How Do You Keep Your Kids Safe Online?
At just 14 years old, Hannah had no idea of the potential dangers lurking in the depths of the internet. So, when she couldn’t find the TV show she was looking for on a streaming service, she started searching Google for for pirated versions.
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.
Online fraud targeting kids and teens — including child identity theft — costs American families $1 billion every year [*].
In this guide, we’ll explain how you can help keep your children safe online through education, digital security, parental control software, and household rules.
The Biggest Online Risks Facing 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 risks, such as:
- Online scams targeting kids. Fraudsters target children through fake social media profiles, giveaways, and scholarship schemes. Your children may be tricked into giving up personal information, money, or account passwords.
- Child identity theft. Cybercriminals trick kids into giving up personal information, such as Social Security numbers (SSNs). 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. Predators can exist anywhere your kids spend time online — including online games, social media sites, or even YouTube.
- 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 will try to trick your kids into downloading malicious files or clicking dangerous links by disguising them as free or pirated materials. 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.
While every parent wants to keep their kids safe online, the honest truth is that unless you don’t allow your kids to use the internet at all, there’s no guaranteed way to keep them safe online. However, by educating them (and yourself) about internet safety, you can help your children avoid the worst online threats.
Internet Safety For Families: 12 Ways To Keep Your Kids Safe Online
- Teach your kids not to share personal information online
- Use parental controls software to block inappropriate content
- Don’t link your credit card to online games, services, or apps
- Protect online accounts with strong passwords and 2FA
- Learn to spot the warning signs of cyberbullying
- Keep shared devices in a common spaces
- Monitor their online activity and set time limits on apps
- Set age-appropriate ground rules for internet usage and photo sharing
- Consider a password-sharing agreement
- Make sure they understand appropriate online behavior
- Take advantage of parental controls on platforms and consoles
- Explain the importance of digital security and use antivirus and a VPN
It’s important to approach internet safety not solely as restrictions and blocking — but as a shared agreement between you and your kids about what’s appropriate and safe. These rules will change over time as your children get older and become more independent.
For help approaching these conversations with your kids, check out our guide on how to have “the digital talk.”
1. Teach your kids not to share personal information online
Kids and teens don’t always realize the danger in sharing personal information with people they meet online. But each year, anywhere from 900,000 – 1.25 million kids have their identities stolen online [*].
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.
Here’s what to do:
- 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.
- Explain that they shouldn’t give out any personal information online. This includes basics like their address, school name, or phone number.
- Consider a family identity theft protection solution. 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.
2. Restrict inappropriate content with parental control software
The internet is rife with sexual, violent, and adult content that can confuse, scare, or even scar children.
According to a Common Sense Media report [*]:
73% of teens have watched pornography online — the majority of whom first encountered pornography online at or before the age of 12.
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.
For example, with Aura’s parental controls, you can:
- Restrict specific or whole categories of apps. For example, you could block Snapchat while allowing Instagram or YouTube.
- Set content filters for websites. Aura comes preloaded with age-specific content filters that can block adult and inappropriate content.
- Get insights into how your kids are using their devices. See their overall device usage to understand if they’re spending too much time online.
3. Don’t link your credit card to online games, services, or apps
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.
Here’s what to do:
- Use pre-loaded gift cards instead of your credit card for in-app purchases. This ensures that hackers or scammers can’t run up a huge amount of debt if they get access to your child’s account. It can also prevent over-spending by kids.
- Don’t save credit card details in online services. While it can be annoying to fill in your details for each purchase, this will protect your credit card details in the event of hacking or a data breach.
- Check your statements regularly and look for unrecognized charges. Aura’s transaction and credit monitoring service can alert you in near real-time if someone is using your card or personal information.
💡 Related: 14 Ways Scammers Can Steal Your Credit Card Numbers →
4. Protect online accounts with strong passwords and 2FA
Passwords and account security are your first — and sometimes only — line of defence against hackers. Yet, kids often use passwords that are easy to guess or even share their passwords with friends to build trust.
Make sure your kids know how to use strong and unique passwords (i.e., no birthdays or pet names). To help them, you can use a password manager to set and securely store your entire family’s passwords.
You should also set up two-factor authentication (2FA) on their accounts. This is an additional security measure that requires a special code sent to your phone or an authenticator app to log in to an account. As an added bonus, you can set 2FA codes to go to your phone, which means you’ll be able to approve when kids log in to certain accounts.
💡 Related: How To Protect Your Child From Identity Theft →
5. Learn to spot the warning signs of cyberbullying
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 [*].
The main problem is that kids are often hesitant to say they’re being bullied out of fear that the bullying will only get worse. That’s why it’s so important for parents to recognize the warning signs of cyberbullying, such as:
- Fear or anxiety when receiving texts and online messages.
- A sudden increase (or decrease) in device usage.
- Deleting social media accounts or opening new ones.
- Extreme mood changes after being online.
- Trouble sleeping or a drop in performance at school.
- Lack of interest in their hobbies.
The bottom line: If your child is dealing with cyberbullying, your priority should be to make your child feel safe. Give them your unconditional support and show how you’re going to help prevent cyberbullying in the future. If there were serious threats of physical harm, you may need to file a police report with your local law enforcement.
6. Keep shared devices in a common spaces
Keeping shared computers in common areas make it harder for kids to visit inappropriate websites or hide what they’re doing online.
Even if your kids and teens have their own devices (smartphones, laptops, etc.), you can restrict usage and overnight charging to shared spaces in the home.
💡 Related: How To Control Internet Access at Home →
7. Monitor their online activity and set time limits on apps
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.
Here’s what to do:
- Use parental controls to limit access to apps and content. Aura's parental controls 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.
- Set daily time limits on social media and other apps. It’s easy for kids to spend too much time on social media sites like TikTok or Instagram. Aura allows you to set app or website-specific time limits, after which your kids won’t be able to access them.
- Shut off internet access during specific hours. Whether it’s during homework time, at school, or overnight, there are times you don’t want your kids to go online. Aura also lets you pause the internet® on your child’s devices.
8. Set age-appropriate ground rules for internet usage and photo sharing
Unless you completely ban social media and multiplayer games, there are moments where your kids will be interacting with other people online. That’s why it’s important to establish ground rules for internet use. For example, rules could include not sharing personal information, not chatting with strangers, and never agreeing to meet in person.
Here’s what to do:
- 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.
- 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 or inappropriate comments. Make sure your children know to talk to a trusted adult if someone is behaving inappropriately with them online or in person.
- Talk about what happens when you share photos online. 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.
- Teach them about “the grandparent” rule. Explain that anything they send or share online can be saved and shown to others. If they wouldn’t want their grandparent seeing it, they shouldn’t share it.
9. Consider a password-sharing agreement
If monitoring and blocking apps or websites isn’t enough, some families set up agreements for sharing passwords. As part of this agreement, you should discuss when and how you’ll be able to access their accounts and what you can look at.
This is a great way to build trust and give your child independence, while also maintaining a close eye on what your kids are doing online.
💡 Related: How To Block Websites on Android (7 Ways) →
10. Make sure they understand appropriate online behavior
Online predators and cyberbullies can 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.
Make sure you explain appropriate online behavior to your child and teach them how predators operate. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has some good resources you an use.
Then, talk to your children about 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.
11. Take advantage of parental controls on platforms and consoles
Most modern apps, services, and internet connected devices include some form of parental controls. This includes streaming services and gaming consoles. Take advantage of these features to block inappropriate content or prevent your kids from engaging with voice or text chat.
Here’s what to do:
- Review your streaming service’s 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+.
- Update your gaming console’s security settings. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) provides Tools for Parents that include complete instructions on how to configure security and content settings on individual consoles.
- Insist on voice chat over speakers — not headphones. If your child uses headphones when talking to other gamers, you won’t be able to hear the other half of the conversation. By insisting that your child play using speakers you can get the full picture.
12. Explain the importance of digital security and use antivirus and a VPN
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.
Here’s what to do:
- 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.
Was Your Child the Victim Of an Online Scam or Predator? Do This!
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 [*].
If your child is targeted by a predator, online scammer, hacker, or cyberbully, you need to act quickly to protect them. Here’s what to do:
- Listen without interrupting. Encourage your children to share their experiences using their own words. Understand what happened and how they were targeted. If the predator or bully caused serious mental or psychological harm, you may want to consider seeing a child therapist.
- Collect evidence of the crime, bullying, or predator. Collect evidence such as conversation recordings and screenshots that show proof of cyberbullying or predatory behavior. The screenshots should capture the username, time stamps, and everything said.
- Report the incident to the proper authorities (school, police, etc). For online predators, file a report with local law enforcement 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. For cyberbullying from a fellow student, report the incident to your school administration. All U.S. schools have anti-bullying policies that cover cyberbullying.
- Block 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Disconnect from the internet and activate safe mode. If your child accidentally downloaded malware or you see signs that you’ve been hacked, go offline from both the internet and your mobile network. Then, do a full scan with your antivirus software, empty your trash, and clear your browser cache and history to remove any lingering viruses.
- 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.
Is Parental Control Software Worth It?
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 (or see what they're doing online). But there are tools that can safeguard your children and you from the biggest dangers of being online.
For example, Aura’s all-in-one family safety solution includes parental controls for your child’s iPhone. With Aura, you can:
- Set time limits on specific apps and websites
- Block inappropriate content, websites, or apps
- Turn off the internet on your child’s devices
- Monitor how your kids spend their time online
- Get warned of cyberbullying or online predators while your kids are playing online games
- Track your child’s SSN and get warned if scammers are using it
- Protect your child’s mobile devices from hackers with antivirus, VPN, Safe Browsing tools, and more
Parental controls are only part of Aura. As an Aura-protected family, you get award-winning identity theft protection, three-bureau credit monitoring with the industry’s fastest fraud alerts, AI-powered spam call and text protection, 24/7 U.S.-based support, and up to $5 million in identity theft insurance. Try Aura free for 14 days and see how it keeps your entire family safe.
💡 Related: The 10 Best Parental Control Apps for iPhones →
Internet Safety Checklist For Kids: Ask These Questions
Unfortunately, no matter how much you do, it’s impossible to completely protect your kids from online threats. Instead, it’s important to help teach them how to evaluate and recognize online threats on their own.
Here are some questions every kid and teen should ask regularly while online:
- Am I posting something I wouldn’t want my parents/grandparents to see? Everything online can be leaked or shared. Don’t trust anyone who says it’s “just for them.”
- Do I know this person in real life? Online-only friends aren’t always who they say they are. Be especially cautious with anyone you’ve never met in real life.
- Is this website or link safe? Any unsolicited or shortened link or file could house malware and other viruses. If you’re unsure, don’t click or download.
- Is this too good to be true? Fraudsters and predators use the promise of free cash, items, movies, etc. to get you to interact with them. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Am I keeping my accounts secure? Anyone who asks for your passwords, security question answers, or 2FA codes is trying to scam you.
By following this simple checklist, your child can avoid 95% of online threats — from cyberbullies to extortion, scams, and hacking.
The Bottom Line: Keep Your Children Safe from Online Threats
As a parent, your priority is to keep your kids safe online and in the real world. While you can’t always be there for them, by regularly talking about online safety and setting up their devices with proper protections, you can help keep them safe from the worst online threats.
For added peace of mind for your entire family, consider signing up for Aura.
Aura protects your kids from online threats with parental controls, digital security tools, and identity monitoring and alerts. Plus, your entire family will be covered by Aura’s award-winning identity theft protection, credit monitoring, online safety tools and more.