Protecting Your Child Online and Cyberbullying
Posted on June 19, 2019 by CHS
Many people are now spending more and more time connected to the internet through computers, phones, and other mobile devices. The internet has become an indispensable part of the lives of many, and something that adults and children can use on a daily basis. Many parents and caregivers are concerned about the potential threats that the internet can present and wonder what steps they can take to protect their kids online to ensure their children use the internet responsibly.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers guidance for parents on how to talk to your kids about making responsible choices online, cyberbullying, social networks, and computer security practices. Cyberbullying refers to bullying or harassment that happens online. It is important to educate your children about the consequences of engaging in hurtful behaviors online and advise them that they are accountable for their online behavior. Children should know that they can tell you if they are subject to any conduct online that hurts or threatens them, and they should be taught to never respond to a threatening email, message, post, or text. If you fear for your child’s safety because of cyberbullying, you should contact the police with any available evidence (online posts, chats, or photos, etc.). Talk to your kids about how they can help to stop cyberbullying when they see it happen to other children by telling the person bullying to stop, by not engaging or forwarding anything that could be hurtful, and by speaking with a trusted adult. If you find that a profile on a social networking site was created about your child without their permission, you can contact the company to have them remove it. You can also prevent bullying by removing those people from your child’s “friend” list or blocking them so they can no longer send messages. You can also carefully review the privacy settings of all social media accounts in order to determine what settings best fit your needs and offer the most privacy (tips on this provided later in this blog).
There are other types of online threats that children should be aware of if they are going to spend time online. Some people online have bad intentions, including people who bully, predators, hackers, and scammers. The FTC offers the following four tips:
- Talk early and often: As soon as your child is using a computer, cell phone, or other mobile device, it is time to begin talking to them about online behavior, safety, and security. Don’t wait for them to ask you. Use everyday experiences as an opportunity for learning.
- Create an honest, open environment: Be a supportive and positive listener.
- Communicate your values: Let them know what values you expect from them and how this relates to their online behavior.
- Be patient: Kids need adults and the information you provide them to be consistent for them to learn. Be patient and model examples of appropriate use of the internet and mobile devices. It is also important to keep the line of communication open as children learn to navigate the internet.
When it comes to social networks, chat rooms, virtual worlds common in online gaming, and blogs, it is important to talk to your kids (and remind them) that they should only share what they are comfortable with others seeing. Remind children that something posted online or sent electronically is permanent. You should also talk to them about what sort of information should remain private, such as personal photos or personal information (address, phone number, or school name or location). Help them create a screen name that doesn’t reveal much about how old they are, where they live, or their gender. You should instruct your child never to share passwords, and never agree to meet strangers in person. Talk to your child about their online activity so you understand what sites or online applications they are spending their time on. Approve all new sites and applications your child might be interested in using prior to them using them. Some sites popular with children, such as virtual online gaming worlds, are actually meant for adults only and offer kids access to inappropriate content. Talk to them about how to be safe if they do socialize with people online. Teach them that they should never share personal information about themselves, family members, and friends; and guide them in how to avoid inappropriate conversations and topics online. The FTC also offers several tips for parents on online gaming and mobile phone apps to understand ratings systems, parental controls, profiles, and how to control in-game or in-app purchases.
You can take a couple of steps to proactively protect your child online. Most social networks and chat rooms have privacy settings, which you can use to restrict who can have access to your child’s profile. Most chat programs allow parents to control whether people on their kids' contact list can see their status, including whether they're online. Some chat and email accounts allow parents to determine who can send messages to their kids, and block anyone not on the list. You can review your child’s online friend list to make sure it is only people they know in real life. Keep the computer in a common area where you can watch and monitor its use, not in individual bedrooms. Monitor any time spent on smartphones or tablets. Bookmark kids' favorite sites so they can access the sites easily, without having to navigate the internet.
There are various options for parental controls and strategies that can be used, which work well in preventing children from accessing inappropriate sites or sharing sensitive information. These include:
- 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, chat, and instant messaging.
- Blocking Outgoing Content: This software prevents kids from sharing personal information online, in chat rooms, or via email.
- Limiting Time: This software allows you to limit your child’s time online and set the time of day they can access the internet.
- Monitoring Tools: This software 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 child’s knowledge.
- Browsers and Search Engines: There are also special browsers designed for children and kid-oriented search engines.
- Find out what, if any, online protection is offered by your child's school, after-school center, friends' homes, or any place where kids could use a computer without your supervision.
The National Cyber Security Alliance offers more information and resources on how parents can utilize parental controls, including information on using these tools search engines and various internet service providers.
Nemours, a children’s health organization, offers the following warning signs of a child being targeted by an online predator.
- spending long hours online, especially at night
- receiving phone calls from people you don't know
- unsolicited gifts arriving in the mail
- your child suddenly turning off the computer or screen when you enter the room
- your child’s withdrawal from family life and reluctance to discuss online activities
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA): The FTC enforces the COPPA, which gives parents control over the personal information companies collect online from your kids under the age of 13. COPPA requires those sites and services to notify parents directly and get their approval before they collect, use, or disclose a child’s personal information. Before your child can use features on a site or download an app that collects their personal information, you should get a plain language notice about what information the site will collect, how it will use it, and how you can provide your consent.
More Information and Additional Resources: For more information on the topic of online safety and cyberbullying, parents and caregivers can visit the following sites:
- The advocacy group Common Sense Media offers tips for protecting kids online and teaching them digital citizenship: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/privacy-and-internet-safety/how-do-i-protect-my-kids-privacy-online
- The U.S. Government provides tips on digital awareness for parents: https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/digital-awareness-for-parents/index.html
- The National Bullying Prevention Center offers information on cyberbullying: https://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/parents/mobile-and-online-safety.asp