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Internet safety is of the utmost importance to you and your family. Before you allow your children to venture into cyberspace, you must introduce them to the possible risks they'll face and how to protect themselves. Preparing them for the Internet lowers the risk of cybercrimes and can give you peace of mind.

Understanding Online Threats

Online threats are real, and offenders often target children. One of the most common problems encountered online is cyberbullying. The legal definition of cyberbullying is any electronic or online communication that is threatening or intimidating toward the victim. Cyberbullying can consist of instant messages from the offender, harassing social media posts with inflammatory statements about the victim, or private images displayed online without consent. Explain to your child what to do if a friend or classmate cyberbullies them. Then, create a plan to report the infraction to authorities and collect evidence.

Cyberstalking involves unwanted communications or harassment online, like harassing emails, instant messages, or social media posts targeting the victim. A cyberstalker knows that their actions are unwelcome but chooses to continue to harass and stalk the victim. Teach your child to keep records of these communications, block the offender, and inform you of further contact attempts. According to cyberstalking laws, victims must file a report with their local law enforcement authority, and a conviction is only possible if a victim proves that they were distressed because of intimidation, threats, or fear of bodily harm.

Phishing and malware threats also put your child at risk. Phishing and malware can work together in scams created to steal sensitive information. For example, your child might receive a text message or an email from what looks like a friend or a familiar business that contains a link. As soon as they click the link, malware is downloaded and installed on the computer, which can then collect credit card information or personal details or take over the device. Explain to your kids the dangers of clicking on or sharing these links. Not only could these scams give criminals access to your child's personal information, but they could give perpetrators access to your kids. Antivirus and malware programs help, but teaching your child to avoid clicking on any links they receive is a stronger safety measure. Adjusting their email or text settings to accept messages from their contacts only can also help to block dangerous messages.

Kids should also be taught not to share personal information on social media. They should also avoid making public posts and limit access to their profiles to friends only. And parents should monitor who follows the child on social media.

Common Websites Kids Frequent

As a parent, protecting your children online starts with knowing where they go on the Internet. This information can help you track their activity, determine if they are facing threats, and know how to manage incoming threats.

Some of the most popular sites and apps with kids are social media platforms, including Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. On these websites, a child can create posts, share images or videos, comment on public pages or private groups, and communicate with other users. Video-sharing sites are also popular, like YouTube and TikTok. Account settings can help to limit who sees their posts on some of these platforms. You can adjust the settings to friends only and follow your child to get alerts when they go live or post on these platforms.

Instant messaging platforms are also popular, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and Telegram. You can also send instant messages through Instagram and Snapchat. There are privacy settings you should use to block messages from anyone who isn't connected to your child via their contact list.

Discussing Digital Footprints and Protecting Private Information

A digital footprint is all of the information that a person leaves behind when using the Internet. For example, if your child creates a public post on Facebook, anyone can potentially find and view the post. Then, they'll see everything that's public on your child's Facebook page. By minimizing your child's digital footprint, you can protect their private information and safeguard your kids from predators. Start by adjusting your child's profile privacy settings. They should only use apps that allow non-public profiles, and personal information about them should be hidden so that nobody can see it. When they do make posts, it should be to a limited audience that includes only their close friends or family.

In addition, teach them not to use public Wi-Fi networks, and do not allow them to use Facebook or other apps to sign into a new app or website, as it can compromise their security. One last step you should take is to set up a Google alert for your child's name, so you can see anytime their name is mentioned online.

Setting Ground Rules

Setting some basic rules for your child's Internet use is crucial. First, decide how much screen time they get daily on their devices. Many devices have screen time settings and shut down when the amount of time allowed runs out. Make sure that your account is the administrator for all of your child's devices and that they cannot adjust the parental controls.

Explain to your child what they can do online and what websites they can view. Then, use parental control software to review your child's online activity, both on their computer and on any other digital devices they have access to. If you see inappropriate websites or content, use parental controls to block them.

Also, protect both yourself and your child by never saving your credit card or banking information on the family computer or store websites. By keeping these details offline, you prevent yourself and your kids from becoming victims of identity theft and prevent your kids from making unauthorized purchases.

Going Online With Children

Introducing your child to the Internet requires you to show them how it works. Show them websites they can visit that are safe, and teach them how to identify secure websites. Limit your child's Internet use to one or two websites at first, and monitor their activity. If they follow your ground rules, you can add more websites to each visit. Use a password on the computer or device to restrict access without your knowledge.

Demonstrating Strong Passwords

Creating passwords for user accounts, such as your child's email or social media profile, requires attention to detail. For example, never use their name, phone number, address, or other commonly known names, such as their pet's name. A password should be easy for you or your child to remember, but it should be formatted to increase its strength and be hard for others to guess. For example, using upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols together can create a strong password. Never save passwords on your computer, smartphone, or tablet. Instead, write them down in a safe place in your home.

Building Trust With Your Child

There can be a fine line between protecting your child online and violating their trust. It's easy to go through all of their online activities and get frustrated or angry with their choices. But it's important to choose your battles wisely: There's a difference between doing something online that's unsafe and doing something that you just don't like. If you let them earn some amount of trust and independence, they'll be more likely to come to you when they encounter something troubling online and need your help.

Kid-Friendly Search Engines

Your child's age should dictate what search engines you allow them to use. Younger children can use kid-friendly search engines, including KidInfo, Kiddle, Zilladog, and KidzSearch. Teens should be able to use Google and other regular search sites, but you should use parental controls that allow you to block inappropriate content and monitor their activity.

Teaching your kids the importance of Internet safety is the best way to protect them online. However, remember they are still children and need guidance sometimes. Monitoring their activity and showing them the best safety and security practices can reduce the potential for cybercrimes against your child. Educating them about online risks is the only way to keep them safe and prevent them from becoming a statistic.

Edited by: Ben Thompson