Kids these days are growing up around technology, and most children are using the Internet to some degree before they start kindergarten. By the latter years of grade school, children are likely to be technology veterans, and it’s not uncommon to see parents turn to their 8- or 9-year-old for computer help. Amidst this vast realm of the unknown, many parents are left feeling scared and anxious.
Here’s the good news: Most of the hype over Internet dangers for kids this age is just that: hype. There are no predators lurking online that can suck your child through the Internet to hurt them, and there is not one single Internet danger that they aren’t far more likely to encounter in the real world. The most harmful threat for kids this age is that they encounter cruelty or images of violence online, or accidentally download a virus that trashes your computer. Still, it’s important for parents to begin laying a foundation for Internet safety just as soon as their kids begin spending time online.
Internet Safety Rules for Kids
Child Internet safety rule #1: Keep personal information personal
Teach children that as a general rule, they should never include a home address or personal information with any posts. Phone numbers, especially, should be kept offline. It’s possible (though unlikely) that a thief or other bad actor could use this information to target you. A more prominent threat is that posting this information can give bullies another way to target you.
Child Internet safety rule #2: Don’t talk about certain things
Kids should be told to never mention things like times when their family will be out of town, where they go to school or personal information about their family that might be embarrassing. Anything they wouldn’t tell a stranger should be kept offline, unless they are talking with someone they know in a private chatroom.
Child Internet safety rule #3: Teach kids that things are not always as they seem
One principle you should begin teaching kids about right away is that when it comes to the Internet, things are not always as they appear. People can lie about who they are, and sometimes do. They can exaggerate or brag or fib about their talents and/or accomplishments, and a lot of people stretch the truth. They can pretend to be young when they’re really much older, or pretend to be older when they’re really quite young. Some people might even post pictures of someone else and pretend to be that person. Many people who are unhappy with their lives use the Internet to play make believe and take on different roles. So they should always be a little skeptical of the claims people make online. Just like the rules when it comes to strangers, you can’t always trust outward appearances.
Child Internet safety rule #4: Don’t communicate with strangers
Never open (or send) an email or instant message from someone you don’t know without checking with your parents first. There are a lot of people who send bad emails that contain viruses which try to steal your money or corrupt your computer. If you open one of these emails and click on something, it can cause a lot of problems.
On the same token, only share your email address with people you know from the real world, and keep it tightly controlled. In other words, never post it to a web page that can be viewed by the public. Although nobody can kidnap you through an email address, they can spam you to death.
Child Internet safety rule #5: Stop and seek help if something seems wrong
If anything weird appears on the screen or the computer seems to go haywire, turn it off right away and tell an adult.