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5 tips for talking to your kids about online safety

Approaching the topic of internet safety with your kids can feel like navigating a labyrinth, but it’s especially important as children spend more time online than ever before. And more time online means more exposure to cyber threats for millions of children. By starting this conversation now, you can help teach your kids how to protect themselves and practice cyber safety in the future.

1. Understand online risks

As parents, it can be hard to know everything your child sees when they're online. Since the beginning of the internet, cyberbullying or harassment have been some of the most common online risks. This can happen in the form of private messages or public posts with targeted, harmful content.

Children can be particularly vulnerable to scams like vishing, smishing or social media impersonators and predators, especially with the rise of deepfake technology. Understanding the risks that come with an online presence — and how to avoid them — can inform which issues you need to address when talking to your kids about internet safety. 

2. Maintain open communication and education

For kids and teens learning to navigate the complexities of the internet, there can be a great deal of shame around certain topics — especially if they make a mistake. Be a safe space for your children to ask questions without being judged.

Once they feel comfortable, explain the importance of privacy in a way that makes sense to them. A young child might not understand these ideas as well as a teen, so keep in mind that it’s okay to adjust the information you cover based on age and how they use the internet. 

Remind your kids that online safety can — and should — be a continuous conversation. As they get older, be prepared to have conversations about good digital citizenship and ethics. With the amount of photos and videos being shared on social media platforms, discuss the potential consequences of actions like posting illicit content, or images of others without permission. Explaining that actions online can have real-world social, financial or legal consequences can be a helpful way to emphasize the importance of considerate online activity. 

3. Teach your kids online safety practices

There’s a lot to cover when it comes to online security, but identifying and reporting malicious activity is a good place to start.

Help your child recognize and avoid different types of phishing to prevent potential identity theft or third parties from collecting private information. Some common signs of phishing scams are: 

  • Urgent emails or messages with bad grammar

  • Suspicious links

  • Requests for passwords or credit card numbers

It’s good practice to create a safe word with your kids in the case an alleged friend or family member reaches out with an unusual message.

Fake social media accounts are another common risk. It’s typical for teens to interact with strangers who share the same interests or are part of the same online communities. Advise your child to identify whether someone is malicious by looking at what they post, who they interact with and what those interactions look like. If their messages or responses are repetitive or get too personal too quickly, it’s probably best to block or report them through the right channels.

Keep your kids safe online through open and honest conversations.

4. Time management and monitoring strategies

You can also take action as a parent to monitor your child’s safety.

Determine which websites or apps your child likes to use and talk about appropriate ways to use them. Implementing a screen time limit or parental controls can help keep your child secure while still having the freedom to explore the online world. But be aware that even with filters, dangerous content or interactions can still find their way to your children. Keep devices in common areas of your home to help you keep an extra eye on your kids’ internet activity.

Encourage your children to delete, block or bring concerning interactions to your attention when they happen. And when you get to the topic of protecting personal information, it’s a good time to help them create strong passwords to prevent them from getting hacked.

5. Know your resources for online safety

It’s uncomfortable to think about your children being targeted online, but knowing the resources at your disposal can provide some comfort. While websites have their own reporting process, you can also report cyber crimes to these government agencies: 

Be prepared

Keep your kids safe online through open and honest conversations. It can be less stressful for both of you when you educate yourself and your children about the best ways to navigate online spaces.

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