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2015 Jul

Chatting About Online Safety

Nowadays kids of all ages are connecting with friends and family online. Whether they use a computer, an iPad, or a smartphone, our children are downloading apps, accessing content, sharing what they’re doing and where they are, sending photos and videos from mobile devices, and building online profiles and reputations. If you haven’t talked to your kids about safety issues yet, it’s time to have a chat about online safety.

Communicating online is a way of life, yet it comes with certain risks. The online world can feel anonymous, for example. Kids sometimes forget that they’re still accountable for their actions. In addition, some people online have bad intentions. They might be bullies, predators, hackers, or scammers. Last but not least, you may be concerned that your kids could find pornography, violence, or hate speech online.

These risks are real and, as a parent, you need to equip your children with the knowledge they need to navigate the world-wide web with caution. And since technology is constantly evolving, so are the risks associated with it. You can reduce these risks by talking to your kids about how they communicate—online and off—and encouraging them to think critically and act in a way they—and you—can be proud of.



The best way to protect your kids online? Talk to them. While kids value the opinions of their peers, most tend to rely on their parents for help on the issues that matter most. Start early. Young kids see their parents using all kinds of devices—and also might be playing games or watching shows on them. As soon as your child starts using a phone, mobile device, or computer, it’s time to talk to her about online behavior and safety.

• Initiate the conversation. Even if your kids are comfortable approaching you, don’t wait for them to start the conversation. Use everyday opportunities to talk to your kids about being online. For example, news stories about cyberbullying or texting while driving can spur a conversation with kids about their experiences and your expectations.

• Communicate your expectations. Be honest about your expectations and how they apply in an online context. Communicating your values clearly can help your kids make smarter and more thoughtful decisions when they face tricky situations. For instance, be specific about what’s off-limits—and what you consider to be unacceptable behavior.

• Be patient and supportive. Resist the urge to rush through these conversations with your kids. Most kids need to hear information repeated, in small doses, for it to sink in. If you keep talking with your kids, your patience and persistence will pay off in the long run.

• Work hard to keep the lines of communication open, even if you learn your child has done something online that you find inappropriate. Listening and taking their feelings into account helps keep conversations afloat. You may not have all the answers, and being honest about that can go a long way.



Here are a few important concepts you should discuss with your children.

• Talk about credibility. It’s important to emphasize the concept of credibility. Even the most tech-savvy kids need to understand that not everything they see on the internet is true; people online may not be who they appear to be or say they are; information or images they share can be seen far and wide; and once something is posted online, it’s nearly impossible to “take it back”

• Talk about manners. Because they don’t see facial expressions, body language, and other visual cues, teens and tweens may feel free to do or say things online that they wouldn’t offline. Remind them that real people with real feelings are behind profiles, screen names, and avatars.

• Talk about expectations. When you talk to your kids, set reasonable expectations. Anticipate how you will react if you find out that they’ve done something online you don’t approve of. If your child confides in you about something scary or inappropriate they’ve encountered online, try to work together to prevent it from happening again.




When very young children start using mobile devices or a computer, they should be supervised closely by a parent or caregiver. If little kids aren’t supervised online, they may stumble onto content that could scare or confuse them. When you’re comfortable that your young children are ready to explore on their own, it’s still important to stay in close touch. You may want to restrict access to sites or apps that you’ve visited and know to be appropriate, particularly in terms of their educational or entertainment value.

Consider parental controls. If you’re concerned about what your kids see online, consider tools like these:

• Filtering and blocking. These tools limit access to certain sites, words, or images. Some products decide what’s filtered; others leave that to parents. Some filters apply to websites; others to email and chat.

• Blocking outgoing content. This software prevents kids from sharing personal information online or via email.

• Limiting time. This software allows you to limit your kid’s time online and set the time of day they can access the internet.

• Browsers for kids. These browsers filter words or images you don’t want your kids to see.

• Kid-oriented search engines. These perform limited searches or filter search results for sites and material appropriate for kids.

• Monitoring tools. This includes software that alerts parents to online activity without blocking access. Some tools record the addresses of websites a child has visited; others provide a warning message when a kid visits certain sites. Monitoring tools can be used with or without a kid’s knowledge.




Tweens need to feel “independent” but not alone as they start exploring on their own. Many 8- to 12-year-olds are adept at finding information online, but they still need guidance to help them understand which sources are trustworthy.

Consider setting limits on how long and how often they can be online—whether on computers, phones, or other mobile devices. For younger tweens, parental controls can be effective. However, many middle school kids have the technical know-how to get around those controls.




Teens are forming their own values and beginning to take on the values of their peers. Many are eager to experience more independence from their parents. However, they need to learn how to exercise judgment about being safe online and act in accordance with their family ethic.

Teens have more Internet access through mobile devices—as well as more time to themselves—so it isn’t realistic for you to try to be in the same room when they’re online. They need to know that you and other family members can ask them about what they’re doing online.



Kids share pictures, videos, thoughts, plans, and their whereabouts with friends, family, and sometimes, the world at large. Socializing online can help kids connect with others, but it’s important to help your child learn how to navigate these spaces safely.

Some pitfalls that come with online socializing are sharing too much information, or posting pictures, videos, or words that can damage a reputation or hurt someone’s feelings. Applying real-world judgment and sense can help minimize those downsides.

It’s important to remind your kids that online actions have consequences. The words kids write and the images they post have consequences offline.

Here are a few tips for social media:

• Kids should post only what they’re comfortable with others seeing. Parts of your children’s profiles may be seen by a broader audience than you—or they—are comfortable with, even if they use privacy settings. Encourage your kids to think about the language they use online and to think before posting pictures and videos, or altering photos posted by someone else. Employers, college admissions officers, coaches, teachers, and the police may view these posts.

• Remind kids that once they post it, they can’t take it back. Even if they delete the information from a site, they have little control over older versions that may be saved on other people’s devices and may circulate online. And a message that’s supposed to disappear from a friend’s phone? There’s software that lets them keep it.



• Help your kids understand what information should stay private. Tell them why it’s important to keep some things—about themselves, family members, and friends—to themselves. Information like their Social Security number, street address, phone number, and family financial information is private and should stay that way.

• Talk to your teens about avoiding sex talk online. Teens who don’t talk about sex with strangers online are less likely to come in contact with predators. In fact, researchers have found that predators usually don’t pose as children or teens, and most teens who are contacted by adults they don’t know find it creepy. Teens should not hesitate to ignore or block them and trust their gut when something feels wrong.

• Send group messages with care. Suggest that your kids think about who needs to see their message before sending to multiple people.

• Use privacy settings. Many social networking sites, chat, and video accounts have adjustable privacy settings, so you and your kids can restrict who has access to kids’ profiles. Talk to your kids about the importance of these settings and your expectations for who should be allowed to view their profile.

• Review your child’s friends list. Suggest that your kids limit online “friends” to people they actually know. Ask about who they’re talking to online.



Talk to your kids about how they can help protect their devices and your family’s personal information.

• Create strong passwords, and keep them private. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack. Date of birth, login name, or common words are not safe passwords.

• Ask your kids to be creative and come up with different passwords for different accounts. It may be tempting to re-use the same password, but if it’s stolen, hackers can use it to access other accounts. Kids also can protect their passwords by not sharing them with anyone, including their friends.

• Don’t provide personal or financial information unless the website is secure. If you or your kids send messages, share photos, use social networks, or bank online, you’re sending personal information over the internet.

• Teach your kids: if the URL doesn’t start with https, don’t enter any personal information. That “s” stands for secure. It means the information you’re sending is encrypted and protected.

• Watch out for “free” stuff. Free games, apps, music, and other downloads can hide malware. Don’t download anything unless you trust the source. Teach your kids how to recognize reputable sources.


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