Nine ways to keep kids safe online

As kids use the Internet more and more, parents need to guide them to be web savvy. Here's how.

By GreatSchools Staff

As kids go online at a younger age, parents have good reason to be nervous about how their children are spending their time on the Internet. We’ve all heard horror stories about kids meeting creepy strangers online, getting too much screen time, and being exposed to things their parents would rather they didn’t see until, well, college!

Many kids at this age are just checking out their favorite shows on YouTube or playing games, so it might seem a little early to worry about online dangers. But it’s better to give them the facts sooner rather than later so that they’ll be prepared once they dive more deeply into the world of email, IM, and social media.

Here are a few tips to keep your child safe online:

1.) Be aware and involved. It's important to be direct when teaching kids how to use the Internet safely and responsibly. You need to explain exactly what is and isn’t OK (read the tips below for advice on guiding your child’s web-surfing habits). And you should also detail the potential dangers. Just as we teach our kids how to eat properly and cross the street safely, parents need to help children learn how to be responsible and respectful online.

2.) Do your homework. Ask your child what she wants to do online, and then check out those websites, investigate ratings (see Commonsense Media for ratings and reviews), and explore parental-control features. Don't be intimidated by the Internet. YouTube has a safety page, for example, that details issues all parents should be familiar with, such as privacy, hate content, and cyberbullying.

3.) Talk to your kid. Ask her questions about what he’s looking at online and who his buddies are. From time to time, sit with your child when he’s online to get a sense of what he’s doing. This also shows him that being online is not a private thing — your child should never be afraid to show you what he’s doing.

4.) Teach cyber-safety. Make sure your kid knows how to avoid online dangers. Tell her that she must never share personal information like her name, school, or address with strangers online. Also, she should never send photos to or share passwords with strangers. Tell her to never open an email from a stranger or click on attachments from people she doesn’t know (this is how many people get computer viruses).

5.) Set the rules. Keep computers with Internet access in a central room in the house. Set firm time limits for how long your child can use it and during what hours. Some families set a rule that the kids can’t play online until all their homework is done. Others say only one hour a day online. It’s up to you to figure out what works for your family.

6.) Better safe than sorry. Most search engines have controls that let parents set what kind of content can be returned in a search. Set those to a child-friendly level. On Google, for instance, you can click on “search settings” to set the SafeSearch monitor to strict filtering (which blocks out explicit photos and web pages), moderate (which filters images only — this is the default setting), or no filter. Yahoo has a similar filter under "preferences."

7.) Report suspicious activity to your Internet service provider or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1-800-843-5678). Tell your kid to let you know if something creepy happens to him online.

8.) Take another look at your own online habits. Our kids watch everything we do. If you don't want your kid to follow your example, you might want to think twice about your own habits. Remember to limit your own screen time, filter out strangers, and be wary of emails from unknown email addresses.

9.) Embrace the online world. The best way to keep your child safe is to guide her to safe places on the Internet. Take advantage of the many educational and fun activities — download music, play an online game at sites like National Geographic.com, or visit Facebook — so that you are familiar with the online world. Not only will your kid appreciate it, you'll know what you're dealing with!