Internet Safety Tips for Parents
All of the resources you’ll see listed here are from Common Sense Media, which is a great source of information about how your children are interacting with technology. Information you find on this website is divided up by age and the website has a wide array of topics to look into. For example, you can see age-appropriate ratings for movies, books, games and apps. We encourage you to use this resource to understand your child and their technological world better.
There are many ways for parents to stay involved with their children as they navigate the world of technology. Here are three things to keep in mind as you work with your child to keep them safe and secure on the Internet:
- Why it’s important to keep your child’s data secure
- Social Media
- Media Balance and Well-being
Knowing the websites and apps that children are using:
Understanding what websites your child uses and how often they frequent them can help you understand the knowledge and skills they are seeking. It’s important to ask them about what interests them as well as monitor their use to make sure the sites are not only age appropriate but that they use safe practices. Most social media do not want children under the age of 13 to join their apps. This is because the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which was passed in 1998, restricts websites from tracking data on children under 13.
The following is a list of apps and websites that children frequently use. How many have you heard of? Click on the linked websites below for in-depth information about each.
- Gaming: Roblox Minecraft Fortnite
- Social Media: TikTok Instagram Snapchat Twitter Tumblr
- Watching/Creating Content: Twitch YouTube
- Messaging Platforms: Kik Omegle
Keeping Your Child’s Data Secure
Protecting your child’s data is critically important to their safety. Everything you do on the internet is being tracked and sold - every website, your location, what you say to Siri/Alexa/Google. While you may feel your child has nothing to hide, looking at the privacy settings of each of the applications they use and turning off unnecessary data tracking can protect them. Teach your kids to regularly turn off their location, microphone, and camera when they’re not in use, too. Your child’s location information being sold is especially dangerous because it shows exactly where they are when they’re at their most vulnerable - not around you. If you want to know where they are, call or text them.
Passwords are the first line of defense to your most important data like bank and credit card accounts and work information. The best password you can create starts with a phrase that you turn into a code and add numbers, special characters, and upper and lower case letters to. For example, let’s use the phrase, “The moon is very bright tonight and I am happy.” To turn it into a code, take the first letter of each word - “tmivbtaiah” - and change the casing while adding numbers and special characters to it, giving you, “T*8miVb22t&iaH$37”. The second line of defense is making sure no one ever finds out what your password is. Hackers try to figure out your password via a technique called Phishing. They will usually send you an email that looks like it’s from someone you trust like your bank, boss or an organization you’ve signed up for, and they’ll ask you for secure information or money via an email reply or a link. Always be cautious of these emails and verify the person that sent them by reaching out to them independent of the email you received, before responding or clicking on anything. Practice these techniques with your children and the other people in your household to make sure your data, especially your most important data, is secure.
Companies sell your data to advertisers to market to you better, which is why so much of the internet is free. You may notice that your child receives ads online for toys or junk food, which is a result of advertisers knowing how old your child is. That may not be so harmful, but advertisers know how impressionable young kids are and may start to promote smoking, vaping, and alcohol, in the hopes that one day, when your child has access to the products, they’ll reach for them. To prevent susceptibility to these advertisements, talk with your children about the motives behind the advertisements they see. Regularly discuss the difference between the TV show or YouTube channel they watch and the advertisement during the commercial break or product the Youtuber keeps mentioning. Before your children are old enough to understand these concepts, you can limit the ads they see by putting on commercial-free TV or paying extra for streaming platforms without ads.
Like anything else, there are positives and negatives to using technology, especially social media. One good rule of thumb is “everything in moderation” and when in doubt, ask questions and engage in discussion. If it’s one thing you can be sure of, children need your guidance and support, even if they don’t always say so.
- On the plus side of social media, it's a fun way for kids to interact with friends and relatives. It can also be a great way to learn new things, collaborate with others, and express creativity.
- There can also be negative aspects. Your kids may develop a negative self-worth from constantly seeing the “perfect” lives of their peers and people they look up to. Ads on public sites may target their flaws. This, coupled with their 24/7 access to tragedies in the news can lead to serious mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. In more severe cases, they may even get cyberbullied. It’s nearly impossible to avoid all of these harmful things that can happen, but there are precautions you and your child can take to protect their self-worth and mitigate the bullying that can happen online.
Parent tips for 12 years old and under
- Stick with age-appropriate sites. For kids 5-8, there are sites with strong safety features that help kids play without risking inappropriate content or contact.
- The right time to give your child a phone is not when they reach a certain age, but when you think they are mature and responsible enough to have one. If your child can do their chores and homework without you needing to remind them, stop watching TV when you ask them to, and treat people with kindness and respect, they may be ready for a phone. If your child isn’t ready yet but you’d like to give them a phone so you can contact them, consider a phone that only lets them make calls.
- Familiarize yourself with accessibility settings. Accessibility settings can help children who have Dyslexia, Autism, or vision, hearing, auditory-processing, or reading comprehension difficulties. Features like captions, speech-to-text or text-to-speech, and being able to zoom in on text or invert colors can really improve the lives of your children at home and in school.
- Parent tips for teenagers
- Giving your child the tools to think critically about what they read online protects them from misleading information that serves to harm them to the benefit of someone else. There is a lot of false information online. Whether it’s data paid for by a company that benefits from the findings, clickbait headlines that popularize a poorly done study, or a satirical article, it can be difficult for your child to tell what is the truth. Media literacy is a skill you can start teaching your child at any age by having them answer the following questions about articles and social posts online: Who wrote and paid for the article? Who is the target audience? Is there information left out of the article that would be important? Is it credible?
- Empower your child to protect themself online. You’re not going to see every interaction they have on the internet, but you can help your child determine what to do when they find themselves feeling unsafe online. Tell your child to trust their gut - if someone makes them feel uncomfortable, worried, sad, or anxious, they should leave the interaction. If someone online asks about private information like a phone number or address, for pictures, to keep the conversation or other information secret, or starts to flirt, those are red-flags your child should be aware of. When presented with that situation, they can try changing the subject or blocking the person. And if things escalate or they do give away information or images they shouldn’t, let them know they can always come to you for help.
- Use media as a jumping off point to talk to your child about posting sexy stuff online. When they start posting videos in tight clothing dancing around, they’re likely emulating what they see online that gains attention. They’re not thinking about how it may affect their reputation. Start the conversation by using words like “I notice,” which isn’t you being judgemental, it’s just you making observations. Help them see that there is a difference between how they act in front of their grandparents and how they act with friends. Understanding that, you can ask them why they wanted to post those videos and if it aligns with the values you’ve been trying to teach them. Once you can get them to talk about that, it opens the door for you to talk about more serious topics and lets them know that you’re someone they can come to with questions.
- Colleges and employers care about your social media. Your child’s social media doesn’t have to be super professional, they can post pictures with friends, at parties, or of their hobbies, but make sure there’s no drinking, sexy photos, excessive swearing, or negative speech. The best thing to do is make their social media accounts private, but remember that privating doesn’t hide everything and they should avoid posting anything with the aforementioned actions anyways.
Balancing Media With Real Life & Mental Health
When your child spends a lot of their time online, their mental health can suffer. Spending hours scrolling through social media feeds filled with people having fun without them or reading through the news is likely to make them anxious and depressed. That’s why it’s important to limit the time your child spends online. While time spent playing video games or chatting with friends can greatly improve their mental wellbeing, make sure you provide them with the time and space to see their friends in person, too, and suggest other activities they can do to fill their time in a similarly meaningful way.
Asking your child to spend less time online and more time with family or reading a book can be difficult and chances are that they will try to get around your internet limits. Social media is extremely addicting and that’s not your child’s fault. That’s why it’s important to have an open and honest discussion with them about their social media habits (which may mean confronting your own social media habits), so they understand the reasoning behind why you’re limiting their screen time. This also helps them begin to think about establishing healthy boundaries for themselves regarding social media when they’re older and you can no longer limit their social media use.
It’s good to regularly check in with your child about how they’re feeling when they spend time online. Ask your child about the online spaces where they feel like they’re part of a community and who they like and follow. Also ask about the spaces where they see negative things like racist comments, hate speech, sexual harassment, or bullying. These apps or websites may overlap. Talk to them about how to navigate those spaces and what to do if someone starts to say negative things directly to them.
Essential Applications for Internet Security at Home
Designed to provide advanced protection from known data-mining, aggressive advertising, Parasites, Scumware, selected traditional Trojans, Dialers, Malware, Browser hijackers, and tracking components.
Norton Internet Security
Zone Alarm Internet Security Suite
Kaspersky Internet Security
Software for Parental Control, Filtering and Tracking
Net Nanny is a popular and well-rated parental control program. This software link is being provided as a courtesy and not an endorsement by the Ballston Spa School District. Keep in mind that home-based filtering programs do not act as a firewall for your computer.
Other resources for helping your children stay safe on the internet:
Facebook Parent Portal: Tools and resources to help your child navigate Facebook and other social media safely.
Created by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® and Boys & Girls Clubs of America An interactive safety resource that teaches kids and teens how to stay safe on the Internet.
National Crime Prevention Council:
Start or join a crime prevention program in your area or check out their resources on addressing the issues of drinking, drugs, guns, conflict, and bullies.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:
Free child safety and prevention webinars and courses about how to protect your kids from online predators. You have to sign up and register to receive the free content.
Common Sense Media. “Parenting, Media, and Everything In Between.” Parenting, Media, and Everything In Between, Common Sense Media, 2020, https://www.commonsensemedia.org/articles. Accessed 10 05 2022.
Keegan, Jon, and Alfred Ng. “The Popular Family Safety App Life360 Is Selling Precise Location Data on Its Tens of Millions of Users.” The Markup, 6 December 2021, https://themarkup.org/privacy/2021/12/06/the-popular-family-safety-app-life360-is-selling-precise-location-data-on-its-tens-of-millions-of-user. Accessed 2 June 2022.
KnowBe4. “What is Phishing? Attack Techniques & Examples.” KnowBe4, 9 June 2018, https://www.knowbe4.com/phishing. Accessed 2 June 2022.
Komando. “5 new rules for creating the best strong passwords.” Kim Komando, 6 May 2021, https://www.komando.com/safety-security-reviews/creating-the-best-passwords/592778/. Accessed 2 June 2022.
Valentino-Devries, Jennifer, et al. “Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They're Not Keeping It Secret (Published 2018).” The New York Times, 10 December 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/12/10/business/location-data-privacy-apps.html. Accessed 2 June 2022.