’t feel like a lecture, but rather a discussion.

And again, assure them they can always come to you if they’re upset by something. Encourage them when they share their online experiences with you. Finally, stay calm and non-judgmental when listening to them.

Regular friendly conversations just to check up on how things are going are also a good idea. Your child will be happy that you’re taking an interest in their activities, and sometimes you can do them together.

And of course, make sure they know the following rules of the internet:

  • don’t share personal information (phone number, address, etc.) online
  • only talk to family and real-life friends on social media
  • remember that strangers online might not be who they say they are
  • be a good online user and never say nasty things even as a joke
  • only use secure and legal sites to download games and music
  • only download programs after getting permission from a parent to avoid viruses

Further measures are:

It is cool to give your child freedom, but you should maintain a healthy amount of access to their online accounts to monitor activity.

You can help your child come up with strong passwords. It’s a win-win – they’ll be more protected, and you’ll have their passwords… but don’t snoop behind their back unless there are any worrying signs.

And I know it’s tempting, but don’t just ban your child from using technology. Not only will they be mocked at school by their peers, but it’s also in their best interest to keep up with technology. Besides, there are a lot of benefits and useful resources online. Learning can be made more fun and efficient this way. Just imagine, what would you do without search engines nowadays?

Moreover, don’t threaten to punish them by taking away or restricting online access. It will only make them trust you less. They’ll also learn to be secretive instead of coming to you next time.

Back to the great ideas – another one is to agree on family internet rules which not only the children but also the adults will follow. That way, your child will take active participation and feel listened to.

For example, you can have a rule “No phones and tablets during dinner,” “No screen time 1 hour before bed,” etc. Strive to maintain a healthy balance in your household and don’t let technology dominate your life. It is best to lead by example. Otherwise, your child will take you less seriously and think they should be allowed to do the same things as you.

However, remember – you are in charge. You have different responsibilities than your child, so you can’t always follow the same rules as them. It is great to be your child’s best friend and show them their voice matters but it’s still the parents who have the final say.

And one last advice to use at home: If you can, place the computer in a location outside your child’s room where you can see the screen when you enter the room. This strategy worked when I was a child, and the computer was in the middle of the living room. But, you know, don’t be surprised when your cunning kid doesn’t act so innocently when you’re not home.

Teachers, I Haven’t Forgotten You!

Most advice mentioned above works with students as well. School computers and networks should be secure and malware-proof. It is important to know that blocking sites won’t fix everything.

Here are some classroom online safety rules:

  • Create a school policy for students to sign.
  • Have lessons to teach them about online privacy.
  • Create a cyberbullying reporting system that is easy and safe to use by everyone who needs it.

Get students involved – brainstorm together and encourage them to share their thoughts and ideas on the topic.

Also, while this guide is up-to-date, technology continues to evolve. Keep up with those developments, because there is always something new that comes up. Talk to your students regularly too.

Provide them with resources they can read in a class dedicated to online safety (or in their free time, but there’s a risk they won’t bother or will simply forget).

You can also make posters with internet safety facts.

Let’s recap with the FAQ:

FAQ

What are the dangers of the internet?

The main dangers for everyone are cyberattacks like malware, phishing, scams; online predators and cyberbullies. These are especially relevant for children and teens.

How can you be safe on the internet? / How can you protect yourself from online threats? / What are the best ways to stay safe online?

Educate yourself (reading this article of internet safety tips for parents was a good start) and your children/students on the dangers, use antivirus programs and add-ons, don’t click on suspicious websites, be wary of strangers and don’t share your personal or credit card details. Have strong passwords, only use secure and legal sites, don’t download anything suspicious, don’t add strangers as friends on your social media.

How do you keep students safe on the internet?

Have lessons on internet safety and rules, provide them with enough resources and advice. Make sure you have good communication, and they know they can come to you with any issues and questions. Remind them (cyber)bullying is unacceptable, and have a reporting system.

These were the internet safety guides that parents and teachers can easily follow.

So now you know how to be safe online. You can help and prepare youngsters until they’ve learned how to soar through the tricky winds of the Web on their own.

Safe browsing and until next time!

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