Guide to Protecting Your Kids on the Internet

Follow these tips to keep your children safe while they use the internet.

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Last Updated: Dec 19, 2023
A parent and child on the living room floor using a laptop
Observing your child’s internet habits is an important first step.

The internet is a central part of everyday life, regardless of a person’s age. Children use the internet to do homework, take online classes, and play games with their friends. Sites like YouTube and TikTok allow kids to show off their creativity to the world.

The internet is essential, but it’s not entirely secure. It’s easy for hackers and other unsavory types to take advantage of unsuspecting kids online. The internet safety tips of yesterday no longer cut it either. The digital web is a constantly evolving space with new potential threats each day, so we’ve put together some tips and tricks to help keep kids safe when they’re online.

Never Reveal Personal Information

This is the most repeated piece of internet-safety advice ever offered, but it’s earned that title for good reason. All it takes is a single photo and a first name to track a person down. Remind your children of their lessons in stranger danger. Just as they should never give someone in real life their identity, they should never give it up online. Encourage them to come up with an alias or nickname to use when online. You may also want to prevent them from uploading pictures and videos of themselves.

Review Their Browsing Habits

A young boy in a chair using a tablet with headphones on
Encourage your kids to take a break from their devices.

Some sites get frequent visits from kids, even if their content is far from family-friendly. Ask your child if you can watch them use the computer for a while. If they visit a site you don’t think is safe, kindly explain that the website is meant for grown-ups only. Then redirect them to a similar site more suited for their age group. If absolutely necessary, you may want to block the website’s address.

The Department of Justice also recommends parents review the apps their children download. Even if the app is child-friendly, there may be in-app advertisements that aren’t. Delete the apps you deem unsafe, and explain why you did. The explanation is the most important step. Taking action without justification can confuse children and potentially shatter their trust in you. Establishing your reasoning behind deleting and blocking may prevent them from finding workarounds.

Limit Screen Time

Computers are helpful, but they can also be detrimental to our health. WebMD links multiple health issues to the blue light screens emit, the most prominent of which is worsening eyesight and insomnia. It’s even more damaging for children, who are at a higher risk of developing attention-focusing issues and even obesity due to too much blue light. When a whopping 39 percent of parents believe their kids spend too much time on their phones, the risk only grows.

Most devices have a parental timer setting, which shuts down the device or locks users out after a certain amount of time. When time’s up, encourage your child to find another way to entertain themselves. It may also help to drop your screen time as well, so your child is more comfortable.

The exception is if your child is engaged in online classes, either temporarily or full time. You can’t have the timer run out in the middle of social studies, after all! Instead look into getting your child glasses that lessen the strain screens put on their eyes. You may also want to encourage them to look away from the screen between classes.

Use Kid-Safe Browsers

Common browsers such as Firefox and Google Chrome offer extensions that make the internet safer for everyone, but they’re still meant for older users. If your child is just starting to use the computer, consider installing a child-friendly browser. These specialty browsers and search engines will filter out more adult-oriented results, fostering a safer internet environment. They aren’t completely foolproof, but it’s an especially useful alternative for younger children

Many sites have a kids’ version with some features locked or unavailable. YouTube, for example, has YouTube Kids, which prevents commenting and won’t show age-restricted content. If your kids have a favorite site, see if they offer a kids’, junior, or family-friendly version.

Unplug the Headset

A young boy playing a computer game at his desk wearing a gaming headset
Listen to what your kids say when they play online with friends or strangers.

If your child plays video games, you’re probably already familiar with the Entertainment Safety Ratings Board (ESRB). It’s the same as the MPAA rating for movies, only for interactive media. The ESRB reviews the entirety of a game and issues a rating accordingly, but there’s one feature they can’t accurately check: online gaming interactions. What people do online can’t entirely be controlled. Most games have a system in place to help filter content — and the ESRB denotes this exception on game packaging — but there are still ways to work around it.

In the settings for most games, there’s a tab or option for online interactions. Among the choices is the ability to disable voice chat, whether global (for all players on the server) or team only.  There may also be a way to enable “safe chat,” which will censor any adult language when typed. Some games take it a step further and only allow specific phrases to be used in text chat. Explore the options in your kids’ games to find the right setting for your family.

Never Reveal Location

Many apps and websites have a small pop-up when you first use them, asking for your location. It may seem benign, especially when ordering food or checking the weather, but it’s another piece of personal information. Explain to your kids that they should always select the deny or block option for their safety. If an address or ZIP code is absolutely necessary to sign up, tell them to speak to you first. You can decide together if it’s the proper site or app for them.

In the same vein, remind them to never reveal their location to someone who asks online. Revealing even the state they live in could put your child in danger. The absolute most they can do is reveal their country, which is something many sites and games require. Use your best judgment for each situation.

Remove Any Payment Information

A young boy sitting on a couch, looking at a smartphone
Explain to your kids why mobile games can be addicting.

This is both for the child’s safety and the habits they develop. Most games and apps offer some form of microtransactions. Typically they’re for in-game currency players can then use to unlock stages, characters, and items. The problem arises in the method of unlocking. Many games feature a random selection, with the more desirable rewards given a lower chance of receiving them. It’s a form of gambling, and it can have devastating consequences on both your child’s psyche and your wallet. It can effectively get children addicted to gambling, so disconnect any credit cards or payment information that may be attached to your children’s devices. Have them ask you for permission before they make any purchases.