Protecting Children on the Internet

If you’re a parent or caregiver whose children access and use the Internet via a computer, tablet, mobile phone, or gaming console it is important to be aware of potential threats and dangers they may encounter. Here are some tips which you can use no matter how your children use the Internet:

  • Establish ground rules for your child AT THE TIME you grant online access. We suggest an Electronic Device Agreement, such as: https://www.beaubidenfoundation.org/resources/electronic-device-agreement/).  The hard part:  following through on enforcement of the agreement.
  • Remind children and teens that posting is permanent…it takes just one person to “screenshot” their post and it is memorialized forever. And deleting isn’t really deleting. Their online life forms their future resume – to be viewed by college admissions staff, scholarship committees and potential future employers.
  • FTC recommends children have a credit check by the age of 17 to monitor for risk of identity theft through the 3 credit bureaus: Experian.com/fraudalert; childidtheft/transunion.com; and Equifaxcom/CreditReportAssistance.  Report Identity Theft to the FTC:  IdentityTheft.gov or call 1-888-438-4338.
  • Discuss how to handle inappropriate content, because they WILL be exposed to it. Talk about action steps your children can take:  tell a trusted adult, blocking or reporting another user or their content/post, back arrow, close down program/computer, or close an account.  Kids love options!
  • Discuss how to handle other risky online behaviors such as: pop-ups, taking surveys, signing up or registering for new accounts, setting up privacy settings (i.e. “ghost” mode on SnapChat and disabling location services on ALL platforms.
  • Talk about your children’s online behaviors and what is inappropriate for them to post. Children and teens should know that posting, forwarding, requesting or otherwise sharing naked or partially naked pictures or videos of someone (even themselves) is child pornography, a felony in most states.  Other private information that should NOT be shared include:  full name, birthdate, address, school name, social security number, cell number, and especially passwords.
  • Warn children about grooming strategies in which predators present as friendly, complimentary online “friends.” This initial interaction is setting the stage.  Next, a predator will begin isolating-type conversations:  encouraging a child to keep their relationship a secret and that no one, not even their parents, understands the child the way they do.  If allowed to continue, the predator may send gifts or provide privileges that a parent would not approve of, such as access to alcohol, marijuana, or pornography in exchange for:  private information, a photo of the child and ultimately a meet-up.  Immediately report any sexual solicitation to police and also the website platform used.
  • Set time aside to talk about cyberbullying. If your child or teenager is being bullied, what action steps can they take?  Don’t react; tell a trusted adult, such as parent or guidance counselor; block the bully.  What if they are the bully?  Convey to your children that threats and harassing words online will be treated exactly the same as if spoken: by school administrators and police.  Their online exchange can and will be printed out and used as evidence against them.  They can also report anonymously to:  www.cybertipline.org.
  • Protect your family with protective software (such as Life360 or Circle Home) and let your children know this software is in place and why.
  • Set a good example with your own online behavior.
  • Most of all – continue to the conversation!
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