Ensuring Internet Safety in the Digital Age

By Anathea Simpkins

Age Groups

According to a 2011 report by the Pew Internet Project, 95% of children ages 12–17 are online. Also, 80% of online teens are using social media. That’s a lot of online interaction for parents to monitor.

How do you keep your child safe? The first thing you can do to encourage internet safety is to be aware. While it’s a bit scary to think about the dangers lurking in cyberspace, the good news is that you can do a lot to educate your child so that they thrive in their digital environments. Here are some things you help your child to avoid:

  • Cyberbullying. According to the Pew report, 88% of teens have witnessed cruelty on a social network site. Cyberbullying isn’t limited to a home computer, either. With cell phones and laptops, children can feel like the bullies are with them wherever they go.
  • Identity Theft. Unfortunately, identity theft isn’t limited to adults. Children get their identities stolen, as well. Thieves sim to steal their personal information, including their social security numbers.
  • Predators. It’s scary to think about the predators in the world, but online predators are an unfortunate reality of online interactions. The anonymity provided online gives these people opportunities with unwary kids.

It’s a digital age, and online interaction is an important part of our academic, social and professional lives. You can help your child learn to thrive in this digital culture by keeping safety in mind.

  • Keep personal info private. Talk with your child about what is and is not appropriate for them to share online. Ask them what they think is okay to share — their answers may surprise you. Review the privacy settings on social media sites (and any other sites they regularly use) with your child. Your kids may not be aware of what’s public and what’s private information. Demonstrate by showing them how you set the privacy settings on some of your social media accounts.
  • Protect passwords. To help keep your child’s online profiles and email safe, explain the proper way to choose a password. Tell them not to choose a password that’s easy to guess, like their first name or a pet’s name, and to include a combination of numbers, symbols, and uppercase and lowercase letters. Also, remind your child not to share their passwords, even with friends. Give them a practical example by resetting one of your online passwords using the tips that you’ve given them.
  • Think before you download. Explain to your child that not all downloads are created equal. Before your child downloads anything, have them stop and be sure that they trust the source of the file. Also, warn your child to screen emails carefully, especially if there are links for them to click. If the email is not from someone they know, they should check with you first. Pull up an email or a website that contains a download link and have your child tell you why or why not it’s a good idea to download the file.
  • Be stingy with the information you give out. Remind children to be careful about the kinds of details they give out. Anytime a site asks for banking, credit card or personal information, have your child check with you first. Also, warn your child about phishing emails that ask for info. Explain that these kinds of emails ask for financial and other confidential information. They are sneaky because they look official, but when you look closely, you can see that they are fakes. Try searching your Spam folder or the Internet so you can show your child an example.
  • Be clear about online relationships. An aware child is less of a target. Explain to your child that it’s never okay to give out your address. And, make sure your child knows that taking online interactions to the next level is never okay without your permission, including meeting, calling or getting gifts from an online “new friend.”
  • Maintain communication. One of the most important things you can do is talk with your child regularly. Ask them what’s going on at their social networking sites, find out who they are talking to, and get them to show you the stuff they’ve been looking at online. By talking to them and seeing where they’ve been visiting, you can get a sense of what their online experiences are.

It’s important to remember that the Internet mostly provides a positive opportunity for your child to learn about a variety of subjects, improve their technology skills, and practice communication and collaboration. Keeping safety in mind just helps your child to make the most of the Internet’s benefits.