Learn about Internet Safety for Kids
Internet safety is extremely important, especially for kids. We discussed the topic with experts and surveyed our community members to provide you with updated information on how to protect children online.
We surveyed the parents in our community and 92% acknowledged that the internet can be dangerous and they take action to protect their kids. However, it can be difficult to know where to start. How much do you know about internet safety and parental control? Are you aware of the dangers of the internet and how social media affects mental health?
We collected expert advice and tips from the parents on our platform to help you out.
Continue reading if you want to find out more about:
- Why is internet safety important?
- Online trends 2022
- What are the main dangers online?
- Tips from experts
Why is internet safety for kids important?
Internet safety is important to everyone, but are you familiar with the concept? According to SWGfL, a non-profit charity in the field, internet safety or online safety is “being aware of the nature of the possible threats that you could encounter whilst engaging in activity through the internet. These could be security threats, protecting and managing your personal data, online reputation management, and avoiding harmful or illegal content”.
For adults this may often be more straightforward, however, kids make up a large proportion of internet users (30%, according to Unicef), and they may be less able to understand these threats. Because of this, internet safety is particularly important for kids, as children can be exposed to dangers via the internet even in the security of their homes.
ONLINE TRENDS 2022
The online world keeps changing and evolving. Every day, new trends, platforms and apps emerge and it can be hard to keep up with it as a parent. What do you think, are you up to date about all the new trends? Here is what you need to know about the online trends in 2022.
Video-focused social media app. It hosts a variety of short-form user videos that can last from 15 seconds to 10 minutes that usually portray pranks, stunts, tricks, jokes, dance, and entertainment. This app is currently very popular amongst young children and teenagers, the minimum age to make a profile on TikTok is 13 years old.
Although it was created as a picture oriented social media platform, Instagram now has the reels feature that allows users to post short form videos in full screen. This feature has become very similar to TikTok.
Roblox is an online platform where millions of users can create and share their own video games, as well as communicate via chat. The platform is available on smartphones, tablets, desktop computers and the XBox One and has games appropriate for different age ranges.
Virtual reality (VR):
Virtual Reality (VR) is a computer-generated immersive experience with scenes and objects that can seem real or completely different from reality. This environment is accessible using a specific device called Virtual Reality headset or helmet.
What are the main dangers online?
As mentioned, internet safety is a wide ranging topic. Meaning, dangers on the internet can come in many shapes and sizes and there are several factors that should be taken into account when letting your child roam on the internet. From the type of content that they might encounter to the amount of time that they spend online, here are some of the main risks that your child can face online.
We asked the Babysits parents which dangers/consequences they are most worried about when their child is spending time online. Take a quick look at the infographic below to see what they said!
According to our survey, 76% of parents or guardians are worried about their kids being exposed to inappropriate content online. The truth is that on the internet, everything is at a click’s distance. However, blogs, games, social media platforms and even advertisements can expose your children to explicit and inappropriate content. This can happen without your knowledge and permission, and even without your child’s consent. Inappropriate content can go from images, videos or information that is graphic, violent, sexual, inaccurate or just unfitted for the child’s age and perception.
Being in contact with this kind of content can have a strong impact on the child’s life and how they perceive concepts that they don’t understand yet. That might make them feel upset and confused and it’s possible that they won’t let you know about it out of embarrassment, guilt or fear. To prevent that, it’s important that you cultivate dialogue as much as possible.
How to prevent your child from seeing inappropriate content
The fact that inappropriate content can come in different forms and have different interpretations from person to person is also something to take into consideration. As a parent or guardian, it’s up to you to keep a close eye on what your children are searching for online and decide whether or not it’s appropriate. For little children, what you can also do is find apps that have a specific children’s mode or look for a device specifically designed for kids, so that inappropriate content is filtered already. You can always talk to your general practitioner or consult a specialist for more information about this matter.
More than half of the parents of the Babysits community (56%) are worried about the impact that the internet can have on their children’s behavior. When interviewed by Babysits, Marine Rannou, a clinical psychologist that specializes in digital technology, explained that the idea that the “virtual world” can influence our children’s minds and actions in a mainly negative way has been consolidated in our minds throughout time and media intervention. “For a very long time, video games have been accused of being a vector of addiction or violent behavior among children and teenagers”, the expert says. The assumption that playing with war or fighting games, for example, will lead kids to try to mimic that in real life is easy to make, but that’s not necessarily the case. According to the child psychologist, “digital objects are neither intrinsically good nor bad” and by now “a lot of research has shown that there is no reason to be overly concerned” about how the digital world will affect our children’s ways.
There are also a lot of (dangerous) online challenges out there that children can copy from their peers or other people online. Moreover, when someone shares something weird or inappropriate, children can think it’s also a good idea to share those things online. For example, there was a time where a ‘choking game’ was popular online. The point of this challenge was to ‘choke’ someone until they would pass out. Few children died whilst doing these challenges. Another example is the “tide pod challenge” that went viral a few years ago. Children would eat tide pods because they saw other people doing this online. These types of online challenges can lead to mimicking this behavior, where children would then also pursue these dangerous behaviors.
How to prevent behavioral issues
Nevertheless, it’s important to keep track of what happens when your kids are online. In order to do that, Rannou advises you to get to an agreement with your children and “establish rules that you can co-construct together so that the screens do not become an object of conflict”. It's up to the parents or guardians to make sure that the content that their children engage with is age appropriate and that they understand the difference between what happens on screen and in real life. But, by communicating in an open way, you’ll be creating space for your kids to “share and narrate their own experiences, whether it is their video game adventures, a video that amused them, or a subject that challenged them”.
With the advance of technologies, a lot of social behaviors are also finding their way to a virtual form. Bullying is no exception, and once practiced in an online environment it evolves to cyberbullying, a specific type of aggression that should be taken seriously. It’s a common danger that some parents seem to be aware of, as 41% of the Babysits community expressed their concern about cyberbullying. But even if you know it exists, it can be hard to tell that it is actually happening with your child, especially if you’re not involved in their online life. Cyberbullying is usually anonymous and hard to trace.
This form of intimidation can occur via social media platforms, online games, message apps, amongst others. Just like bullying - and frequently turning into a complementary form of it - cyberbullying is used as a way to scare, intimidate, manipulate, embarrass or cause any other kind of pain and discomfort on someone through the internet. Making online threats and sending aggressive or rude texts, tweets, posts, or messages as well as sharing personal information, pictures, or videos in order to hurt or humiliate someone are all forms of cyberbullying.
As the aggressor doesn’t have to confront the victim, it’s easier to commit than physical intimidation and it can be particularly harmful for developing children. However, as explained by Rannou, “even if they are mediated by digital interfaces, the interactions and exchanges that we experience in cyberspace are real, they engage our sensitivity, our subjectivity but also our body, as much as the communication in presence”. This means that being bullied online can have a strong impact on their life, as much as if it happened in real life. Suffering from cyberbullying can cause your child to feel tormented every time they open any kind of digital device and lead to problems with mood, energy levels, sleep, and appetite.
How to prevent cyberbullying
As a parent, it might be very difficult to prevent (cyber)bullying. However, there are some things you can do that might help in a way. For example, some social media platforms give you the option to disable comments on social posts. This might be a great feature if you notice that your child is receiving harmful messages online. Moreover, you can make profiles private, making it that only people who you allowed to follow you can send messages or see your posts online. What is most important however, is talking about the consequences of (cyber)bullying with your child. Tell them what it does to other kids, how it makes them feel, so in a way you can prevent your child from potentially bullying someone else.
None of Babysits parents mentioned being worried about addiction. However, this is a serious consequence of spending time online that should be considered. According to Alfredo Oliva, Psychologist and professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Seville, psychologists have been “a little reluctant” to consider a social media or internet addiction as an actual addiction. This is because “there are no substances involved”. However, the expert also argues that one of the dangers of spending time online is getting addicted to it, which can be dangerous for children as addiction can lead to other health issues. Moreover, the earlier in childhood the compulsion starts, the more difficult it will be to get rid of it later on. Internet addictions can come in several formats such as social media or video games.
These addictions in itself are already an issue of the online world, but the problem tends to extend itself. When someone is addicted to something, they spend most of their time doing this activity, which means that when a child is addicted to social media, they will spend a lot of hours on their favorite platform. This means that they will spend most of their time inside, not moving around. Therefore, an internet addiction can also lead to serious emotional & physical health issues. These health issues can include, but aren’t limited to: anxiety, depression, body aches, weight gain/loss and mood swings.
How to prevent addiction
As a parent, there are some things you can do to help prevent your child becoming addicted to their electronic devices. Installing a screen time app for example could help. These apps can help you set a timer for a specific app or device, when this timer has counted down, the apps will not be available anymore. However, we understand that with online school, this might not be the perfect solution. What is most important is that you have a conversation with your child and make specific agreements on what they are allowed to do. For example, after a day of school, your child is allowed to spend one hour on their device to spend time on the internet.
Mental Health issues
As mentioned before, excessive use of the internet might lead to more dangers than originally considered. According to the Babysits’ research, internet usage and mental health issues are an unexpected danger that parents did not seem to worry the most about, with only 31% reporting their concern on the topic. Nevertheless, from the perspective of the interviewed experts, it is a variable to take into consideration.
According to Oliva, children’s brains work in a way in which their self-esteem is already at low levels because of bodily changes, new tasks to be faced and changes in school. When a child is then presented with negative comments, not enough likes or even rejection on internet platforms, this can have a very negative impact on their self-perception. Moreover, what also needs to be considered is the fact that on social media, people only tend to show the positive sides of life and a lot of pictures online have been photoshopped in some sense. As adults, we can see through this, but for children it’s a lot more difficult. When they do not know this about the content they are consuming, it can lead to unrealistic views about what their life or body should look like. This can eventually lead to a lower self-esteem and aggravate mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.
Besides that, children are in the process of forming their own identity and the internet can have some impact on that. Oliva mentioned that through the internet, children and teenagers come into contact with new sorts of influences, such as famous people, that can influence the way they see themselves. When asked about influencers Oliva said that “they are very close sources of influence that can have benefits for children”, but that you should always be cautious. “We all know recent cases of how some influencers have made comments that are very sexist, homophobic”, the expert mentioned. Therefore, influencers can have a positive impact on children in a sense, but caution should always be taken.
How to prevent your child from comparing themselves to social media standards
If you realize that the time that your kids dedicate to social media is interfering with their mental health, there are a few steps that you can help them take towards a healthier experience. Start by explaining the concept of virtual happiness that is portrayed and how the pictures and videos that they see are selected moments that influencers chose to share and not their full reality. Especially if they are a bit older, you can also invite your children to look into their feed and assess which accounts make them feel more anxious or triggered: suggest that they unfollow them, at least for a while. Talk to your kid about limiting their social media time and spending more moments outdoors, hanging out with friends and socializing in real life (where everyone has their own struggles going on and no filter to hide them).
One important matter to keep in mind (for parents and children) is privacy. This can involve:
- Scams or fraud based on stealing personal information on the internet in order to access bank accounts or steal/use identities, privacy of pictures or other content that you may not want everyone to see or access, and more.
In order to reduce privacy risks, both personal and financial, it is important to think carefully about what you share on the internet, and who may have access to it, and to teach kids to not share personal information with others online.
Internet safety tips
From inappropriate content, behavioral issues and cyberbullying to addiction and mental health problems, we have discussed and explained several dangers of internet usage in this article. Just understanding these risks is the first step, however there are also several other things you can do to minimize the risk your child is exposed to when browsing online.
What are the Babysits parents doing to protect their children online?
In our survey, we not only asked parents what they are most worried about when their child is spending time online, but we also asked what they are doing to protect them. In the Babysits’ community, most parents and guardians (72%) take action by controlling their kids’ screen time. A big part uses parental control apps (66%) and discusses the dangers of the internet with their children (64%).
Tips from Babysits parents
In our survey, we also gave parents the opportunity to share their tips for other parents regarding protecting their children online. Here’s what they said:
“To speak to your child about appropriate content to be watched and the safety rules for any online communication such as stranger danger and keeping personal details private. Keep the communication open so they feel comfortable to tell you if something should come up they know is inappropriate.”
“Read reliable sources about cyber protection and take some time to learn about software and install it on your children’s device with the right settings”
Tips from the experts
The experts we talked to have not only warned us about the dangers that can be caused by spending (too much) time on the internet, they have also given some tips on how you can help your child stay safe online. Here’s some of the most useful tips they have given us.
Keep up the conversation
Oliva recommended to always supervise what your child is doing online, but not necessarily in an “interruptive or interrogative way”. Telling your child that they’re not allowed to do something with no explanation or dialogue, usually ends up having the opposite result. In order to overcome that, the expert states that it is important to “keep communication channels open” and to take time to understand what your child is doing online. Let them feel like they can reveal things that concern them on their own initiative, which can be done by communicating well with them. This will give you an insight not only about the things your child does online but also about the worries they might have in their everyday life. When asked if parents had any tips for other parents, talking about the internet with your child was also the most given advice.
Streaming apps for children
A lot of apps that are used online give you the opportunity to put them in a so-called “kids mode”. Examples of platforms that provide these opportunities are;
They can either be downloaded as or put in kids mode. This protects your child from seeing inappropriate content on these platforms as when the mode is activated, only child appropriate videos or television shows will be available to watch. Especially on YouTube, where content is less regulated, this is perfect if you have children and are worried about what they might be seeing online.
Next to specific apps and functions, there are also complete tablets that are designed for children. On these devices, there is both educational and entertainment content available. This means that your child gets to enjoy it, but also gets to learn something new when using the tablet. Moreover, tablets designed specially for children often give more extensive parental control options, making sure your child is protected from inappropriate content and also often cannot do (accidental) in-app purchases.
Next to preventive measures such as kids mode, there are also educational apps that can help your younger child develop while they use them. Instead of spending time watching videos or on social media, they can use their screen time to learn something new and positive on their device. These apps are specially designed for children and educational purposes, once again limiting the risk of exposure to content that isn’t appropriate. Examples of great educational apps in 2022 are:
- HOMER learning
- Busy Shapes.
Understanding social media platforms
When your child is spending time online, it might be a smart move to use the same platforms. Not with the purpose of controlling or checking on your child, but to understand how the platforms work. This way, you can spot potential harmful ways in which the platform operates for yourself, which gives you the opportunity to initiate the conversation with your kid about this.
Parental control apps and softwares
As mentioned before, you can always download a parental control app or software into your kid’s device. This tool will help you monitor and manage which websites and apps your child has access to. As there is a big variety of this kind of apps, they do various things from blocking and filtering websites and content to recording your kid’s activities, limiting their time online, and viewing their browsing history and communications. According to your child’s age and what you feel it’s necessary, you can choose a parental control app or software like;
- Net Nanny
Ultimately, it’s important to be aware that learning how to deal with internet safety and the dangers that our children might be exposed to is a work in progress, especially since new digital practices are constantly developing. And this is why “we must continue to communicate on this subject and remind children that adults remain available and that they can ask them at any time to talk about it”, explains Rannou. “A balance must be struck between support and empowerment” and once a clear understanding has been established on both sides, parents must “trust their children and accept that they cannot control everything they do on the internet”, the expert advises.