Your kids are at risk of severe dangers on the internet.
One hundred thirty (130) teenagers committed suicide between 2015-2016 as a result of an online game called the Blue Whale Challenge.
The kids were lured into completing 50 tasks in 50 days, with the final task being suicide.
The shocking number of teenagers who fell victim to this game shows how the internet can shape kids’ minds, thoughts, and actions.
As a parent or guardian, you owe these kids protection from internet dangers while preparing them to weather the storm on their own when they come of age.
This piece details everything you need to know about protecting children online.
Stats Talk: 7 Reasons to Protect Your Kids Online
If you don’t already know the magnitude of how the internet can affect your kids, these stats will talk for you.
Stat #1 – 3 in 10 Kids Misuse the Internet
At least three (3) out of 10 kids admitted to using the internet in ways their parents or guardians wouldn’t approve of.
This doesn’t mean they watch adult content or gamble. It can simply be that they bypassed parental restrictions or visited websites they shouldn’t have.
Before you blame the kids, here’s another interesting fact:
Most of them didn’t even know that you’d disapprove of that kind of internet usage.
This happens when kids are given free rein to use the internet early or aren’t appropriately monitored when online.
Stat #2 – 21% Of Kids Chat With Strangers
Parents and guardians are always quick to train their kids not to talk to strangers.
I heard my fair share of that while growing up.
However, with the world getting increasingly digital, more kids talk to strangers (online) without ever leaving their house.
Already, 21% of kids visit websites where they can chat with strangers.
Knowing that the internet is home to several unscrupulous elements, pedophiles, scammers, and manipulators, your kids talking to strangers online is a considerable risk.
Stat #3 – Your Kids May Be Watching Pornography
No less than 17% of kids have visited porn sites, and that number keeps growing.
Pornography is a huge internet safety concern for parents and guardians, especially with about 1 in 5 kids visiting porn sites already.
The interesting thing here is that most kids don’t seek out pornography.
However, malicious ads, website redirects, and banners from poor websites can expose kids to explicit images and content.
Stat #4 – 56% Of Children Are Leaking Personal Information
More than half of kids (56%) as young as five (5) years old are sharing personal information online. The breakdown of such personal information is even scarier:
- 41% of kids have shared their full names with strangers.
- 38% of kids have sent a photo of themselves (not necessarily explicit) online.
- 20% gave information on their exact location.
- 4% gave their addresses online.
- 3% shared their phone number with a stranger.
Scammers will disguise fake giveaways and offers to steal your personal information, which they can sell or use for an advanced scam.
Kids are more innocent and trusting, making them easy prey.
The worst part is, the kid isn’t the only one who can be directly affected.
If they enter your personal information, it blows back on you.
Thus, protecting your kids online also minimizes your risks.
Stat #5 – Cyberbullying Leads Kids to Suicide
Cyberbullying is a leading cause of teenage suicides with cyberbullied students being 2x as likely to attempt suicide.
This statistic becomes further disturbing when you learn that 59% of US teens are bullied online.
The numbers keep increasing because more kids are getting bullied, and more are becoming vocal about their experiences.
In most instances, they don’t become vocal until much later.
At this point, the bullying would’ve defined some aspects of their lives, reducing their quality of life.
Stat #6 – Homework Time Can Be Dangerous, Too
Homework time is when parents and guardians don’t worry about their kids’ online access unless they have to help.
Here’s the kicker, though:
70% of kids encounter violent or sexual content while doing homework research.
These kids weren’t actively looking for anything violent or searching for sexual content. They were focused on homework research but found themselves face-to-face with explicit content.
Things like this pique your child’s interest. They keep digging down that rabbit hole, and you can never tell where they’ll end up.
Stat #7 – Sexting Is Growing Among Teens
Perhaps the best way to end this stat list is with the growing sexting concern.
In a survey of 11–17-year-old kids with over 110,000 participants, 1 in 7 children claimed to have sent a message with sexual content.
If that percentage looks thin, compare it with the 1 in 4 kids who received explicit messages.
The issue is that 26% of these teenagers trust the person they sent explicit content to.
In the case of a breakup or misunderstanding, that trust usually breaks down.
There are too many cases of revenge porn today to leave anything to chance.
When you find out that these teens interact with and trust online friends they haven’t met in real life, you see the disturbing pattern.
It doesn’t help that some of these online friends are adults and sexual predators pretending to be in the same age group as your kids.
Top Online Risks for Children
You can see how the internet is dangerous for kids and adults alike.
This is the best time to create a safer internet space for your kids.
How much of an online threat do your kids face? What battles are you helping them fight? Read on to understand the top online risks your children face today.
I can’t blame them since they might become the target of cyberbullying if they meddle. After all, about a third of this 90% reported having been victims of cyberbullying themselves.
25% of stalking victims reported they were also stalked online by the same person.
There are laws against cyberstalking and cyber harassment in the US, so you know how serious this is.
Most online predators are way older than your kids but may pretend to be in their age group to build trust. Some predators come out straight as adults but gain your kids’ confidence under the guise of a mentor or older sibling they can look up to.
These predators are usually after sensitive details such as your kids’ location, their parents’ financial information (credit card details, social security number, ID cards), explicit content, a combination of these, or more.
Loss of Privacy
If your kid doesn’t control the content they put online, they risk losing their privacy in ways they never imagined.
88% of teens claim that people share too much about themselves online.
It’s even scarier that of kids aged 1-7, 18% (and growing) already have a social media account.
These kids are too young to understand the manipulative whims of predators, what content they cannot post online, and who to share what with.
Posting sensitive details could leak the child’s location, school, daily routine and habits, parents’ financial information, or any other such sensitive information that can be used against them.
I’ve teased this in the other online risks, but it deserves a section of its own.
If your kid shares your credit card details with anyone they don’t know on the internet, you might be in for a larger bill at the end of the month.
The same goes for malicious sites and ads that encourage users to enter their credit card information for a small charge and a chance to get a bigger reward.
Kids who trust easily and are none the wiser may use your financial details for such fake contests.
As far back as 2018, 17% of 12–15-year-old kids admitted to accidentally spending money online. The numbers are disturbing because that was almost double compared to the 2017 figures.
For context, the BBC reports how just seven kids spent more than EUR7,000 (combined) on various games.
Online threat actors will only get better at manipulating kids to spend your money.
Again, training your kids to avoid internet threats like this is also beneficial to you.
Audrie Pott attended a party in 2012 where a group of boys sexually assaulted her. They didn’t stop there, going as far as harassing her online by posting her nude pictures on the internet.
A full eight days after the party, Audrie committed suicide.
This ugly turn of events is neither singular nor a coincidence.
Suicide remains the second most common cause of death among kids and adolescents aged 15-19.
This shows how far the problem has eaten deep into society.
You can do your part by protecting your kids and preparing them for any eventuality.
Meeting Online Friends in Person
Did you know that 57% of kids meet new friends online? Of those, 20% go on to meet their online friend in person.
I don’t need to bring up stories of kidnapping, sexual trafficking, or missing and exploited children for you to see everything that can go wrong in these cases.
When your kids agree to meet a stranger they’ve been talking to online, they might not even tell you. This can be at the stranger’s request – or via their judgment.
No matter which it is, that sets the scene for something sinister.
It’s best to nip the issue in the bud by addressing it with your kids right away.
Teach your kids never to agree to physically meet strangers they meet online.
Scan their messages regularly to find strangers they may be talking to and flag such meeting requests.
Exposure to Malware
Even adults have difficulty avoiding malware on the internet, so we cannot expect kids to be perfect here. Malware is often well disguised, and I wouldn’t blame an uninformed kid who falls victim to it.
Many malware entry points exist, from sideloading apps via unreliable sources to plugging thumb drives into the home computer.
Remember that some malware can crawl the entire home network to infect connected devices.
These kinds of malware can also silently gather and steal sensitive information from your computers for a long time without your knowledge.
You don’t want your kids to make a mistake that gets you fired from your job, wipes out your savings, or leaks your confidential conversations to the outside world.
Educate yourself on the different kinds of malware and explain them to your kids with analogies.
Set up easy-to-follow best practices so that they don't fall victim to malware either.
Adult Content Exposure
Earlier, I referenced how many kids get exposed to adult and violent content while researching their homework.
Kids are naturally curious, and such early exposures can have a solid mental and physical effect on them. It’s in your best interest to defer exposure to such content until they’re ready to navigate that space.
What Your Kids Need to Know About Internet Safety Today
Keeping kids safe on the internet seems daunting with everything we’ve discussed.
I agree it’s a daunting task. However, it isn’t impossible – and it’s a gratifying task at that.
Follow this simple guide to help your kids stay safe on the internet:
Tip #1 – No Talking to Online Strangers
It’s disturbing that 60% of teenagers get contacted by a stranger online – and they don’t bother to let an adult know.
The internet is great for meeting new people, but your kids don’t need that for now. Their current online social circle should be limited to people they know in real life alone.
Go through their texts and calls frequently to ensure they’re not talking to any strange person. You can also set up parental control in popular social messaging apps to monitor who they’re talking to.
You should know that 58% of parents manually check which websites their children visitand who they interact with on their devices.
Some 52% of parents also use software (parental control apps) to watch their child/children’s online activity.
Likewise, using apps designed for kids (such as Facebook Messenger for Kids) puts an added layer of security between your children and strangers.
Tip #2 – Education on Phishing Scams
Proper link etiquette is taught even at the highest professional level in the corporate space. If those adults are still potential victims of phishing scams, your kids aren’t left out.
A phishing scam is a social engineering con where a victim is made to perform specific actions while believing they’re communicating with someone else.
For example, a threat actor can send your kid an email posing as Sony Entertainment. If your kid is an online gamer, the email can require them to claim a prize by entering their online gaming account login details.
Such a scam can be perpetrated in several other ways, stealing different kinds of sensitive data.
Here’s how to help your kids:
- Educate them on what phishing scams are.
- Help your kids identify different phishing scams online.
- Give your kids the room to come to you when unsure about an offer.
- Teach your kids that ‘if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.’
- Train your kids on proper link etiquette (always use HTTPS, avoid redirects, etc.).
- Encourage your kids to type addresses out by themselves instead of clicking links.
- Inform your kids of sensitive information (password, credit card details, etc.) that brands never ask for online.
Your kids will develop a stronger sense of personal online security against phishing if you start with these.
Tip #3 – Managing Cyberbullying
Sadly, most of the content that addresses cyberbullying only looks at it from the kid’s perspective.
Given the increment in kids and teen suicides linked to depression from cyberbullying, we need to do one better. Your kids should also be on the lookout for cyberbullying and report to an appropriate adult.
Here are some key takeaways:
- Educate your kids on what cyberbullying is so they can report to you ASAP.
- Train your kids to identify cyberbullying happening to someone else, and report to you (or another adult).
- Teach your kids to avoid bullying others online (and offline).
This provides a solid foundation for solving the cyberbullying problem.
You can help bring down the numbers and hopefully eradicate the situation when your kids aren’t a part of the problem (victim or bystander).
Tip #4 – Malware and How to Identify It
Kids will run into some malware from time to time. The same is true for every other internet user.
The problem is that they might not know enough to avoid it.
Control that narrative better by doing the following:
- Educate YOURSELF on different kinds of common malware.
- Install antivirus software on your kids’ devices.
- Educate your kids about the danger of sideloading apps.
- Inform your kids about the risks of plugging in untrusted external storage devices (flash drives, hard drives, etc.).
- Ensure your kids know not to download attachments from unsolicited emails.
- Discourage kids (especially gamers) from downloading and installing mods, cracks, and hacks.
- Teach kids to avoid websites with a lot of redirects and adware.
- Discourage your kids from connecting to public Wi-Fi networks.
- Instruct your kids never to click on pop-ups.
- Monitor your kids’ e-newsletter signups, or discourage them for now.
Your kids become increasingly self-aware of how malware presents itself with time. When in doubt, they can always come to you for guidance.
Tip #5 – Making Accounts Private
Your kids should maintain a private account for the first few years of their online social life.
The most significant benefits to a private account are:
- You can always see (and review) who wants to see your child’s content before they get access.
- You know that the child is sharing information within a trusted circle.
- Leaks can be better contained before doing any severe damage.
Private accounts also allow you to give your children room to explore and make some mistakes. These mistakes, such as leaving location data embedded in their social posts, can be caught and addressed while educating the kid.
When your kids cross into the upper teenage years, you’ll be more at rest knowing they can open their accounts and maintain interactions safely.
Tip #6 – Sharable and Non-sharable Information
Did you know that 92% of teens post their legal names on their online profiles?
There are a lot of issues with that, but here’s the most concerning one:
58% of these teens don’t think they’re doing anything wrong by posting such information online. They see it as perfectly safe and normal.
But we know better. So, it’s time to get to work:
- Explain what information your kids can and cannot share online.
- Limit social media accounts to close family and friends (tip #5 above).
- Discourage registering on private forums that collect sensitive information such as phone numbers, email addresses, and physical addresses.
- Location information should never be shared online.
- Define what pictures (even if harmless family shots) are unsafe to post online – with reasons.
- Teach your kids to use a screen name instead of their real name.
Let your kids know that they can come to you for clarification.
This covers areas not already accounted for by the pointers above.
Tip #7 – Significance of Location Services
Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms are notorious for pinpointing a user’s location. If enabled, these social media platforms will release that information whenever you post content online.
Such location services can inform a cyber-stalker on where your kid is, put your child in danger of kidnapping, or worse.
Do these things to help your kids:
- Turn off location services on their devices.
- Turn off location services on their social media accounts.
- Educate your kids on why they should leave the settings off.
- Set up parental control accounts where possible to monitor location settings.
- Ask your kids to report to you if someone asks them to toggle these settings.
If you need some help with managing location services on Android and iOS devices, I found some helpful videos you should look at:
If your kids go out with their devices, regularly check to see that someone else hasn’t turned the location services back on. This could be intentional or accidental, but don’t take any chances.
Tip #8 – Online Gaming Safety
Gaming is one of the most overlooked internet activities that kids do.
Most parents only care about regulating the screen time spent gaming, forgetting that their kids can also meet people in online gaming rooms.
Your kid can be bullied online if they’re part of a gaming community or forum.
Their online gaming details and sensitive financial or personal information can also be stolen via a phishing attack.
Some malicious platforms can even trick your kids into making in-app purchases or submitting credit card details.
Fortunately, you can do something about all that:
- Get familiar with the games your kids play.
- Know who your kids are playing online games with. If possible, restrict that to their current friends and family.
- Discourage your kids from making in-app purchases unless you’ve cleared them first.
- Ensure your kids don’t set up gaming profiles with their personal information.
- Check to ensure the legitimacy of any internet gaming platforms they’re on.
- Educate your kids on phishing scams (tip #2) and how it relates to their online gaming.
- Educate your kids about cyberbullying in games and how to handle it (tip #1).
A scientific study from 2019 drew the line between gaming and psychological problems. These problems can come from the need for acceptance, leading to low self-esteem and depression when kids face certain situations in gaming rooms.
That doesn’t mean you should keep your child from gaming, but rather, be proactive in ensuring they have a satisfactory experience.
How to Improve Your Kids’ Online Safety as a Parent
Parents and guardians already have their work cut out for them.
Below is a short roundup of what you should do, where you need to be, and how to execute proper online safety for your kids.
Kids will often trust their peers with certain pieces of information rather than their parents.
Their peers don’t know any better and won’t give them the quality advice they seek. However, that is a safer bet for most kids than telling a parent who might overreact, get angry, or even take their internet access away.
You should always remain calm and deal with these issues objectively if you want your kids to trust you with their online challenges.
Talk Openly About Online Safety With Your Kids
Broaching the subject early on allows you to build a robust foundation of online safety practices for your kids.
These discussions are crucial to establishing trust and creating a learning atmosphere where your kids aren’t afraid to come to you with questions.
You also enjoy steady progression by starting early rather than dumping all the information on them at once. With open discussions, you address issues before they happen and reduce the chances of your kids getting caught up in any problems.
Keep Screens and Devices Where You Can See Them
46% of children have a computer in their bedroom.
You’re not always in the kid’s bedroom, so you don’t know who they’re talking to most of the time. You don’t know what they’re sending over the internet or what websites they visit.
That is a less than ideal situation.
Your kids will be less inclined to use the internet the wrong way if the computer is in a public place.
Set up the computer in the dining room, a small study in the living room, or anywhere else that’s not obscured.
Use Parental Control Software Judiciously
Let me get this out of your mind:
You’re not spying on your kids. You’re only helping shape their internet experience and ensure they continue to enjoy a good quality of life.
Parental control apps and settings are there to block out inappropriate content. Fortunately, most platforms and internet-enabled devices come with parental controls.
Get into the settings, see what you can control, and curate your kids’ digital and online experiences better.
Monitor Your Kids’ Digital Footprint
Don’t think your kids are hiding everything they don’t tell you.
In some cases, their innocent minds don’t see anything wrong, so they don’t think to bother you with it.
This is where checking and monitoring their digital footprint comes into play.
Do these regularly:
- Scan your kids’ browser history to see what websites they’re visiting.
- Check their social media posts to see what content they’re putting out.
- Look out for the interactions on their social media posts to rule out stalkers, bullies, etc.
- Monitor your kids’ download history.
- Look at their recently-deleted items to be sure nothing sensitive is lurking there.
When you find something out of place, have a calm discussion with them.
You’d most likely find out that they didn’t think anything of it, and you can use that as a teaching moment.
Manage Screen Time Better
I love the screen time features on iOS (Screen Time) and Android (Digital Wellbeing).
Even if you aren’t with your kids, you can limit how much time they spend with their devices. You can also regulate how much time they spend on certain apps.
Today, more devices (gaming consoles, smart TVs, etc.) ship with screen time control settings. Take advantage of all these features across the various devices your kids interact with to manage their online screen time better.
Lead by Example
I cannot stress this enough.
Kids learn by example and will most likely do what you do over what you say.
If they follow you on social media, be mindful of what you say and what information you post.
When you set screen time for the TV and gaming consoles, make sure you obey it.
Don’t ask your kids not to use weak passwords if your pet’s name is the home Wi-Fi password. They won’t see the wrong and might not develop the affinity for stronger passwords themselves.
For everything you’re about to change, make sure you’re ready to walk the walk too.
You might not be tech-savvy, but you can always be tech-conscious.
Parents and guardians need to know what their children are doing online in the first place.
A 2017 study showed what percentage of teens are using what online apps.
I’ve presented the findings in the table below:
|S/N||App/Online Service||Percentage (%)|
You probably see some apps on this list that you didn’t even know existed.
You’re not alone.
The world has moved beyond just Facebook and WhatsApp.
There are a lot more social media platforms right now. TikTok has fast become the new in-thing among many teens, and I’m sure more of these platforms will emerge.
You need to always stay on top of the situation. Don’t worry, though.
You only have to do this for as long as they’re kids.
Frequently Asked Questions
The 5 internet safety rules refer to essential recommendations to follow for better cybersecurity, even if you neglect others.
These five (5) rules are:
- Never share your passwords with anyone.
- Be careful what you post on social media.
- Click links with caution.
- Never leave your devices unattended.
- Always learn more about internet safety.
These rules can be modified. Keeping the five building blocks of password security, proper link etiquette, social media security, device security, and cybersecurity awareness is important.
Explaining internet safety to a child requires enough understanding of the subject matter to break it down in uncomplicated terms.
A practical roadmap to explaining internet safety to a child effectively is provided below:
- Understand internet safety yourself.
- Start early with the child.
- Be patient and gentle.
- Use analogies and simple examples.
- Show, not tell.
- Set up rewards for cybersecurity best practices.
Understanding cybersecurity gives you an edge to find the best analogies and examples for the child. When you start early, you lay a solid foundation that you can continue to build on with time rather than rushing the child’s learning process.
Overall, you should be patient and understanding of the child.
It takes time for even adults to get better at cybersecurity, so don’t expect too much from your child.
To Better Internet Safety, and Beyond
The internet safety tips in this guide will lead you to make better choices to keep your kids safe in the online world.
Another upside is that you become active in the digital aspect of their upbringing, instilling online privacy and safety values in them for life.
Your kids will also become closer to you in another area of their life experiences since they know that they can always discuss responsible online behavior with you.
Like I said earlier, always remember never to overreact and always be objective. Remain the superhero that your kids or wards believe that you are.