Your child has probably used a computer for games or school exercises, but as they get older and explore the Internet, they might be unprepared for potential threats.
My oldest has been introduced to computer games at school to teach her math and other subjects. It looks like the game is safe (from what I’ve read), but this step towards an online life makes me a little nervous.
As much as I just try to keep her away from the dangers of the internet, I’m realizing that one day she’ll have to navigate online without me (pardon me while I go have a panic attack).
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It’s important to talk to your kids about the warning signs of sites that might be malicious, how to make good decisions, and methods to stay safe. For this reason, I’ve asked Andy Earle of Talking to Teens to tell us more about how to keep your kids and teens safe from dangers on the internet.
While I knew about some of the dangers of internet usage for kids (like cyberbullying and creepers online), there were some risks I was entirely unaware of, like kids getting sucked into gambling.
To teach us more about helping kids be responsible with social media and internet use, Andy has listed five online dangers we should all discuss with our children.
Cyberbullying is one of our biggest fears as parents. But how are children and teens exposed to it?
We see that more kids are using the Internet to stay in contact with their friends at all hours of the day. In fact, most teens spend time with their friends via social media as compared to in-person interaction.
Unfortunately, this trend has trickled down to younger kids as they’re introduced to media platforms.
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According to this study, many teens report using social media to find a support in a time of need. But as we as adults know, online is often the exact wrong place to look for affirmation.
Negative social interactions do occur on social media. Nearly half of children report feeling overwhelmed by online drama, and a quarter of teens say that social media makes them feel excluded and insecure at times.
So even if your child isn’t being exposed to “bullying,” there’s still extra stress that can come from online interactions.
Where can online bullying happen to kids?
Cyberbullying is a widespread risk for children everywhere. Any website where a child can log on and chat with others is a place where they might encounter bullying.
That means Facebook (I know, I know, the kids don’t use Facebook now), Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok are all grounds where children can mistreat each other. Or worse, where adults can mistreat children.
How do I keep my child safe from online bullying?
Student surveys show that parents seem to be the most effective guides for handling cyberbullying problems, but it can be challenging to get your child to open up about what they do online.
There’s a lot of value in asking your child how they might react when they see something they don’t like, and always being there to listen and support should trouble arise.
Walk them through how to ask for help if they encounter bullying, practice listening for distress, and if needed, talk to another authority figure to step in and stop serial bullying. If a child at school is constantly harassing their classmates, a school principal or their parents might need to know about it to present consequences.
Protecting kids from gambling on the internet
Believe it or not, kids can get hooked into gambling on the Internet. True, they’re likely not playing high-stakes poker, but games can lead them towards an addiction of gambling.
The Internet has made it easier for children to gamble than ever before. Games like Fortnite, NBA 2K, and FIFA 20 involve slot machine-like mechanics in which digital items like treasure chests and card packs can be purchased to build up in-game inventories. The thing is, there’s no guarantee that the item pack your child buys will have a valuable prize, so they might get hooked on playing the odds to get that rare item.
And if more chances to get upgrades are related to real money, that’s where the real problem happens.
You’ve probably heard of in-game purchases, which allow players to make micro-transactions in a videogame. Even “educational” games built for younger audiences can encourage spending money for upgrades!
Where kids are exposed to online gambling
If your child is asking for your card information to spend on gaming, be wary that there could be a lottery mechanism in play. And if he or she has easy access to card information without a passcode from you, you could end up out a lot of money quickly.
And purchases don’t have to be strictly in-game to take advantage of kids. In one prominent example, a website called CS Lotto allowed children to gamble sums of cash on earning in-game weapons and skins to be used in the game CounterStrike. Some of these upgrades were sold for thousands of dollars!
The slimiest thing about CS Lotto: the site owners were prominent YouTubers who faked the results of the lotto. By making it look more likely that you could win in their videos, they encouraged their audience (mostly teens and younger) to buy chances to win their prizes.
How to protect your kids from online scams
A combination of communication and strong boundaries is the best way to protect your kids from online scams.
By explaining how lotto systems work and how they’re set up for you to lose, you can help your child become less interested in online gambling. Explain that buying more lottery tickets is exactly what the big companies want them to do, and that they are being taken advantage of.
It’s also a good idea to limit your teen’s access to lotto systems and in-game purchases so they don’t form risky spending habits in the future. Simply put, don’t allow access to your card information on their phone or computer (this applies to younger children too!).
And if your teen has their own bank account, warn them of the dangers of spending online. If they drain their account, the best thing to do is to not front them more money. Let them learn from the consequences of their actions, and hopefully they won’t go back.
Keeping kids from malware and computer viruses
One of the most common online threats is malware, basically, computer bugs. Malware acts as a virus for computers and phones, stealing data, allowing criminals to send you messages, slowing down your devices, or rendering them useless.
While malware may have relatively minor effects like a simple annoyance, they can be more dangerous. Some malware can allow your phone to be tracked, allowing stalkers to find children. And if a virus allows data to be stolen, you can be dealing with identity theft.
All it takes to trigger a virus download is for your child to click on the wrong website, follow a spammy link, or hit the wrong ad. Since you really don’t want to deal with a computer virus, encourage your child to only access certain websites and to report to you when they experience pop-ups and windows asking them to click. They might just be ads, but you don’t want to risk a software disaster.
If you suspect that a device is infected with malware, there are a number of free virus scanners available online to help diagnose the problem. You can also activate parental controls to limit your teen’s ability to install certain software and apps on their phones.
Keeping kids safe from phishing
Phishing is another online threat that can target children. Phishing is when someone fakes their identity online and tries to get you to trust them so you can give them personal information.
Phishers are trying to get information like your credit card number, internet passwords, or social security number from people (or their parents). These online scammers can sell your information or steal your identity.
If you’re not careful, it’s easy to not know the difference between a legitimate website and a phishing trap. And for kids, who have a lot less experience online and are often less aware, it’s a lot easier to get phished.
It’s great to teach your kids to recognize spammy sites (the FTC has an excellent guide on how to recognize phony websites) and emails, but that isn’t enough.
Teach your child not to enter any personal information to a website, whether it looks familiar or not. If your child needs to log in to a site for homework or communication purposes, it’s a good idea to help them access the site and make sure it’s legit before they log in.
Stalking, Predation, and Exploitation
The scariest threat looming online is the chance that someone could stalk and prey on your child. Before the Internet, children made friends based on their local geography, but now, anyone with Internet access cannot connect with children anywhere on earth through communities that form around humor, fan-pages, and gaming interests. With the increased anonymity, predators can conceal their identity and pose as friends.
A New York Times investigation gives shocking examples of how predators can infiltrate online communities, gain personal information from victims, and threaten children by blackmailing them unless they share explicit imagery of themselves or others. These things can happen on social media, or even in chats on video games.
The terrifying part: these predators are very good at what they do. They know how to groom kids, and they know how to shame them to keep them trapped in silence.
Parents can be preventive by teaching good habits for online interactions. It’s never too early to warn you child that not everyone is who they appear to be online.
Restrict kids from using chats and online forums, and keep a close watch on their social media. Using a service like Bark allows you to monitor your child’s social media, including Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and others without having directly read every message and text.
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Even more importantly, teach your kids that they can come to you with anything. Promote a culture of safety and honesty in your family.
In addition, let kids learn from a young age that it’s okay to tell others no. Learning to say no as younger kids will help them say no to forceful strangers on the internet later.
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It’s a great practice to incorporate these tips and teach your child what the might threats are online. Listening and observing is key, especially because your child might not recognize or know how to talk to you about scary things online. We hope these strategies help your family stay safe, so you can have a good time surfing the web.