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Keeping Kids Safe Online

Become an online safety advocate for your kids with these simple guidelines.

Today's kids have the unique ability to go through practically every situation in life while glued to their smart devices. And parents are usually left to wonder how many times the phrase, "If you don't turn it off now, I'm going to flush that thing down the toilet" must be uttered at the dinner table.

But apart from being grounded or having the awkward "we need to talk" talk, there are some serious risks for kids who are connected all the time. The truth is, even if parents trust that their kids are making the right decisions online, threats such as online predators, inappropriate content, and cyberbullies are real.

The Internet safety for children advocacy group, ikeepsafe.org, brings to light three main risks associated with all connected technology: Inappropriate Contact, Content, and Conduct (the 3 C's).

Inappropriate contact occurs when strangers or predators online reach out to kids to establish new relationships or to engage in regular communication. "The Internet is a place to enhance existing relationships, not a place to meet new people," warns the organization.

And it happens more than we would like to think. A recent study done by GFI software found that "nearly one third (29%) of teens have been contacted online by a stranger, and 23% of those say have responded in some way." With these numbers in mind, it's important that kids understand the risks associated with giving out personal information to people they don't know.

ikeepsafe.org also recognizes that inappropriate content—or "content that is viewed and content that is uploaded by kids"—is another legitimate concern for parents.

A report by Common Sense Media found that "79% of teens think their friends share too much personal information online," and that's exactly the type of information that can make an impact down the road. The takeaway here is this: if kids are cognizant of the threat, it's probably worth addressing as a parent.

And how about the way kids are treated online by peers—do parents really know? It's been pointed out that kids can encounter inappropriate contact and inappropriate content online, but the child advocacy group also uproots the notion of inappropriate conduct.

Parents may never know if, for example, their kids are victims of cyberbullies, predators online, or even bullies themselves. And the threats are very real: cyberbullying has been linked to depression or anger; conversations with predators have lead to actual encounters; a seemingly harmless Facebook rant about a teacher or a fellow student can have serious effects on a child's future.

Here are some staggering statistics on teen Internet use (via redorbit.com):

The Internet can give kids the sense of invincibility (or anxiety depending on how you look at it), and the numbers above support that idea. So the project for parents then becomes a) helping kids understand that their personal information and digital footprint are worth protecting, and b) making sure the virtualization of the Internet does not confuse the seriousness of real world consequences.

Cyber safety for kids doesn't have to be a difficult task. The tools above suggest that basic methods in monitoring and education (the 3 C's) can make a world of difference. The "playing with apps at the dinner table instead of eating" situation, well, that one might take a little more work.

By Alex Fairbanks

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