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The Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety for Kids

Internet Safety For Kids

It’s safe to say that pretty much all kids and teens use the Internet nowadays. Back in 2015, one in three of them used it at home, and the numbers have likely gone up since then. Also, 45% of teens are online constantly, while 44% of them access the web multiple times per day.

With that in mind, how do you offer Internet safety for kids and teens nowadays? Well, if you’re curious to learn about that, we’ve got all the info you need in this handy article.

Why Is Cyber Safety for Kids Necessary?

It’s pretty simple – the Internet just isn’t as safe as we’d all like to believe it is. True, kids and teens can have a good time on the web, and learn plenty of useful skills. However, the reality is that the Internet is full of online threats and cybercriminals that are just waiting to take advantage of a child or teen’s naivety.

Here’s a list of the most common problems kids and teens might have to deal with online:

1. Cyberbullying

If you’re not familiar with cyberbullying, it’s when people use online and electronic communications to threaten, intimidate, and scare kids and teens. They can target older people too, but kids and teens tend to be the main victims. Any of the following can represent cyberbullying:

  • Spreading fake rumors about someone on social media, through messaging apps, and text messages.
  • Sending threats and mean messages to someone through social media, phone calls and messages, and emails.
  • Taking unflattering, private, and/or shameful photos/videos of someone, and spreading them online.
  • Breaking into someone’s online account (usually a social media account), and using it to send malicious, violatent, or sexual messages to other people while posing as said person.
  • Pretending to be someone else on online platforms to harm their image and reputation.
  • Aggressively sending sexual messages to someone who doesn’t want them.

You might think your child won’t end up a victim of cyberbullying, but consider this – over half of kids and teens have reportedly not only been abused on the Internet, but approximately the same amount of them have also engaged in cyberbullying themselves. What’s more, over one in three young people have been the victims of cyber threats.

“That’s not right. If something like that were to happen, my kid would tell me.”

Not exactly. The same statistics also show that well over half of young people won’t tell their parents when they become the victims of cyberbullying. They could be ashamed to do it, might be blackmailed to stay quiet, or might simply be afraid that they’d get in trouble because of it.

A Cyberbully’s end goal is to ultimately:

  • Convince a child or teen to do something illegal or sexual by blackmailing them.
  • Pressure them into sharing sensitive information with him/her (like their parents’ credit card details).
  • Push the child/teen to the point where they are willing to hurt themselves, or even commit suicide.

2. Sexual Predators

Sexual predators often use the Internet to find and groom potential victims. They abuse children and teens’ innocence by pretending to be someone else (like someone their age), and pretending to be a new potential friends for them. The main goal of online sexual predators is to gain the trust of your kids to the point where they can convince them to meet up in person.

Obviously, if that happens, your child can end up the victim of sex trafficking – or worse. What’s more, a sexual predator might manage to convince him/her to involve their friends too. Unfortunately, that tends to happen every once in a while, with one in 20 children admitting to having arranged a secret meeting with someone they met online.

3. Anything Your Kid Posts Online

Children and teens often don’t understand that if they post something online, it will likely remain there forever – or until the Internet collapses. The simple fact is that the web has no “Delete” button, so anything you post on it will remain there. Sure, an embarrassing post, photo, or video can be deleted, but if someone manages to screenshot it or save it before it’s done, there’s nothing that can be done about it.

Young children and teens will obviously not think about what a future employer or spouse might think about what they post on the Internet under their real name. Such lack of foresight can – and likely will – eventually come to bite them in the future. Plus, they might post the kind of information (like their current whereabouts) that can make it easy for criminals to target them.

4. Malware and Viruses

Kids and teens can download malware and viruses by accident without even being aware of it. The malicious files can be disguised as the latest video game, their favorite singer’s album, or sexually explicit photos and other content. They don’t normally consider the possibility that such a file could contain anything malicious, so they don’t think there could be any consequences if they interact with them.

Because of that, their devices – and, consequently, your devices if they use them – can end up infected with all sorts of malware like spyware, keyloggers, and adware. If that happens, you can rest assured your and your kids’ personal and financial information will be stolen and sold on the deep web.

5. Violent and Sexual Content

The Internet is full of knowledge, but it’s also full of graphic violent and sexual content, which can be inappropriate for anyone – especially young kids and teens. Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy for them to find such content on the web, or just access it by mistake. According to research, around 93% of boys and 62% of girls were exposed to sexual content during their teen years. What’s more, 66% of online users aged 10 to 17 who were exposed to online pornography were exposed to it unintentionally.

If your kids are exposed to something like that, it could affect them in a negative psychological manner. The way they interact with their friends and love interests could be significantly damaged, which – in turn – can cause your children to become depressed. What’s more, that type of content can also contain malware or viruses.

6. Phishing (And Other Scams)

Adults are susceptible to phishing, so you can imagine what easy targets children and teens are. And scammers don’t shy away from doing that since it’s an easy way to get what they want – personally identifiable information and financial data like credit card numbers, bank account details, and bank account login credentials.

Phishing scammers will usually approach kids and teens on social media, but they might try to send them emails too. Instead of claiming they represent a bank, they might say they’re from a video game company, they represent some well-known artist, or they might claim they’re a police officer to try and scare them into revealing sensitive information.

9 Ways to Improve Internet Safety for Kids

According to our own research, and what we’ve heard from other parents, here are the most useful Internet safety tips for kids and teens:

1. Discuss Cyberbullying With Them Openly

One of the main reasons kids and teens who are victims of cyberbullying don’t talk about that is shame and fear. They’re afraid they might get in trouble because of it, and they’re ashamed they became victims of something like that.

That’s exactly why you need to be 100% transparent when discussing this topic with them. They need to know it’s not something that only happens to them, and that it certainly is not normal. Besides that, they also need to fully understand there are solutions to cyberbullying, and ways to prevent it too. And that they can always turn to you for help.

You should also take the time to see what the legal status of cyberbullying is in your country. If you can contact the authorities about it, make sure to let your children know about that too. The knowledge that they can also turn to a police officer for help when dealing with cyberbullying will likely give them more confidence, take away the stress and fear (or some of it), and make them more likely to take action against their bullies.

In case your child is harassed by a bully online, take photos or screenshots of the messages. Don’t delete them – they can be useful evidence in the future. If you know the identity of the bully, and it’s someone your kid’s age, contact their parents.

If you’d like a more in-depth overview of what cyberbullying is, and how you can protect your kids from it, check out this guide.

2. Install Secure Antivirus/Antimalware Programs on Their Devices

You can (and should) talk with your kids about malware – what it is, how their devices can be infected with it, and what kind of damage it can do. To get the point across, it’d normally be enough to just mention they won’t be able to use their computer, gaming console, or mobile phone anymore because of the malware.

But even if they are fully aware of the dangers of malware, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a risk (no matter how small) that they will accidentally download a malicious file or access a malware-infected link. Let’s face it – if they will see a message claiming they can get their favorite game, albums, or shows for free, they’ll likely not think twice.

So, to avoid such situations and guarantee Internet safety for kids, it’s best to install antivirus/antimalware software on all your and their devices. Don’t be fooled by the name – both antivirus and antimalware programs do the same thing. A virus is a type of malware, after all.

There are plenty of antivirus/antimalware software providers to choose from, but our recommendations are Malwarebytes and ESET.

3. Install VPNs on Their Devices & Teach Them About VPNs

Not sure what a VPN is? The acronym stands for Virtual Private Network, and it’s an online service that lets you hide your IP address, and encrypt your online traffic. If you were to explain it to your kid, you could describe it as a tool that keeps you safe online and makes sure people can’t spy on you.

How would a VPN provide cyber safety for kids? Pretty simple – the service would encrypt all their Internet traffic, which can come in handy when they use public WiFi. And let’s face it – kids and teens will use public WiFi without caring that it’s unsecured and that anybody could monitor their online activities. Yes, that pretty much means a cyber criminal could easily steal their email, social media account, and bank account login credentials.

Another way a VPN would help secure Internet safety for kids is by hiding their IP addresses. Why’s that important? Because their geo-locations will be hidden this way, so shady websites and hackers won’t be able to monitor that kind of information. Also, they wouldn’t be able to use their IP addresses to find out things like:

  • What country your kids live in.
  • What city your children are from.
  • Who your ISP is.

Of course, you’ll need to explain to your kids why using a VPN is necessary. You can mention the benefits we described above, but it’s better if you focus on advantages that would resonate with them more:

Armed with all that information, it’ll be easier for you to teach your kids why they should have VPN clients and apps installed on their devices, and run them whenever they access the web. You can even set up a VPN on your home router if you want to make sure all your and your kids’ online connections are secured at home on any device.

CactusVPN – The Best Way to Ensure Internet Safety for Kids and Teens

We offer a VPN service that’s extremely easy to use. Both you and your children will have no trouble getting used to our user-friendly design. Plus, our service works across multiple platforms.

In terms of cyber safety for kids, our VPN comes equipped with high-end military-grade encryption, can prevent DNS leaks, features a Kill Switch (so that your children are protected even if connection issues might arise), and offers access to highly-secure VPN protocols (SoftEther, IKEv2, OpenVPN, SSTP).

We also offer a 30-day money-back guarantee once you choose a subscription plan.

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4. Give Your Kids Clear Guidelines for Social Media

You can’t expect your kids to automatically know how they should act on social media.- especially when they see everyone acting so recklessly. That’s why you need to take the time to teach your children about proper, secure social media etiquette. Basically, you need to explain how they:

  • Shouldn’t make their whereabouts public all the time.
  • Need to ignore friend and message requests from people they don’t know.
  • Should never share too much personal and financial data with unknown people or even their social media friends.
  • Should block anyone who acts too shady, aggressive, or intimidating.
  • Must keep personal information (like physical address, email address, or mobile number) off their social media profiles.
  • Should never share explicit photos or videos of themselves (or anyone they know) on social media platforms.
  • Should never interact with shady links and attachments they might receive in their inbox or see in other people’s posts.

Also, we highly recommend you taking the time to help your kids make their social media profiles as private as possible. Here are some useful guides for most platforms:

5. Use Parental Controls When Available

Configuring parental controls is one of the most important Internet safety rules for kids. It helps you block access to harmful websites, set up an Internet curfew, and monitor what your kids are doing on the Internet. Sounds a bit too Big Brother-ish? It might, but it’s a necessary step to ensure your children enjoy a safe and healthy online experience.

Pretty much all devices and operating system let you set up parental controls, but you should consider getting a router that has built-in parental controls too. Here is a list of potential options:

Besides that, there are also various parental control applications you can use to make your job much easier. Besides doing what parental control features can do, these apps also let you monitor messages, access videos and photos, monitor your kid’s location, and control app downloads and purchases/in-app purchases.

Right now, the best parental control apps to use are TeenSafe, MMGuardian, Net Nanny, and WebSafety.

6. Use Kid-Friendly Browsers/Search Engines

Kid-friendly browsers and search engines are perfect for young children. While most browsers and search engines are easy to use and relatively secure, they’re not exactly great for children. If you don’t take the time to properly configure search engines (like we’ll be discussing below), your kids can end up seeing explicit and obscene results – either intentionally or by accident.

For example, if they use Bing they might get downright worrying search suggestions like child pornography.

Some good options include:

7. Configure Search Engines to Display Safe Results

“What if my kids are too old to use kid-friendly browsers?”

In that case, it’s best to configure all search engines installed on your devices and your children’s devices to display only safe results. If you don’t do that, your children can end up seeing harmful content.

Here are some useful guides on how to make sure your search engines display only safe results:

8. Help Your Kids Come Up With Strong Passwords

The last thing your kid would need is someone breaking into their social media account, and – while posing as them – saying hurtful things to their friends and people they know. Sure, that can be cleared up eventually, but the damage will already be done – your child will lose friends, become a social outcast in many circles, and maybe even be physically harmed.

That’s just one example out of many. A scammer could also hack into your kid’s savings account, for instance.

One good way to prevent something like that from happening (besides teaching them how to avoid phishing, but we’ll get back to that in a second) is to make sure your child uses powerful passwords to protect their accounts. That’s not to say they don’t know what passwords are or how to use them, but they’re likely not aware about most password security guidelines. So, you should be the one to help them with that.

In case you don’t know enough about password security, don’t worry – we’ve already got an in-depth article on that topic right here. Ideally, you should go over the main tips for creating a strong password with your child, and teach them to not use the same password for all accounts, and how to use password managers too.

9. Teach Them the Basics of Phishing

You can’t expect your kid to be able (or even have the interest) to fully understand what phishing is and how it works. However, you need to at least try to get them to understand the main idea – that strangers will try to use their innocence to their advantage, and trick them into revealing sensitive information (like their bank or social media account login credentials) or interact with malicious links and attachments.

You need to be careful how you approach that topic if your kid is a teenager, though. Don’t forget – they’re in their rebellious phase, and will often scoff at any advice you try to offer. So, don’t make the mistake of approaching this topic with a tone of authority, and treating your child like, you know, an actual child. Talk to them like an adult, and explain that the dangers of phishing can seriously harm their social standing and future.

You don’t need to hold a lecture on phishing, but talking with your kids about the main signs, goals, and dos and don’ts of phishing is a great start. If you’re not very familiar with phishing, you can go over that info with them together. Here’s a guide we wrote about phishing – as well as other threats. You should find most of the info you need right there.

Alongside that information, you should also know that phishing scammers who target young kids and teens tend to use social media more than email or phone. They might also likely pretend to be someone their age, usually of the opposite sex.

Besides just teaching your kids not to blindly trust strangers, and how to spot scammers, you should also have them use anti-phishing extensions. The ones provided by Stanford are very reliable.

Internet Safety for Kids – To Sum It All Up

Having access to online content is important for pretty much anyone nowadays – including kids and teens. It’s how they do homework, talk and keep in touch with friends, and spend their free time.

However, if you want to make sure your children enjoy a decent online experience, you need to learn how to keep them safe. After all, there are plenty of threats lurking on the web, like cyberbullies, malware, sexual predators, phishing, scams, and violent and pornographic content. Not to mention what your kids post online, and what information they share can always work to their disadvantage in the future.

How do you offer Internet safety for kids and teens, you ask? Well, it’s not a simple solution, but you can get good results if you stick to these guidelines:

  • Install antivirus/antimalware software on your and your kids’ devices.
  • Make sure your kids are familiar with how phishing and scams generally work.
  • Install VPNs on your children’s devices, and on your own devices too.
  • Make sure the search engines you use only display safe results.
  • If you have younger kids, consider having them use kid-friendly browsers.
  • Use parental controls on all devices, and make use of parental control apps too.
  • Make sure your children know how to stay safe on social media.
  • Talk with your kids about the dangers of cyberbullying, and how to handle it.

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Tim has been writing content and copy for a living for over 4 years, and has been covering VPN, Internet privacy, and cybersecurity topics for more than 2 years. He enjoys staying up-to-date with the latest in Internet privacy news, and helping people find new ways to secure their online rights.