7 Ways to Help Keep Your Child Safe Online

During the age of online learning, kids are constantly on laptops and smart devices. But even without the pandemic-induced virtual classrooms, it is well documented that kids are spending more and more time online. But being online and using apps does not come without potential risks. Many predators lurk on the Internet and in game chat rooms, aiming to pose as friends to a child to ultimately sexually exploit them. This is a form of child sex trafficking-- it can look like the predator obtaining child sexual abuse material (legally known as child pornography, which includes sexual images and video), or the predator tricking the child into agreeing to meet up and perform sexual acts. Regardless of the specific scenario, it is important that you help your child understand the potential dangers that exist online. Equally important is taking steps to eliminate or lessen the chance of being in such a position; we have made a list of suggested actions to take to help keep your child safe online.

Have conversations about grooming and sextortion

Make sure your child is informed about the “unsafe people” that can sometimes be on the Internet, in social media direct messages, or video game chat rooms. Any person who asks to meet up, or where they live, or mentions anything about “private parts” is not a safe person to be talking to. Explain to them what grooming is: when a person acts like a friend and gets to know a child, with the intention of asking for a meeting or sexual material, which can be anything from sexting, sexual images, to sexual videos. Also explain what sextortion is: when a person obtains sexual material from a child and uses it as blackmail to get them to stay quiet or keep sending more. Stress to your child the importance of being careful of who they talk to online, and encourage them to ask you any questions they might have about the topic.

Discuss what can be shared and what shouldn’t

If your child does have games with chat rooms or social media, be sure to discuss the responsibilities of having access to such a platform. Make sure to explain the importance of keeping some things private-- personal information, location, etc. Require social media apps to be on the private setting, which restricts who has access to what your child is posting. Also discuss the dangers of Snapchat--a popular app that allows senders to send images or messages that disappear after a certain amount of time.

Use privacy settings and parental controls

On many devices, there are parental controls that can be activated to require a password to perform certain tasks or use certain apps. This allows you to block web content, prevent explicit content, and require a special password to be able to download apps. Overall, you will have control over what you child has access to and help keep them safe.

Related: An Internet Safety Cheat Sheet for Caregivers

Review apps before downloading

You have the ultimate say on whether your child can download apps-- use this oversight to review apps before you download them for your child. Opt for apps made specifically for children, such as YouTube Kids versus regular YouTube. Be particularly careful of apps that include features such as direct messaging, video chats, and the ability to send pictures. These options open many doors for predators to groom and eventually exploit your child.

Keep devices outside their room

With online learning and kids spending so much time on tablets and laptops, it is impossible to monitor their device usage all the time. However, when your child is using their device for fun or games, have them sit in the family room or at the kitchen counter. This will help you keep an eye on them and make it easier to ask them conversational questions about their games and what they’re up to. At the end of the day, have your kids leave their devices outside of their room in a designated spot so they aren’t tempted to go online when they should be sleeping.

Discuss online friends

Much like you would ask about your child’s school friends, ask about anyone they are talking to online. Since many predators pose as friends to children before exploiting them, keeping up-to-date on anyone your child may be chatting with online will keep you in the loop and on the watch for any signs of your child beginning to feel uncomfortable talking about a certain “friend”.

Be a safe space for your kids

Despite all the measures and precautions you may take, your kids may still find themselves in an uncomfortable position. If they are in an unsafe situation online, knowing that they can turn to you and confide in you without fear of punishment is so important. You want to be their safe space-- a person they can go to that will help them through one of the many challenges that may come with being online.

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