12 Internet Safety Tips for Kids

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November 9, 2018

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This is great info, thanks for giving me some ideas on how to start a dialogue with my teen!

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Josh's presentation about social media was unbelievably fantastic. Our students learned so much about what kids should and shouldn't be doing. The fact that it is such a thoughtful process made it all worthwhile.

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This webinar is a very helpful eye-opener on the apps that are popular with my students.

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Irene C.

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This app is listed in the SmartSocial.com Green Zone.
This app is not safe for students to use unsupervised, but a Green Zone app can serve a positive purpose to help a student to navigate social media and someday build an online brand. Read more below to find out why this app is in the Green Zone.

This app is listed in the SmartSocial.com Gray Zone.
Gray Zone apps often contain lots of private & disappearing messages, and strangers can use this to chat with students. Parents should participate in these apps with students to keep them safe. This zone can be a great place for family time since many of these apps can be entertaining, and let your students express themselves. Read more below to find out why this app is in the Gray Zone.

This app is listed in the SmartSocial.com Red Zone.
Red Zone apps often have lots of anonymous features, adult content, and easy contact with strangers. Supervision is strongly suggested on each of these apps or move your kids to a safer zone. All apps require parental supervision, these apps more than others. Read more below to find out why this app is in the Red Zone or view our list of 100+ Apps to find a safer app with your student.
Join our weekly newsletter to learn about the 100+ app reviews at SmartSocial.com

This trend is categorized as a Dangerous Social Media Challenge.
Viral challenges encourage students to do dangerous things to garner likes, views, attention, and subscribers. These challenges can be found across several social networks and may encourage students to perform dangerous activities. SmartSocial.com keeps parents updated on these social media challenges before an incident may occur in your community.

Table of Contents

Internet Safety for Kids: How to Talk to Elementary Students by Josh Ochs SmartSocial.com

Before giving them access to social media or their own device, it’s important to talk about internet safety for kids. Regular and casual conversations can help your student develop healthy screen time behaviors before they even start creating accounts on social media. It can be tricky to know where to start the conversation, so we asked 5 experts to share their best advice for talking to elementary students about online safety.

1. Arm your child with the knowledge to make good choices

Kazia Conway headshot
Kazia Conway
Kazia Conway, Carlson Law Firm

Elementary aged kids spend an average of three hours a day online. Therefore, constantly monitoring your child's online activity can be time-consuming. The best protection from online predators is to arm your child with the necessary knowledge to make good choices. In addition to setting basic rules about internet access, it is more important than ever that parents begin having open and honest conversations with their children about the dangers that lurk on the internet-particularly in seemingly innocent apps. Even gaming apps have messaging features that can be used to reach elementary aged children. These dangers no longer just begin and end at sexual predators, but also includes bullies; those wishing to indoctrinate children with hate, bigotry, and racism; dangerous challenges; and games that promote self-harm. Parents should be aware of the types of dangers that lurk on each platform their child uses. Conversations of online safety should be specific, clear, and to the point. The conversations don't have to be awkward or uncomfortable for you or your child, nor should they be a one-time sit-down. Discussing online safety should begin before you hand your child an internet-ready device and continue periodically through casual conversation. Use recent news reports about predators, bullies and dangerous games, and challenges to highlight the importance of making good choices online. And finally, encourage your child by letting them know that you trust them. Through having open communication with your children, they will trust that you won't revoke internet privileges if they come to you with something that makes them uncomfortable or confused.

2. Start building a plan

Josh Ochs headshot
Josh Ochs
Josh Ochs, Smart Social

If your children are young, it might be a good time to start working on a 10 year plan with them. It doesn’t have to be anything concrete when they’re 6 or 7, but the foundation should be laid and it should come into sharper focus as they get older. What clubs do they want to participate in during middle school? What sports do they want to play? For some school systems, students are introduced to competitive sports by the 8th grade, if not sooner. If you and your child are serious about getting into a sport, it should start now. If they want to go to a private high school, they need to be building a portfolio of accomplishments in middle school by involving themselves in clubs, teams, the wider community, etc. All of that can start even before they get to middle school. Before giving your student their own device, teach your children that schools are looking for students who will be active and productive, and how you appear on social media needs to show that off. It doesn't matter what your friends think of a photo, it's what a future college/employer might think that matters the most. It’s important for the content to approximately reflect the image you want employers and advisors to see. When in doubt, make sure your posts have a little bit of gratitude and/or positivity. This will ensure you are seen in the best light when opportunities come your way.

3. Discuss what is 'real' online and what is not real

Elizabeth Malson headshot
Elizabeth Malson

Elizabeth Malson, Amslee Institute

I've seen first graders with their own smartphones, and given the accelerated advancements in digital technology, it's vital we teach current and future generations about online safety. First, discuss what is 'real' online and what is not real. For younger children, you can use Skype to chat with grandma as 'real'. To teach children about automated content, you can show them cartoons, animations, memes, and advertisements. A child friendly comparison would be reading a book about airplanes (real) versus a Dr. Seuss book about fish (not real). Once the child has a basic understanding of real versus imaginary, share the do's and don’ts on working with a computer and various websites.. It's important to explain why the rules are needed. For example, children should learn not to share their address or where they go to school because they are talking to strangers. For older children, prepare them for being online alone and talk about online predators. Without using scary language, teach children they do not have to talk to or answer questions while online. When talking with children about online strangers, it is good to remind them who they should talk to and identify those in their lives that aren't strangers. Reinforcing who they can talk with while online helps keep the conversation positive. Parents have a lot to manage and it's easy for elementary aged kids to get several hours of unsupervised screen time a day. For early elementary aged children, take advantage of online programs and apps with child specific content or setting options that enable family friendly content. Preschool and Kindergartners can spend time on PBSKids, Starfall, or ABC Mouse. For K through 5, ABCya offers free educational games designed by teachers. Khan Academy is a favorite site that is an appropriate option for any school-aged child.

4. Use visual reminders to teach the permanence of social media

Julia Simens headshot
Julia Simens
Julia Simens, MA in Clinical Psychology

Parents need to realize that their children will become “screenagers”. Most parents have some artwork or written work from their child's early years in school. Bring it out and share it with your child. Do they like it? Would they be pleased or embarrassed if their classmates saw it now? How would they feel if their teacher saw it? Do they have to defend it? This process opens the door to talk about how social media is your brand and it can stick around for a long time. Usually, this visual reminder is a wake up for your child even if they are pleased with their past work.

5. Demonstrate how fast information spreads on social media

Justin Lavelle headshot
Justin Lavelle

Justin Lavelle, PeopleLooker

Demonstrate the power of social media sharing. We see parents demonstrating the power of social media sharing all the time, especially on Facebook and Twitter. These parents take a photo of themselves holding signs saying, “I would like to get X amount of shares to prove to my child how fast things spread on the internet.” You can do this, too, or show your child the number of shares other parents have received. Another way to demonstrate how fast comments, pictures, and information spreads is by providing your children with video clips from YouTubers sharing their positive and negative experiences from going viral--some of them are life-altering. Giving you children a face to someone who has been affected by Internet sharing hammers down the importance of staying safe and respectful on social media websites.

6. Just talk to them

Clayton Cranford, Cyber Safety Cop

1. Talk with your child about online safety

The first step in creating a safe online world for children is simply having a conversation.

The first step in creating a safe online world for children is simply having a conversation. Most parents do a good job talking to their children about “saying no” to tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, but starting a conversation about cyber safety can be harder. However, parents do not need to know as much as or more about technology than their children to talk about their concerns. Be caring and direct about your online safety concerns. This is an on-going conversation that requires parents to engage with their children. Only 1 in 10 teens will voluntarily tell their parent about being a victim of cyberbullying. The on-going conversation is an invitation for the child to confide in their parent, and to ask for help and support if they are exposed to threats or inappropriate content online.

2. Use parental controls on all devices

It's important to turn on parental controls and restrictions on every Internet connected device our kids have.

It is critically important for parents to turn on parental controls and restrictions on every Internet connected device their children have. By default, these safety measures are turned off. Unfortunately, nearly every device’s parental controls work differently and are not intuitive. I wrote Parenting in the Digital World to take parents step-by-step through all the devices in their children’s lives and show them how to activate the safety settings. Parental controls will filter content such as pornographic websites, and restrict their children from downloading and installing inappropriate applications.

3. Set rules and expectations

More than 80% of teens have no rules or boundaries about how they use or behave on the Internet.

The National Crime Prevention Council reported that more than 80% of teens have no rules or boundaries about how they use or behave on the Internet. I created the Internet and Mobile Device Usage Contract to help parents know what boundaries are necessary and how to present these rules to their children.

I encourage parents to download this free resource and sit down with their child and go through each point on the contract. Parents should follow up each point with questions such as: “Why do you think this is a good rule to have,” or, “What could happen if you didn’t follow this rule?”

4. Friend and follow

If a parent allows their child to have a social media account, like Instagram, they must be their child’s follower.

If a parent allows their child to have a social media account, like Instagram, they must be their child’s follower. When a parent is a member of their child’s social network they provide safety and accountability. After talking to thousands of children about this issue, I have a few tips for parents:

  • Never comment on any of your child’s, or their friend’s, posts. A teen’s number one fear of having a parent in their network is the fear of being embarrassed.
  • Choose your battles carefully. If you are overly critical about everything being discussed online, you will force your child into the shadows. They may make a second account or move to a new app you don’t know about. If you see an issue that must be addressed, do it offline and away from the eyes and ears of their friends.

5. Create a balance

Be the adult you want your student to be.

In a 2007 survey, teens said they spend an average of 40 hours a week in front of screens. The American Medical Association of Pediatrics recommends less than 2 hours of non-educational screens a day. As a parent of two teen boys, I understand the conflict trying to limit screen time can cause.

Use my free Screen Time Worksheet to establish screen time limits in your home. I recommend two hours of screens on a school night and three hours on the weekend. Creating tech-free zones at the dinner table is also a good idea.

Remember, your students are watching you. Be the adult you want them to be. Curb your own bad technology habits and create tech-free activities to engage your children in. Battleship anyone?

7. Find a game to play with your kids, get on board with your child's online life!

Leonie Smith, The Cyber Safety Lady

Communication with your child about their gaming and online world is imperative if parents are to keep up with what their children are doing on Technology. Children are our greatest educators. If your child clams up every time you try to discuss what they are doing online, there may be a problem.

It might be that the child is concerned that you won’t like what they are doing, and might take the internet or the device away. It might be because they think you won’t be interested or won’t understand.

Spend some time finding out about your child’s favorite games or apps. Is there a game that you think you might enjoy playing with them? Even if you are hopeless at playing it, kids actually love teaching their parents, and turning the tables can be very rewarding for both child and parent. Ask your child to recommend some games for you that they think you might like.

My son recommended Portal 2 for me after understanding the types of games I liked to play. Seeing him rolling on the floor laughing at my feeble attempts to jump through the portals was not humiliating for me, it was fun!

The gaming world has progressed way past the Mario bros (although it’s coming back!) or the first person shooter games if you aren’t attracted to those. There are some incredible games out there for tablets, phones, PC’s and console that adults and kids will both love to play. Games like Portal2, The Room, and The Room2, Lily, The Cave, Words With Friends, Chess, Badland, Interlocked, Blek, Contrast and many more. Once you find one game you like, have a look at the suggestions for other games that are similar through the suggestions tab on the Google Play or iTunes store. You can also read reviews about great games at Common Sense Media or other online review sites.

It’s never too late to learn about the type of technology our kids are using. As parents we all had steep learning curves to be able to be effective and loving parents. Learning about how our kids use technology is just as important as learning about the best education for our children, understanding their needs, learning about their favorite sport or hobby in order to help and support them.

Children also need us to be supportive and educated about the huge influence on their young lives which is digital technology. Add up the hours your child spends in front of a screen, with that much time spent using technology it would be like ignoring nutrition or ignoring educational needs in comparison. It’s simply not good enough to say “I don’t have time to learn all this tech stuff, I’ll just hope for the best” You never know…..you might actually benefit and enjoy it!

8. Even if your children aren’t on social media, educate them on the dangers

Teana McDonald headshot
Teana McDonald
Teana McDonald, 3E Connections, Inc.

There’s a dark side to many things in life but social media is the most talked about in the current landscape. As a social media company and a mom of 2 (who don’t have social media), I have to educate them on the dangers of it all. For the kids who are fully engaged and using tons of platforms, it’s important to show them real life examples of what’s happening in the world as it pertains to social media: bullying, kids being targeted via video games, chat rooms, kids being kidnapped and lured to meet – all of it. Most kids relate and rely on the internet, social media, and YouTube for their content. Parents should use the same platforms as their children to understand the underlying dangers and consequences they face every day (there are tons). Children who are not permitted to engage on social media are still at risk if they interact and engage through video games, YouTube, and with kids who are active on social media. As a parent, you should teach them that there is always a camera around and their friends might not understand the risk and impact of posting a picture or video. It’s important for parents to teach their children to be aware, ask questions, and behave appropriately.

There are serious dangers to consider before allowing others to have videos and photos of your children. What if they use your child’s image and videos on their social sites to engage with other strangers? The dialog about the dark side of social media should happen a few times a week in a very casual setting. Consider having a discussion around the dinner table when you’re talking about school, activities, their friends, etc. As parents, we don’t want to come across as nosey and bossy, but more so as a supportive advisor and listener.

9. Find relevant news stories to share with your teen

Kevin J. Roberts headshot
Kevin J. Roberts
Kevin J. Roberts, Cyber Addiction Author

Parents must begin teaching digital safety early on. Technology and the Internet must be a part of the conversations you have with your child from perhaps 3 or 4 years old. Talk about other children whom you know are addicted to screen time and the negative consequences that resulted. At this time, parents must also model a healthy relationship with technology. If parents spend hours a day on Facebook or Instagram, they will lack credibility in their child's eyes. Parents establish credibility by becoming a model themselves, and by setting limits for their entire family. Here are five easy steps all families can put into practice:

  • Have at least some tech-free time as a family. Don’t allow smart phones at the dinner table, for example.
  • In addition to tech-free time, have tech-free zones. Many families I work with choose to use the family room for this purpose. Cell phones, video game consoles, laptops, iPads, and computers are not allowed in there.
  • Set a maximum time allowed on video games and the computer. I recommend no more than two hours a day.
  • For each minute spent on the computer or video game, require a minute of exercise. This will allow you to combat the tendency for technology to create sedentary children.
  • No TV’s, computers, or video game consoles in the bedroom.

Incidentally, parents must follow these rules too! If you allow your children to police you as well, it will empower them, and serve to create a more harmonious and balanced family. With these steps, parents can communicate the all-important principle that Internet access is not a right, but rather a privilege. Meeting target behaviors and certain expectations are required in order to receive and maintain that privilege. These early school years are also a good time to start teaching children about digital safety. Students need to be made aware of several important factors:

  • Passwords are not to be shared.
  • Never give out your address, age, or phone number online.
  • Report any bullying activities to a parent.
  • If someone you do not know is trying to converse with you online, do not respond and tell a parent.

As your child gets close to their teenage years, this discussion should include the legal ramifications of sending out inappropriate material via text, social networking, and email. In addition, parents should warn their teen that anything they post online could become part of an enduring record that might come back to haunt them. Do a simple Google news search and find relevant stories to share with your teens. Just as we alert to stranger danger in other contexts, we must have frank discussions about the dark side of social media and the internet.  

10. Have a conversation with your children about what is considered private information

Jaynay C. Johnson, MFT headshot
Jaynay C. Johnson, MFT
Jaynay C. Johnson, MFT, Teen Talk Therapy

Have a conversation with your children about what is considered private information. Many teens may not know what private information is and how sharing it could create a dangerous situation. Similarly, they may not recognize how one of their choices could impact their family's safety. Set social media limits. Parents can start a social media platform rule by only allowing their teen to be on one or two social media platforms that they monitor. This gives the parent an opportunity to engage with the content their teen is sharing and to see any potential safety issues.

Consider creating social media contracts. Create a contract with your teenager around social media usage. This is especially useful if the teen has struggled to use social media appropriately in the past.Parents should use real stories about compromised safety when talking to their teen. While fictional stories are helpful, a real story allows the teen to ask questions about what happened, making it feel more relatable. Choosing a real story that has a variable related to the teen is also helpful (eg. same city, age, favorite media platform and etc...).

11. Just like with driving, parents must prepare students for the dark side of social media

Ayinde K. Williams, Author

Social Media has some confusing rules, but no one wants to block their kid from using social media. Would you refuse to give your child driving lessons because you automatically assume they’ll venture off into bad neighborhoods? Just like with driving, you have to prepare your teen for the real world. Open communication is best. Ask them questions about what they're seeing online (no judgments on how they got there), and how they feel about it. The goal isn't to shield them from the dark side of social media, it's to help them come to the conclusion that the dark side isn't worth the risk. That should be balanced with tips and tools on using social media as a portfolio for college and beyond. Convince students that the bad stuff isn't worth it; show them how being positive on social media is much more worth their time.

12. Rather than banning social media, supervise your kids' and teens' use of it

Emily Mendez, M.S. EdS, Mental Health & Substance Abuse Expert

Social media has many positive aspects for both teens and adults. You have access to worldwide news and knowledge. Adolescents and teens can learn about different nationalities all over the globe. They learn about other cultures' music, traditions, and way of life. However, there is also a dark side to social media. Most social media is based on image -- Snapchat, Instagram, and Pinterest are all based on images. There is a constant stream of damaging images and videos from friends and advertisers. There are a lot of damaging images out there. One dangerous behavior in particular that was highly promoted on social media among teens was eating Tide Pods. Many kids and teens were seriously harmed participating in these challenges and posting about them on social media. Kids and teens will find a way to access social media even if you prohibit it. Rather than banning social media, supervise your their use of it. Make sure that they are using age-appropriate apps and sites that you can monitor. Keep up with social media trends that are popular with adolescents and teens. Have a conversation with your teen about the dangers of engaging in behavior that they see on social media.

Conclusion

Conversations around digital safety need to start happening at a young age and one discussion isn’t enough. Use real-life stories to demonstrate the consequences of making mistakes online with your children. Model positive screen time behaviors and help your child learn how to decipher what is real and what is not on the internet.

What are your best tips or conversation starters for talking to younger students about digital safety? Let us know in the comments below!


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