Are Your Kids Safe Online?
At just 14 years old, Hannah had no idea of the potential dangers lurking in the depths of the internet. When she couldn’t find a TV show she was looking for on a streaming service, she started looking for pirated versions on Google.
But while Hannah innocently watched her shows, the sites she visited were silently infecting her laptop with viruses, crawling her hard drive for sensitive information, and even breaking into her social media accounts [*].
Cybercrime is the fastest growing type of crime in America [*]. Young people are especially vulnerable to online risks — such as cyberbullying, scams, and predators.
In this guide, we’ll explain how you can help keep your children safe online through education, security tools, and household rules.
Why Is Internet Safety Important for Kids and Teens?
Your kids use the internet for all aspects of their lives — from studying and connecting with friends to playing online games, to watching shows and movies. It’s estimated that 95% of American teens have smartphones, and 45% of teens are constantly online [*].
But the more time they spend online, the more likely they are to run into scammers, inappropriate content, and other risks.
Unless you don’t allow your kids to use the internet at all, there’s no guaranteed way to keep them safe online. But by educating them (and yourself) about internet safety, you can help your children avoid the worst online threats.
Internet safety education and tools can protect kids from dangers, including:
- Online scams targeting kids. Fraudsters target children through fake social media profiles, giveaways, and scholarship schemes.
- Child identity theft. Cybercriminals trick kids into giving up personal information, such as Social Security numbers (SSNs). Because children don’t yet have credit reports or financial histories, kids’ identities are valuable “blank slates” for identity thieves. Once they have your child’s information, they can commit child identity theft and take out credit cards or loans in your child’s name.
- Cyberbullying. Cyberbullies use digital technology to send, post, or share harmful content about your child online. Cyberbullying can cause lasting psychological damage to kids.
- Online predators. Predators manipulate young children and teens online for abusive and exploitative purposes.
- Inappropriate content. Pop-ups and malicious websites or forums can expose your kids to scenes of violence and sexuality that they aren’t prepared to deal with.
- Malware and other viruses. Cybercriminals use free and pirated materials to lure children into downloading malware. Once a family device is infected, hackers can spy on your kids or scan your hard drive for sensitive information, photos, and videos.
- Internet and device overuse. There’s debate as to whether screen time harms children’s social skills. But too much device time can cause other issues — such as exhaustion, or distraction from school. Setting time limits on devices and apps can be a powerful way to help limit screen time.
How To Protect Your Kids from Online Scammers
In 2021 alone, teens reported close to 15,000 online scam incidents, according to the FBI [*].
Fraud experts believe that children and teens are especially high-value targets for online scammers because it takes kids longer to realize that their identities have been stolen.
Few families monitor their children’s SSNs, which means scammers can continue to victimize children for years before being discovered. In many instances, victims of child identity theft have no idea that their credit histories have been damaged until they try to obtain college loans or apply for jobs.
🙅♀️ How to prevent your children from being scammed online
- Share examples of identity theft schemes targeting children. Explain the basics of how to tell if someone is scamming you online as well as common email phishing scams. An introductory talk should cover topics including how to identify secure websites, online etiquette, and how to ask for help. Then, use examples of child-specific scams, such as scholarship scams, fake free giveaway items (“freebies”), and contest scams. Sharing examples is an effective way to show your child how scammers work.
- Restrict payments in apps, and don’t let your kids use your credit card numbers online. Scammers will often try to trick kids into giving up their parents’ financial information. Make sure your children don’t have easy access to your credit cards, and make it clear that they must always talk to you first before using them.
- Get your kids to use strong passwords. Avoid simple passwords like birthdays and pet names. Instead, use a password manager to set and securely store your entire family’s passwords.
- Teach your kids not to share personal information. Explain that they shouldn’t give out any personal information — including basics like their address, school name, or phone number.
🔎 What to do if your child is the victim of identity theft or online scams
- Freeze your child’s credit. A credit freeze stops anyone — including scammers — from accessing your child’s credit report. This means scammers can’t open new accounts or take out fraudulent loans in your child’s name. To request a credit freeze, contact each of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — with proof of both your ID and your child’s ID. Use this opportunity to request a copy of your child’s credit report, and look for any signs of suspicious activity.
- Report the scam to the FTC and file a police report. Make an official identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov. This is an essential step in repairing your child’s credit report. If you have any information about the scammers, you should also file a police report.
- Consider an SSN and credit monitoring service. Aura constantly monitors your child’s SSN for signs of identity theft, and will also monitor your financial accounts for signs of fraud. Learn more about how Aura keeps your family safe →
How To Protect Your Kids from Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying occurs when people bully or harass a child online. This could include sharing or posting negative, mean, or embarrassing content about the targeted child.
Incidents of cyberbullying have increased by 40% since the start of the pandemic. In the last year, 37% of young people between the ages of 12 and 17 suffered online bullying [*].
🙅 How to prevent your children from being the victims of cyberbullying
- Learn the warning signs of cyberbullying. Don’t wait for your child to tell you that they’re being bullied online. Check in early and often. Look for warning signs, such as your child withdrawing from social activities, showing fear when receiving texts, and declining grades.
- Encourage open communication. Have ongoing discussions with your children about what types of communication — online and in real life — are acceptable. Create an environment that encourages open communication about bullying.
- Show kids how to block and report online bullies. Most apps and service providers have tools for reporting messages. Teach your child to document inappropriate conversations, report them to an adult, and then block the bully.
🔎 What to do if your kid is being bullied online
- Make your child feel safe. Your priority is ensuring your child’s well-being and safety. Give them your unconditional support and show how you’re going to help. If there were serious threats of physical harm, you may need to file a police report with your local law enforcement.
- Listen without interrupting. Encourage your children to share their experiences using their own words. Try not to interrupt or make excuses for the bully. If the bullying caused serious mental or psychological harm, you may want to consider seeing a child therapist.
- Collect evidence. Use the information your child provides to build a report. Collect evidence such as conversation recordings and screenshots that show proof of cyberbullying. Also, take note of the severity of harm, frequency of bullying, witnesses, and location.
- Inform your child’s school. If the cyberbullying came from a fellow student, report the incident to your school administration. All U.S. schools have anti-bullying policies that cover cyberbullying.
How To Protect Your Children from Online Predators
The presence of online predators is likely the worst fear every parent has for their child’s online safety. By some estimates, there are close to 500,000 predators who operate online and target young children [*].
Online predators might create fake social media profiles and lie about their age to build a relationship with your child. Keeping kids safe from these vile criminals means understanding how they work and how to block them from interacting with your child.
🙅♀️ How to prevent your child or teen from being targeted by online predators
- Establish ground rules for internet use. Set age-appropriate rules for your children and young teenagers. For example, rules could include not sharing personal information, not chatting with strangers, and never agreeing to meet in person.
- Explain appropriate online behavior to your child. Learn how predators operate (the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has some good resources). Then, teach your children what’s appropriate online and what could be signs of a predator. For example, if someone is being flattering, tries to quickly get personal, or requests explicit photos, these are red flags indicating predatory behavior. Make sure your children know to talk to a trusted adult if someone is behaving inappropriately with them online or in person.
- Limit access to apps and content. Smartphones and third-party tools like Circle can limit what your kids are able to do online. For example, parental controls can limit which apps your kids can use or sites they can visit. This is especially important for social media sites and forums on which kids feel pressured to share photos. As a guideline, explain that they shouldn’t share pictures online that they wouldn't want you to see.
- Monitor your child’s online activity. It can feel invasive, but it’s a good idea to either track or discuss how you’ll monitor your children’s conversations and activity online. To maintain their trust, only request access to their phones, chat rooms, or social media accounts if you feel they’re at risk — not to spy on them.
🔎 What to do if a predator is targeting your child
- Document everything. Take screenshots of conversations that your child has had with the predator. The screenshots should capture the username, time stamps, and everything the predator said.
- Contact law enforcement. Next, use the evidence you’ve gathered to file a report with your local police department and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). You can file a report with the NCMEC at report.cybertip.org or by calling 1-800-THE-LOST. The FBI works with NCMEC to review evidence and open investigations.
- Block the predators and report them to the platform. After reporting to NCMEC, wait until they give you the green light to block the predator. This ensures that they’ve collected all the evidence they need for their investigation. Then, report the predator to the platform they’re using and block them to ensure that they can’t contact your child.
How To Protect Your Kids from Inappropriate Content
The internet is rife with content that is either confusing or potentially harmful for children. Nearly 50% of parents say their kids have encountered violent, sexual, or inappropriate content [*].
🙅♀️ How to prevent your child or teen from seeing adult content online
- Keep computers in common areas. Shared computers in common areas make it harder for kids to visit inappropriate websites.
- Use parental controls to limit what they can access. Parental controls work across all devices — laptops, desktops, tablets, and phones. You can specifically limit access to adult content, gaming sites, and anything else you don’t want your kids experiencing online. Consider purchasing parental control software like Circle to manage screen time, monitor websites, and set social media and YouTube rules.
- Turn on safe search. Explore child-safety tools that Windows and Mac operating systems offer to protect your family. Next, turn on SafeSearch on Google Chrome to filter graphic content.
🔎 What to do if your child is exposed to inappropriate content
- Ask what they experienced and stay calm. Your reaction makes all the difference in how your child opens up to you. Ask your child how they felt about the content and acknowledge their feelings without judgement. Be careful not to project your opinions or fears on them. Instead calmly ask questions about what they saw and how they found the content.
- Evaluate how they found the content. Did your child stumble on the content by accident? Did a friend share it with them? Did they figure out how to bypass the parental control setting? The answers you learn will help you chart a course of action.
- Review parental control settings. Review parental control and privacy settings on apps and websites to ensure that they’re set to the correct levels. For example, you can filter results according to ratings on streaming sites like Netflix and Disney+.
- Report inappropriate content. Report inappropriate content on social networking sites by clicking on the flag or “report” button from the list of options. If your child reads hate speech, submit a tip to the FBI. If they come across extremist material, report to the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit.
- Check in regularly with your child. One conversation won’t be enough to help your child recover after seeing inappropriate content. Whether your child talks about it or not, check in regularly with them. If your child seems traumatized by what they saw, consider contacting a licensed professional to help.
How To Prevent Your Kids from Downloading Malware
While parents are mainly concerned about their child’s safety online, device safety also needs to be a serious consideration.
Malware, ransomware, and other viruses can give hackers access to your most sensitive information or even allow them to spy on you through your device’s camera and microphone.
Kids can accidentally download malware when visiting streaming sites that host pirated content or by clicking on links in phishing messages. Malware doesn’t just put your child in danger; it could also put your entire family at risk of identity theft and financial fraud.
🙅♀️ How to prevent your children from accidentally downloading malware
- Explain how malware makes a computer sick. Children love free software and are more likely to trust email attachments and links without realizing that these could cause harm. For young children, use simple words to describe what happens when they click on malicious links or sites.
- Install antivirus. The safest way to prevent malware is to use comprehensive internet security like Aura’s antivirus software. Aura automatically detects malware and alerts your child to phishing websites.
- Use kid-friendly search engines. Some search engines like KidRex and Kidtopia are designed to only show kid-friendly search results.
- Update software regularly. Hackers use security vulnerabilities in outdated software to install malware. Additionally, outdated software may render your parental controls useless. Make sure you keep your devices and software up to date.
- Agree on digital boundaries together. Create a set of rules, such as only using legitimate streaming sites or asking you before downloading apps and attachments in emails.
🔎 What to do if your child downloads malware
- Disconnect from the internet and activate safe mode. Malware almost always needs an internet connection to send information back to the hacker. As soon as you see signs that you’ve been hacked, go offline from both the internet and your mobile network.
- Do a full scan with your antivirus software. A full scan will find and isolate any malware that’s infected your device. You’ll also want to empty your trash and clear your browser cache and history to remove any lingering viruses.
- Improve your device security. A proactive approach to online security is better than waiting to be hit with a malware attack. Enable auto-updates on your software, operating system, and antivirus. For added security, consider Aura’s all-in-one digital security solution. Find out more about how Aura keeps your devices and family safe from online threats →
The Bottom Line: Keep Your Children Safe from Online Threats
Maintaining online safety for families can feel like a full-time job. And despite your best efforts, you won’t always be available to protect your children. But there are tools that can safeguard your children and you from the biggest dangers of being online.
Before investing in a family digital security app, ensure that it includes the following features:
- Parental controls including content filters and time limits.
- Identity theft protection — including credit and SSN monitoring — for your entire family.
- Antivirus software and a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your family’s devices from hackers.
- Three-bureau credit monitoring to ensure that scammers haven’t gained access to your financial accounts.
If you’re looking for proactive tools to keep your family safe, consider signing up for Aura.
With Aura, you get:
- #1-rated identity theft protection for your entire family. Aura protects your whole family from identity theft by monitoring your most sensitive information and alerting you to potential threats.
- Parental controls to filter content and limit screen time. The Aura + Circle integration gives you access to powerful parental controls. Limit what your kids can do online and how they use apps.
- Child SSN monitoring to protect against child identity theft. Add your children to your Aura plan, and we’ll monitor their SSNs for signs of fraud. If a scammer is trying to ruin your child’s credit or steal their identity, you’ll be alerted before it’s too late.
- Antivirus and VPN to protect your family’s computers, mobile devices, and home network from hackers. Aura’s powerful device and network security keeps you safe from hackers and scammers.
- Credit monitoring with fraud alerts that are up to 4X faster than the competition. Aura monitors your bank, credit, and investment accounts for signs of fraud. If your child accidentally gives away access to your financial accounts, you’ll be alerted in near real-time.
- 24/7 U.S.-based Fraud Resolution specialists. Whenever you need help, Aura’s U.S.-based team of trained specialists is ready to help.
- $1,000,000 insurance plan for eligible losses due to identity theft. Every adult member on an Aura Family Plan is covered by up to $1 million in insurance.
- Easy-to-use mobile and desktop apps. Control everything from a single modern interface that’s efficient and easy to use.