Raising kids is tricky to say the least, but it’s even more difficult with the rise of social media and the internet. Pew Research Center research shows that 66% of US parents agree technology and online media makes parenting a lot harder than 20 years ago.
It’s not surprising. The World Wide Web opens a whole array of risks and dangers for your child – from pornography and violence to online pedophiles and many more. But since it all happens online, it’s significantly more difficult to protect your child from them. Luckily, it’s not impossible.
To tackle online threats head on, you need to know where they start, how they work, and how to respond to them. Our full guide to internet safety for kids does just that — and a little bit more. Because why should you check multiple sites to get all the info? We’ve provided everything you need to know right here.
PSA: While our advice is grounded in extensive research, it doesn’t represent or replace the guidance from a professional child psychologist.
Main Online Risks For Children and Teens
Access to Inappropriate or Explicit Content
Inappropriate or explicit content includes porn, gambling sites, unsupervised chat rooms, violence, and misinformation that encourages dangerous behaviors, like crime. These can have long-lasting effects on an easily-influenced young audience, especially if they develop worrying habits or coping mechanisms such as self-harm.
Since most websites don’t impose strict age restrictions, your kids are at risk of coming across disturbing content all the time. But even websites with existing warnings like Twitch or YouTube make the blocks bypassable. All it takes is switching your birth year or clicking a “See Anyway” button. Some cyberpunks submit explicit content on child platforms, disguising it as a Peppa Pig episode or something similar to get kids to click it.
Research backs this with worrying statistics. According to Psychology Today, 68.4% of tweens and teens have seen inappropriate content while browsing the web. Regardless of whether your child searches for it or comes across it by accident, exposure to explicit images and videos may lead to trauma.
Cyberbullying describes any instance of mean, aggressive, threatening, or manipulative activity carried out against another person online. It can take many forms, including:
🚩 Rumors that aim to defame your child
🚩 Manipulation and extortion
🚩 Manipulation and extortion
🚩 Identity theft
🚩 Sharing private secrets and vulnerable information
🚩 Rejection from online groups
Perpetrators are usually the same age as your child or slightly older. That’s not to say it can’t be done by anyone. However, when cyberbullying is carried out by an adult, it’s called cyberharassment or cyberstalking.
Similar to bullying, cyberbullying causes significant distress and mental health implications, but usually much quicker than in real life. Online comments reach a wider audience than at school or playground, spreading gossip or untruthful information to everyone who’s looking. Within seconds, hundreds of people can see posts, making it much harder to stop too. Even if you delete it, the damage is already done.
Ever since adults realized they can hide behind a screen to catfish children and exploit them for sexual or abusive favors, online predators became a thing. They often reside on platforms popular among young people, like social media and chat rooms. Online predators create seemingly innocent profiles and slowly build your kid’s trust through regular conversation. From there, they usually encourage children to send obscene photos or videos, or even organize face-to-face meetings.
The FBI estimates around 500,000 online predators are active every day. Even though 12 to 15-year-olds make up 50% of sexual exploitation victims, any child with access to the internet is at risk — this includes elementary pupils and younger kids.
Posting Personal Identifiable Information (PII)
Anything you share online stays there forever — even if you delete it from your account. However, children don’t often understand that. Studies show that 1 in 4 kids put their full name, address, passwords, and more on forums and social media.
Oversharing online gives online predators, cyberbullies, and hackers the information they need to put your child in danger. For example, an embarrassing photo of your kid could become the source of bullying at school. Sharing personal details like a home address gives predators the chance to stalk children offline. You get the picture.
Falling for Phishing and Other Scams
The chances of seeing at least once phishing message per week are high. These messages are everywhere: they spread through email, texts, phone calls, and even pop-up ads, enticing you to open a malicious link or attachment. Kids are also the target of phishing scams – 20-25% of underage online users report clicking a phishing message. While they may not fall for the “you’ve won $1 million” scam, they might use a link that promises free games, toys, or rare in-game items.
How do scammers know who to target? Well, it’s pretty effortless. One look at the information your child shares makes it fairly easy to determine their age and interests, allowing bad actors to really personalize fake messages. However, you can also find generalized phishing scams on sites with free online games where microtransactions are necessary to progress.
The internet is fun to use — it’s no secret. Kids get an instant happiness boost by watching their favorite shows on YouTube or playing games with friends. However, problems arise when they use too much of it. According to Kaspersky, a quarter of surveyed parents recognize internet addiction as a worrying online threat. Yet, kids spend an average of 44.5 hours online every week, with 23% reporting an addiction to games.
The recommended screen time for 2-5-year-olds is a maximum of an hour (younger children shouldn’t be online at all). This then increases to 2 hours a day for children up to 17 years of age.
Too much time online can lead to serious physical and mental issues, including obesity, depression, sleep problems, and anxiety. It may also hinder development of social skills, particularly if your child doesn’t play online multiplayer games where they’re forced to communicate with others.
Copyrighted material is very easy to find on torrenting sites, and downloading it is illegal. Participating in unlawful sharing of such files, be that music, films, TV shows, games, or software, is called piracy.
Even in their teens, not many children understand the consequences that come with pirating. In many cases, you’ll receive a warning letter from your internet provider to tell you what exactly your child downloaded. Depending on your jurisdiction, a repeated offense may result in hefty fines that you’ll have to pay out of your own pocket.
Internet Safety and Why It’s Important for Kids
You wouldn’t let your child cross a street without telling them how to avoid getting hit by a car. It’s the same with using the internet.
Internet safety simply refers to being aware of and staying protected from online dangers. You may have heard of it as e-safety, online safety, or cyber safety. It includes crucial, basic information about how to navigate the online space to avoid compromising your personal safety.
Just like with everything else in life, children need to be taught how to act appropriately online, namely what they can access, and what could happen if they’re not cautious. That’s not to say you need to scare them away from the internet.
Educating children ensures they develop appropriate behaviors that’ll keep them safe online, even if your children have been using electronics for a while. While you can’t erase all internet risks, you can teach your child how to minimize them and what to do if anything happens.
6 Tips for Protecting Children From Online Threats
Cooperate to Create Family Rules for Using the Internet
Most children are growing up with a phone in hand and a computer in their room. This makes it even more important for kids to know how to stay safe online. To help them, it’s a good idea to create a list of “Internet Dos and Don’ts” that you keep in a place where everyone can see it.
First, determine how much time your kids can spend in front of the screen, when, and what they can do. You might also decide where they should be when they’re surfing through the digital world, such as the kitchen or living room. This will help you keep an eye on what they’re up to without actively snooping.
If you work on these rules with your children and take their views into consideration, odds are in your favor that you’ll reach a compromise that makes both sides happy. This will also make your kids more likely to stick to the rules — otherwise, they’ll have to deal with the consequences you both agree on. It could be anything from limiting time online to taking away their devices altogether.
Install a Child-Friendly Search Engine
If your child needs to do research, encourage them to use a child-friendly search engine, like KidRex, Kibble, or Google SafeSearch. KidRex is the best for underage users as it shows results approved for children and sports a fun dinosaur theme, which makes it a little bit more entertaining. For older children not easily impressed by a T-Rex, Kibble and Google SafeSearch actively filter and block inappropriate search results.
Set Up Parental Controls
Many devices let you create child accounts for underage users. These come with a pre-decided set of security and privacy settings, which you can adjust accordingly and control screen time or blacklist apps/websites.
If your device doesn’t have parental controls built in, you can download a parental control app. Some of my favorite ones include Qustodio, Bark, Boomerang, and FamilyTime — but, really, it’s up to you to find the ones you like.
The most common features of parental control apps include:
- Filtering inappropriate content
- Limiting screen time
- Whitelisting the apps your child can use and blocklisting the ones they shouldn’t access
- Stopping pop-up ads
- Monitoring your child’s activity
- Taking control over device privacy
- Blocking online sharing between accounts
- Tracking your kid’s location
- Disabling in-app purchases
Review Security and Privacy Settings
Once you decide your child is ready for social media, make sure you speak to them about the importance of not sharing personal information online. This includes their full name, social security number, home address, or phone number. It’s also a good idea to stay away from sharing photos, but it might be difficult to convince teens in an era where Instagram and TikTok rule the internet.
After your kid creates an account, go with them through social media settings and adjust their security and privacy. By default, websites don’t apply privacy protection, but they offer an option to increase teens’ online safety.
The main thing to look for is restricting who can find your child online, which stops their profiles from popping up in search engines. You should also make sure your child’s account is private, so their posts only stay visible to their friends.
Stop Online Purchases with Passwords
Kids often don’t fully understand that virtual coins are the same as actual money, and the new character or skin they like requires a real payment. This usually leads to accidental (or not so accidental) in-app purchases that quickly rack up your card’s bill. A recent case saw a 7-year-old boy spend as much as $1500, most of which paid for virtual cat food.
Google Play, Apple Store, Amazon, PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo now let you turn on password protection on all purchases, so it blocks your kid whenever they try to get a new Barbie outfit, Fortnite skin, or game without your approval.
While setting a password to make a payment is normally enough, some kids cleverly swap it for a fingerprint or a face ID. So, keep an eye on your card statements. As soon as you notice suspicious outgoings, it’s time to have a conversation with your child about why it’s not cool to do it — even if it feels cool.
Protect Your Kid’s Data and Privacy
It’s no secret that online platforms monitor your activity and collect your data for their own benefit. The Washington Post warns that almost 90% of websites you and your child visit log your information as soon as they load up. The collected data includes IP addresses, device details, how long you spent on a site, what you used it for, what information you put in, and much more.
Most online websites use this to improve their performance, adjust marketing, analyze their customer/visitor demographic, and target you with better ads. As long as this data remains in their databases, it’s at risk of accidental leaks and cyberattacks, exposing your child to serious online dangers.
The only way to stop online tracking and protect your child is to use a VPN. A VPN reroutes the traffic from your kid’s device through an independent server network, which anonymizes their connection. This makes it impossible for online platforms to see any personal details, stopping cookies from logging information. Essentially, a VPN makes your child invisible online.
PIA comes with top-level security to hide your child’s online activity. We never collect any personal information your child shares online, so their connection stays 100% private. Our huge server network is equipped with unlimited bandwidth and fast speeds, so your child won’t notice any change to their experience.
Our app is so easy to use anyone can navigate it! Just download it on every device your child uses and select the server you wish to use. That way, whenever kids open it, they’ll only need to tap the “On” button in the middle — that’s it! And if you want to add an additional layer of protection, check out PIA’s dedicated IP VPN. Get PIA to increase your child’s internet safety and try us risk-free for 30 days with our money-back guarantee.
Social Media Safety for Kids — Checklist
Many children utilize social media to stay in touch with their friends, but using it comes with added online risks. Use the checklist below to keep them safe on social media. We also recommend you review it regularly to make sure you’re up-to-date and your kids are safe.
Steps to Help Your Child if They’re Exposed to Inappropriate Online Content
Despite following all the steps and precautions, your child may still come across unsettling content online — it’s simply the unpredictable nature of the internet. It’s important you know what to do when that happens and how you can help your child recover. This will depend on what online danger they were exposed to.
What to Do if Your Kids Come Across Explicit Content
📌 Start a calm conversation about it to understand what type of content your kids saw.
📌 Control your reaction and don’t scare, shame, or blame your child for what happened.
📌 Walk your children through their emotions and help them understand what they saw.
📌 Answer any questions they may have appropriately to their age.
📌 Immediately blocklist websites or search terms your kids used to come across such content.
📌 Reassure your children that you’re not angry at them and come up with a plan on how to avoid this situation in the future.
📌 Explain that your kids can always come to you and talk about this or any other future incidents.
How to Help if Your Child Experienced Cyberbullying
📌 Look for signs your kids are bullied online, such as sadness, seclusion, or hiding their screens.
📌 Initiate a gentle conversation about what they’re going through, trying to find out as many details as possible.
📌 Reassure them it’s okay to feel whatever they’re feeling, like fear, sadness, or betrayal.
📌 Avoid becoming emotional yourself — it’s natural to feel anger, but make sure to stay focused on your child.
📌 Block and report the cyberbullies on every platform as soon as possible (you can also raise the issue with the school if your child was attacked by their peers).
📌 If they’re showing sign of high emotional distress you can’t help on your own, take your child to see a professional.
📌 Reinforce the support system around your child by encouraging positive interactions with existing friends and family members.
Bonus Round: What You Can Do if Your Child Becomes a Bully
📌 Watch out for warning signs, like new social media accounts, a sudden change in behavior, or snide online posts.
📌 Start an open conversation without judgment. Cyberbullies usually struggle with some issues themselves.
📌 Put parental controls into action and keep checking on what your child does online.
📌 Offer other coping mechanisms that don’t involve hurting other people and encourage positive online behavior.
📌 Don’t be afraid to ask for specialist help. It’s a difficult situation to handle without educated advice.
📌 If things get out of hand, there’s no shame in requesting help from the appropriate authorities.
How You Can Help When Your Child is a Target of Online Predators
📌 Take screenshots of all inappropriate messages, images, and videos your child received or sent.
📌 Block the predator on every platform they are communicating with your child.
📌 Delete your child’s online accounts and create new ones, or change their credentials, including usernames, passwords, nicknames, and photos.
📌 Report the predator to site administrators and the authorities.
📌 Comfort your child and make sure they know they did nothing wrong.
📌 Find professional help if your child is in distress.
What to Do If Your Child Exposes Personal Details
📌 Immediately delete posts or account details that expose your child’s or your PII.
📌 Change passwords to all online accounts, including banking, insurance, and email.
📌 Ask your child to watch out for suspicious activity or malicious links and report it to you as soon as possible.
📌 Explain to your kids why oversharing is dangerous and how to avoid it in the future.
Steps to Protect Your Child After They Clicked on a Phishing Link
📌 Run antivirus software to check for malware on their devices.
📌 Find out what details they might have shared after clicking the link.
📌 Change passwords to vulnerable accounts that could be compromised.
📌 If needed, inform your bank to watch out for suspicious activities.
📌 Teach your kids how to recognize a scam message in the future and why it’s important to ignore it.
How You Can Guide Your Kids Through Internet Addiction
📌 Spot early signs of addiction, like increased aggression, sleepless nights, falling behind with schoolwork, or lack of interest in quality offline relationships.
📌 Address the issue in a calm and open conversation.
📌 Make sure to show as much love and support as you can.
📌 Set stricter rules and boundaries on internet use, such as restricted screen time and specific times your child can use electronic devices.
📌 Organize fun offline activities with family or friends, like playdates, park outings, or cinema dates.
📌 Download software or parental control apps to monitor your child’s online activity to check if they’re sticking to new rules.
What You Should Do If Your Children Participate in Content Piracy
📌 Engage in a conversation to describe what copyrighted content is and why it’s illegal to download.
📌 Discover why they downloaded copyrighted content and what they wanted to use it for.
📌 Inform your kids about piracy repercussions, like fines or prison sentences.
📌 Come up with a solution to avoid copyright infringement, like songs on YouTube or movies on Amazon Prime Video.
📌 Blocklist torrenting platforms and clients your child admits to using.
The Internet Can Be a Dangerous Place — Know How to Protect Your Children From It!
In today’s day and age, it’s impossible to stop your kids from participating in online activities. The internet provides infinite resources needed to do homework, stay in touch with peers, learn new skills, or just relax and do nothing. But that doesn’t mean it’s always safe.
The main risks your children come across online include cyberbullying, online predators, internet addiction, scams, and explicit or inappropriate content. These can cause emotional distress, trauma, or even self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Not to mention they can put your child in danger of sexual exploitation or radicalization.
How you protect your kids depends on their age and level of tech-savviness, but you should still create a set of rules for everyone to follow online. That way, children know what they can and cannot do, and how they can report anything suspicious. You may also choose to implement parental controls and keep an open honest conversation about internet dangers.
What risks does the internet pose for kids?
The main internet threats for kids are:
❗Explicit content, like pornography or violence
❗Oversharing personal information
❗Downloading copyrighted content
However, keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive. Cybercrime and the internet are constantly evolving, which generates new risks almost every day. That’s why you should always stay up to date on the most recent online dangers and learn how you can prevent your kids from them.
What are the most important internet safety tips for children?
To create a safer online space you should:
- Let your kids know what risks they may encounter online.
- Limit your child’s screen time.
- Never leave children alone when they surf the internet — especially if they’re under 10 years old.
- Install parental control apps, like Qustodio, Bark, Boomerang, or Family Time.
- Download a child-friendly search engine, such as Kiddle or Google SafeSearch.
- Regularly review security and privacy settings on your kid’s devices and social media accounts.
- Use the social media safety checklist to make sure your children are ready to join and how they can stay safe.
- Learn about existing and upcoming risks so you can adjust your kids’ online habits.
- Connect to PIA servers to maintain anonymity when your kids use the internet.
How do I teach my child about internet safety?
The best way to teach your child how to stay safe online is simply to keep an open conversation with them. How you do it and what this entails depends on their age, but even very young children can understand some apps are less fun than others.
You also need to educate yourself about internet safety for kids, so you can answer any pressing questions your child might have. It’ll also give you a deeper understanding of how the internet may put your children in danger and what you could improve to stop it.
How do I teach my kid about appropriate online behavior?
The same way you teach them about appropriate behavior in real life – leading by example and honest conversation. Outline how you had to learn about internet safety and why it’s important. Mention that mistakes happen, because they’ll likely make a few. Bonus points if you can promise not to get angry or punish them for it.
You should also teach your kids about using a VPN and how it protects them online. Get PIA and limit the amount of data online services can collect from your children.. You’ll also get 30 days to test it completely risk-free!