Have you talked to your children about the dangers of the internet? No? Well, you’re not alone. Our recent study found that less than half of parents and guardians regularly talk to their kids about online safety.
But here’s the thing… Not talking about online risks won’t make the dangers go away. So please talk to your kid. Please. Because trust me, there’s a lot of bad stuff out there, and your kids are going to find it — either accidentally or on purpose.
And also remember this creepy bit of advice: If you don’t talk to your kids, someone else will. (Cue the ice-cream van jingle.)
Here’s what our kids are doing online
The Center for Cyber Safety and Education released a “Children’s Internet Usage Study” in 2016 that reported on the internet behavior of 4th- to 8th-grade children in the United States. And its findings were shocking. (Or not, if you haven’t been in a coma these past decades.)
It turns out that either children aren’t listening to our warnings about not talking to strangers, or us parents aren’t emphasizing this risk to our kids, because guess what? Our kids are talking to strangers. There’s no statistically significant difference between boys and girls, either. Both are doing it. And in some cases, they’re even arranging to meet up with these strangers in the real world.
Have a look at these numbers...
Scary stuff, right? So please, sit your children down and explain to them that a stranger could hurt them — or even steal their Xbox. (Whatever gets their attention.) Remind your kids that if they wouldn’t trust a stranger on the street, they definitely shouldn’t trust them online. Here’s how that conversation would go in my house:
Me: Hey, daughter. Don’t talk to strangers.
Daughter: Why not?
Me: Because they could hurt you.
Me: And steal your Xbox.
Me: Yeah, and don’t give them any personal info, either.
Daughter: Like my name?
Me: Your name, address, phone number — anything. Giving out personal info is an invitation for trouble.
Daughter: That’s a very dad thing to say.
Me: Damn it, daughter. I don’t want an ice-cream van parked outside my house!
Here’s what else our kids are doing online
Remember the good ol’ days when kids egged neighbors’ houses, or torched ants with magnifying glasses? Well, according to the “Children’s Internet Usage Study,” 4th to 8th graders have graduated to doing all-new things us parents wouldn’t approve of:
29% are using the internet in ways their parents won’t approve
21% visit sites where they can chat with strangers
17% are visiting sites with sexual photos or adult videos
11% are visiting sites with instructions for cheating on schoolwork
4% are visiting gambling sites (little Timmy can count cards??)
How are kids getting online? Pretty easily
According to the “Children’s Internet Usage Study” above, 70% of kids in grades 4-8 have a cellphone, 64% have a tablet, and 48% have a computer in their bedroom. So our tiny humans have quite a few opportunities to go online without adult supervision.
Our own survey reveals that we aren’t talking to our kids
In AVG’s recent global survey of 9,485 parents and guardians, we found that only 43% of parents/guardians talk to their children on a regular basis about their kids’ online behavior. So, despite the increasingly digital lifestyle we’re living, it seems that internet safety is still not a regular topic of conversation for families. Shame on us!
About our study: We conducted our online survey in the second half of 2018. Respondents had at least one child under the age of 18 living in their household. I’ve rounded the figures below to the nearest percentage to make life easier for you readers (and our graphic designer), so some of the results won’t total 100% exactly.
Here’s what we asked, and what parents answered:
“Do you talk to your child(ren) about what they share or do online?”
Here’s what Jas Dhaliwal, Consumer Security Expert at AVG, had to say about this one:
“In order for the internet to be a safer place, adults and children need to be able to discuss what is appropriate online behavior and what to do if a child sees or becomes engaged with an activity that makes them uncomfortable. Having open and honest conversations are one of the best defenses against online predators, inappropriate content and cyberbullying. Until a child reaches an age where both the parents and the child feel they are mature enough to make decisions pertaining to online activities independently, such conversations are vital.”
In other words, skip the birds-and-bees convo and talk to your kids about how to stay safe online.
“Which of the following phrases do you think BEST fits the statement ‘I would consider my child to be digitally independent…’”
“And when do you think your child will become digitally independent? (If you have more than 1 child, please answer for your youngest child)”
(Note: The mean age of our respondents’ youngest child was 10 years old.)
Dhaliwal continued, “Digital independence creates a huge challenge for today’s parents because as our research clearly shows, there’s simply no consensus on when a child is considered to be digitally independent. While having regular discussions about browsing safely online is very important, parents must also take into account the activities that their child is engaging in, whether they are supervised or unsupervised, and their child’s overall emotional level of development as these factors all affect how vulnerable they may be online.”
So how exactly do you keep a child safe online? Glad you asked. It just so happens that I’ve got a few tips for protecting your children on the internet…
10 tips for keeping your children safe online
Aside from installing a trusted antivirus on your child’s computer, be sure to follow these basic tips for keeping your kid safe online. They’ll go a long way to helping your little one avoid the dangers of the internet.
- Have a conversation with your kids
Kids are getting their first internet-connected gadgets at pretty young ages. So start talking to them early. Warn them about malware, dangerous websites, and sex offenders. Let your kids know you’re looking out for them, speak honestly with them, and listen. After all, if it’s just you talking, it’s not a conversation. It’s a lecture. And no one likes a lecture.
- Keep your computer in a common area of the house
It's more difficult for sex offenders and online bullies to harass your child when you can see what your child is up to. So make sure your kids aren’t going to bed with their laptops and phones. Keep internet time in the common areas. (Worried that someone could be using your webcam to spy on your child? Get a free 30-day trial of AVG Internet Security to protect against webcam spying.)
- Know which other computers your children are using
Your children most likely have access to computers at school or their friends' houses. Ask them where they go online, and talk to their friends’ parents about how they supervise their own kids’ internet use.
- Remind your children, "Don't talk to strangers — or meet them"
Make it clear that online strangers are not friends. Remind your children that people often lie about their age, and online predators often pretend to be children. Emphasize that your children should never reveal personal information like their name, address, phone number, school name, or even their friends’ names. Knowing any of this could help an online predator find your kid in real life. And under no circumstances should your child ever meet up with someone they met online without your permission. If you do agree to a meeting, go with your child and meet in a public place.
- Make internet time family time
You watch movies together. Why not browse the web together? Making it a family event can be fun. You’ll learn more about your kids’ interests, and can guide them to websites that are more appropriate to their age.
- Know your children's passwords
If you’ve got a younger kid, create an account for them in your own name to avoid exposing your kid’s name — and so you’ll have the password. But please respect the age limitations on accounts. If a site says you should be 18 to sign up, then maybe your child should wait. Whatever your choice, though, make sure you get their passwords and warn them that you’ll be checking their accounts from time to time to make sure everything’s kosher. (Spying on your kids’ accounts without their knowledge could weaken their trust in you.)
- Watch for changes in your children’s behavior
Being secretive about what they do online, withdrawing from the family, and other personality changes could be signs that an online sex offender is preying on your kid. So keep an eye out for any behavioral changes.
- Pay attention to any gifts anyone gives your children
Sexual predators may send physical letters, photos, or gifts to children to seduce them. Stay alert, and ask your kids about any new toys they bring home.
- Check your children’s browsing history
Open your child’s web browser and look for “History” to see a list of websites they’ve been to. Also check the recycle bin to see if any files have been deleted. You may be surprised.
- Set rules — and stick to them
As a parent, it’s your job to limit your kids’ screen time, set boundaries for inappropriate content, and make sure your children stick to them. So do it. Talk to your internet service provider about filters you can use to block pornographic or violent websites, or invest in a Wi-Fi router with parental controls.
Think your child is being preyed upon? Report it
If you suspect your kid is being victimized, call the police immediately. And don’t touch your computer — there may be important evidence on it that can help catch the criminal. Above all, don’t take matters into your own hands. Some pervs know kung fu.
And as always… Use an antivirus!
Grab yourself a free 30-day trial of AVG Internet Security to protect your kid against the latest viruses, spyware, and malicious websites. If your child accidentally begins to download any malware, we’ll automatically block the infection before it reaches your computer.
Best of all, AVG Internet Security keeps peeping Toms out of your house by stopping hackers from accessing your computer’s webcam. So you can rest easier knowing no one’s spying on your children.