How to Protect Kids From Harmful Online Content

November 20 is World Children’s Day, a day that celebrates “international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.” Highlights from last year’s celebration show the remarkable effort so many put into broadcasting their commitment to protecting children. However, the volume of online homages to the world’s youth also underscores how daunting the task of keeping children safe can be. The internet can bring a community together as it has over this event; it is also where many criminals and predators operate.   

Statistics from the Global Cybersecurity Forum (GCF) show the risk that digital life may pose for kids. Nearly three-quarters of children have experienced at least one type of cyberthreat. Inappropriate ads, images, content, and phishing attempts find children even when they’re not attempting to dodge parental controls. For parents, the thrust of International Children’s Day is an ongoing adventure, wherein they often struggle to provide the safe online learning environment their children need to thrive. To celebrate this year’s day of awareness, we’re sharing six tips for ensuring a more private and safe digital life for kids.   

1. Encourage children to talk about their encounters with you 

According to GCF data, 83% of children claimed they would alert their parents if they experienced an online threat. Yet only four in 10 parents surveyed said their child had ever expressed concerns to them about inappropriate content. If parents want to make their child’s internet time safer, they can focus on making conversations about online content comfortable. When parents know their children are experiencing threats online, they will be better equipped to do something about those threats.   

Remember, sometimes children can be exposed to traumatic content even if they follow your guidelines and go online with parental controls. Here are some additional tips for talking to your child about some of the content they may see online.  

2. If you see something, say something 

On plenty of occasions, online threats children experience likely do not require the involvement of law enforcement or similar entity. When online threats involve malicious or solicitous content, it can warrant reporting the incident. Most parents (56%) tend to simply delete content rather than report said content to the police (41%) or inform schools, when appropriate (34%). If parents want transparency from their children, they may consider practicing a bit more transparency themselves, especially when it comes to encounters that may represent criminal acts.  

3. Limit screen time altogether 

More than 80% of children go online daily, and 36% spend 3-5 hours online in a normal day. In the digital age that has seen a large uptick in digital learning, it’s tough to keep kids away from screens. But the easiest way to ensure kids remain safe from online threats is to limit their screen time altogether. That’s an easier-said-than-done task to be sure. If parents can find ways to decrease the amount of daily time kids spend behind screens, it will reduce the amount of time they’re available to be targeted by bad actors or inappropriate content.  

4. Demonstrate social media security 

Social media, one of the most popular online activities, is a popular way for younger generations to interact with one another. Built-in messaging on social media apps gives kids a place to message each other that’s one layer removed from text messages that parents may see. Social media has also made inappropriate content more accessible and gives hackers and other bad actors anonymity. Given that 36% of kids report coming across inappropriate images or content, and nearly 20% encounter hacking or phishing attempts when online, it’s not surprising that parents are worried about the social media content their children consume.  

Parents can educate their children about more secure social media behavior. Creating awareness of potential scams in their children starts with strong passwords, locked accounts, and reminding them not to click on links from or interact with accounts of people they don’t know.  

5. Enable parental controls 

This may seem like an obvious safeguard against disturbing online content, but not every app, browser or device’s parental controls settings are obvious. Some portals to the internet have more granular settings and others are a bit higher-level, so creating a hermetic seal around kids’ environment can be challenging depending on how they get online and what they access when they get there. Devices like iPhones and major internet companies like Google and YouTube have pretty robust parental control settings to block mature content or remotely limit screen time. Some social media apps also have controls parents can adjust to reduce the likelihood strangers find their child’s account.  

 6. Install software like browser plugins and/or VPNs 

Most browsers offer a library of plugins that allow parents to cast a web around potentially harmful content. Ad blockers can keep ads with mature content off of websites, and parental-control plugins can establish browsing controls so that kids can’t even navigate to places inappropriate content is more likely to be. Some plugins block website URLs or entire domains, rendering those destinations unnavigable.  

There are also many affordable VPNs on the market for parents. Most VPNs can do things like encrypt internet connections or obscure IP addresses and locations, making overarching internet connections safer and more private.   

Protecting children from online threats is an ongoing endeavor 

The UN established World Children’s Day to commemorate both the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child as guidelines for how to provide for and protect international children. Parents don’t need to wait for the calendar to turn to November to create a safer digital world for their families. These steps for protecting kids from malicious or inappropriate online content are not exhaustive but do provide a strong framework for adults who aren’t sure how to contend with the vast volume of information the world wide web generates.    

For those who want to introduce another obstacle between kids and inappropriate content, there’s always something like McAfee+ Family Plans. McAfee+ Family plans add protection against everything from unwanted content via parental controls to identity monitoring and social media privacy management. It’s an all-in-one way to make it that much more unlikely children encounter online content they shouldn’t.  

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