Internet safety guide for kids

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If you thought it was tough to keep kids off the internet before COVID-19, it’s almost impossible now.

Between mandated online school and playdates via video chat, chances are you and your kids started spending a lot more time online in lockdown than ever before. For some, it may be the first time you’ve explored this new frontier with your little one.

Unfortunately, it’s not all academia and family connections—the internet can be a risky place, especially for children (and always-online teenagers!).

But you don’t have to go it alone. SafeWise has identified the top online threats to kids and tips for keeping kids safe all the time - not just during a pandemic.

Online concerns during the Coronavirus outbreak

We’ve put together a Coronavirus section tackling specific concerns you and your kids might be facing now that we’re living a lot more of our lives online. Even though all of our previous tips to keep your kids safe online still apply, this unusual time called for some exclusive attention. We tailored our tips to help keep your kids safe during online learning. We’ve also put together a video chat safety checklist for easy reference.

Top online threats for kids

There are a number of potential dangers in cyberspace, but these are the top online security risks that most kids face.

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1. Cyberbullying: According to the eSafety Commissioner, 44% of young Australians report having a negative online experience in the last six months. Cyberbullying is any aggressive, threatening, or mean-spirited activity conducted via electronic communication (email, social media posts, text messages, etc.).

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2. Online predators: Adults who use the internet to entice children for sexual or other types of abusive exploitation are considered online predators. Child victims can be as young as 1 or as old as 17. In 2019, the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) received just under 17,000 reports of online child sexual exploitation.

KISG Threat Icons - inappropriate content

3. Exposure to inappropriate content: Inappropriate content is one of the most common online threats that kids encounter. Everything from vulgar language and hate speech to graphically violent or sexual images can have a harmful effect on an impressionable child. 57% of Australians aged between 12 and 17 have been exposed to real violence on the internet, and nearly half of Aussie kids between 9 and 16 years of age are regularly exposed to sexual images.

NOTE: For the purposes of this guide, we’re focusing on the earliest prevention possible. While these internet safety tips for kids and parents can be applicable to anyone, we’ve selected steps to help protect children from ages 5 through 12.

How to keep your kids safe online during Coronavirus quarantine

Whether you and your kiddos are internet pros or getting online for the first time due to stay-at-home orders, we’ve got the tips you need to navigate this strange new world safely.

Tips for safe online learning 

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Just because your child is directed to go online for school, it doesn’t mean there still aren’t potential dangers lurking. These best practices that will minimise your child’s exposure to online risks no matter what platform or software their school is using.

1. Make sure websites are secure

You can instantly tell if any website is safe by looking for one letter: “s.” Every website address starts with the letters “http,” but you know a site is secure when you see “https.” That means the website itself is taking measures to keep users and their information secure while they use the site.

If you’re directed to any websites for school or entertainment that don’t have that extra “s” at the beginning of the address, steer clear.

2. Guard personal information

This can get tricky when your child needs to be identified for schoolwork or classroom discussions, but personal details need to be guarded closely.

Your child may already have a student identification number. Those kinds of identifiers are a great way to protect personal details from leaking on the internet.

None of the following information should be used to identify your child in class, on a list of posted grades, or in an online discussion.

  • Full first and last name
  • Birthdate
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Photograph

Your little one should also have a secure username and password to log into courses, classes, and assignments.

3. Set up parental controls

You don’t have to purchase parental control software to protect your child during online learning. There are already a lot of helpful tools built into your device hardware, software, and internet browser.

Find tutorials here to help you maximise built-in privacy settings and content blockers.

4. Keep everything updated

It seems too simple to be so effective, but one of the best ways to keep kids safe online is to make sure that all devices, software, and firmware are up to date. 

Updates can seem like a pain, but one of the biggest reasons companies come out with new versions is to deploy security patches that address the most recent and innovative threats out there. 

Plus, an outdated operating system or old version of software can render your parental controls and privacy settings useless. 

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How to protect your kids from cyberbullying

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1. Know the risks: Understand what cyberbullying is, where and how it happens, and how to spot it. Explain that online bullies can act friendly at first, but also encourage your child to be on the lookout for any interactions that make them feel bad, scared, or sad.

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2. Talk about it: Have ongoing discussions with your child. Talk about what cyberbullying is and what types of communication are acceptable and unacceptable. Make sure your child knows that it’s safe for them to talk to you if something makes them uncomfortable.

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3. Keep a watchful eye: Place the computer in a common room and monitor all screen time. Use a shared email account, and if you let kids interact on social media, make sure you have full access to manage their accounts. Parental control software is another great way to stay in the know.

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4. Set boundaries: Put time limits on screen time. Include all online activities—from homework to playing games and surfing the web. Restrict social media access and email accounts, and set rules for any instant messaging, texting, etc. Let your kids know you’ll be checking in regularly. Be prepared to renegotiate boundaries as your child gets older or starts to use new technology.

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5. Build a network (IRL): They don’t say it takes a village for nothing. The more people you have looking out for your kid online, the more likely you are to keep them safe. Know your kids’ friends and their parents and enlist their help.

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6. Be prepared to respond: Don’t wait until the heat of the moment to come up with your gameplan. In case your kid does get bullied online, learn what the proper responses are so you can keep your emotions in check and help your child deal with what they’re going through.

Steps to take if your child has been bullied

  • Pay attention: Look for signs of cyberbullying, like spending more time online or texting, hiding the screen from others, emotional responses to online interactions, and sadness or seclusion.
  • Ask questions: Gently ask your child what’s going on and how they feel about it. Find out if they’ve responded to the bully and what that response was.
  • Acknowledge their feelings: Your child may feel frightened, angry, sad, or even betrayed if the bully is someone they trusted. Let them know it’s okay to feel whatever they’re feeling.
  • Block the bully: Immediately block (or “unfriend”) the abuser. Use tools like site blockers and privacy settings as extra layers of protection.
  • Report it: Alert the website and email administrators about the bully. Most social media platforms offer options to report a user or flag dangerous posts. If appropriate, report the abusive activity to school or law enforcement officials.
  • Assess the damage: If your child’s emotional response is extreme and protective measures don’t seem to help, seek the help of a professional.
  • Enlist reinforcements: Talk to other adults who can help protect your child (other parents, teachers, school administrators, coaches, etc.) and bolster your child’s positive friendships.

What to do If your child is the bully

  • Look: If your child sets up new email or social media accounts without your knowledge, makes snarky remarks while online, or starts to hide their online activity, they could be picking on someone.
  • Listen: If you’re concerned, gently broach the topic with your child and then allow them the room to answer. Be open-minded and don’t blame. Bullies are usually in some kind of pain as well.
  • Monitor: Double your efforts to track your child’s online activity. If you’re not already using parental control software, now is the time to start using it.
  • Support: Encourage your child to deal with their feelings and the reasons they’re engaging in this behaviour. Suggest that they apologise to the kids they’ve hurt, and help them do it.
  • Get help: It can be hard to identify why your child is acting out in this manner. Seek professional help, and if the bullying crosses lines at school (or legally), inform the appropriate authorities and ask for resources to address the situation.

How to protect your kids from online predators

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1. Understand the danger: Learn what online predators are, where and how predators attack, and how to spot them. Explain that contact with strangers is never okay.

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2. Guide online behaviors: Talk about what types of online interactions are okay and what aren’t. Discuss how to recognise signs of trouble and how to ask for help.

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3. Rein in digital cameras: Control access to digital cameras and photo apps on every device. Make sure your kids can’t upload or download photos without your permission.

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4. Monitor online activity: Keep the computer in a common room, set limits on screen time, use a shared email account, and put parental controls (like filters and apps) in place.

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5. Keep kids out of dangerous places: Talk about the risks of chat rooms and social networks, and set up rules and time limits if you allow your kids to use them. Always follow age restrictions for websites and apps.

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6. Don’t let your guard down: Know that “safe” places still require vigilance. There are kid-focused chat rooms and games where predators may pose as children.

Steps to take if your child has been targeted online

  • Let your child know it’s not their fault.
  • Cut off communication with the predator.
  • Change online credentials, including screen names, usernames, and passwords.
  • Save screenshots or copies of messages and images from the predator.
  • Report the activity to website administrators and law enforcement.
  • Seek professional help for your child as appropriate.

Safety tips for kids

  • Never share personal information online.
  • Don’t respond to emails, texts, or messages from strangers.
  • Don’t post or share photos online.
  • Don’t click links, open attachments, or accept gifts from someone you don’t know.
  • Never agree to meet someone you met online.
  • Let your parents or another trusted adult know if you need help.

How to protect your kids from inappropriate online content

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1. Teach kids how to navigate the internet: Talk about proper online etiquette, how to enter safe search terms, how to identify a secure website (https), and when to ask an adult for help.

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2. Let kids know what to watch for: Teach them that bad stuff can come from many sources, including email and direct messages. Talk about inappropriate websites, pop-up ads, and when and where it’s okay to click on something.

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3. Explain email safety: Make sure kids know not to click on things or open attachments in emails and not to respond to messages from people they don’t know. Have them ask an adult before they download anything.

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4. Set up firewalls and content blockers: Use the built-in safety applications that come on your devices and add more to be extra safe. Block all websites that aren’t rated safe for children. Use a content filter or firewall that is designed to protect children from harmful content.

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5. Be prepared: Have a plan in place in case your child is exposed to graphic content online. Know what the proper responses are so you can focus on helping your child manage their feelings.

Steps to take if your child has been exposed to inappropriate content

pro Stay calm
pro Be patient
pro Find the source of the content
pro Block access to dangerous or confusing sites
pro Help your child sort out their feelings
pro Restore a sense of safety
pro Keep the conversation going
con Freak out
con React emotionally
con Shame your child
con Scare your child
con Blame your child
Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards

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