Keeping Young Children Safe Online
Technology provides children with new ways to learn every day, but sometimes that comes at a cost. The internet can expose children to some scary stuff, including bullying, inappropriate content and online predators.
Keeping your child safe online is important, and we want to help make it easier for you.
In this article:
Talking with your younger child about being online
“School-age children are going to be online, whether they’re at home, at a friend’s house or at school,” says Angie Boy, DrPH, program manager at the Stephanie V. Blank Center for Safe and Healthy Children. “Setting boundaries is important, but we’ve found the most effective way to protect against online dangers is having open conversations about what your child may find online and making them comfortable telling you if they come across something unsafe.”
Tips for having open conversations about being online:
- Ask your child where they access the internet outside of your home. Are they online at friends’ houses, at school, etc.?
- Ask your child how they use the internet. Keep the conversation open by giving examples. Do you watch videos? What happens in the videos? Do you play games? Which games? Do you talk to anyone online?
- Tell your child about the different things they may find on the internet. Consider discussing things like scary videos, bullies or adult pictures.
- Let your child know that, if anything feels unsafe, they should let you know right away. Even a gut feeling is a good enough reason to share with a parent or trusted adult.
- Share stories of what people have found online. You don’t have to scare your child, but hearing about a friend’s experience may let your child know it’s OK to open up.
Setting boundaries for online activity
“Let your child know being online is an earned privilege—not a right. Set some guidelines for the whole family,” says Boy. “Be honest and clear about what you consider appropriate online activity, and be specific about boundaries.”
Setting boundaries for young children:
- Make sure your child knows that not everything they find online is true and that people online are not always who they say they are.
- Know that children are smart, and your child may know ways to hide their activity from you. Continue talking openly with your child about being online so they know what you consider acceptable.
- Designate where your child can access the internet, and make supervision a priority. For example, only let your child be online at school and in common spaces of your home and friends’ homes.
- Limit the time your child spends on digital devices (phones, tablets, computers, etc.), and determine when it’s OK to be online. If necessary, you can download software to help you enforce the time limits.
- Download web browsers and search engines for kids, such as Kiddle, KidzSearch and Safe Search Kids to help filter and block inappropriate content.
Even young children can find loopholes to access things they shouldn’t online. The more you can inform yourself on what is really happening online, the better.
Even younger children are vulnerable to, or capable of, cyberbullying. If your child is playing games online, they may have access to chat features or a chat room. Even if no one is bullying your child, content alone―photos, videos, articles and social media posts—can be upsetting. Talk openly with your child about cyberbullying. This can help develop trust so your child is comfortable coming to you after an incident.
Tips for talking about cyberbullying:
- Ask your child about how they feel when they're online. Does anything online make you sad, scared or angry? Are your friends nice to you online? Has anyone ever been mean to you online?
- If your child does tell you about a cyberbullying incident, try to manage your reaction so your child trusts they can go to you in the future. Get as many details as you can, and block or report the bully.
- Help your child remember that real people with real feelings are behind profile pictures and usernames.
- Talk to your child about consequences. Hurtful words or actions are like toothpaste (once they’re out, you can’t take them back), and they could cause someone harm.
- Model polite, thoughtful and kind behavior in your own online activity. If your child sees you treat people kindly and with respect, they're more likely to follow suit.
Being the “internet police”
The internet can be both a wonderful resource and a dark, dangerous place. “We don’t want to scare kids away from enjoying the benefits of online tools and communities. We just want them to think about how what they share and how they behave online can impact their safety and security,” says Boy. “The sad reality is that we live in a world where it can be dangerous to be too trusting of others. If you don’t know the person on the other end of the chat in real life, how could you possibly know they are who they say they are?”
It can be tricky to balance your child’s safety and privacy, but safety should be your main concern. “Have an open conversation with your child about monitoring their activity. Let your child know you respect their privacy and independence but that their safety is your main concern,” says Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Strong4Life licensed therapist, Jody Baumstein, LCSW.
If your child has an injury or is showing signs of illness, call your doctor or visit an urgent care center. If your child has a life-threatening injury or illness, is having trouble breathing or is unconscious, call 911 and/or visit an emergency department immediately.