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Teaching Kids How to Use the Internet Safely
February 27, 2020
Teaching kids how to use the internet safely is more than just a good idea. Someone gets hacked every 39 seconds, and 95% of teens are now online. Smart parents share web browsing safety tips because hacking, phishing, and cyberbullying are no joke - especially when the target is your son or daughter.
Yet young internet users score higher on standardized tests, have higher GPAs, and read more than non-web users. Internet-savvy kids also have more fun when learning, which sets them up for a lifetime of success. They have stronger cognitive skills and problem-solving skills, and even more compassion.
We’ve researched the ins and outs, from the Google kid-safe browser to key tips for safe searching online. So take a deep breath and get ready to save the baby and the bathwater below.
Safe searching online - knowledge is power
The more you know about internet dangers, the more you can share with your kids. The more you share, the better they’ll be prepared to protect themselves. The first step to teaching kids how to use the internet safely is knowing where online dangers are. Things to watch for are non-kid-friendly websites, games, chat, text, social media, emails, apps, and streaming.
Google kid-safe browser
Want the best one-size-fits-all tip for how to surf the net safely? Put the car in park and revel in the Google kid-safe browser. Yes, Google has a safe surfing mode that protects your little web wanderer, but it’s so much more than that. You can set digital ground rules like screen time limits, inappropriate content blocking, and location tracking for your child’s smartphone or laptop.
Is it lights-out time? Lock Ben’s tablet until 8 a.m. so he can get some sleep. Also, get reports of Jenny’s screen time and keep an eye on sites she’s visiting. The goal? Make your child a smart, confident explorer in the online world. You can get the tracking app for Android, iOS, tablets, phones, and any laptop or desktop.
Other kid-safe browsers
In our opinion, there’s no need to go anywhere but the Google kid-safe browser for the best kid safe searching online. Why? Most of the other options are based on Google’s tech anyway. However, there are some cool features here you may want to dig into.
Zoodles has menus of expert-curated content with apps, videos, books, and other learning resources. It’s a “digital playground” that your kids can’t leave. It also lets you customize your child’s experience, and generate reports to track learning progress. Want Maddox to learn geometry or Spanish? Zoodles has got you covered.
Not as robust as Zoodles but still worth a look, SafeSearchKids is powered by Google. It uses Google’s kid-safe browser API, which pretty much means it lets the search giant tell it which sites are safe and which are not. It does have some cool features though, like a blog with web browsing safety tips for kids, STEM articles, and more.
Help kids dodge phishing and viruses
Malware, viruses, and phishing are big website and email dangers. Adware can clog your system. Viruses can steal personal info or scuttle your machine. If you’re teaching kids how to use the internet, start here.
So what’s the best safe searching online tip to dodge worms, trojans, and other nasties in the digital jungle? It’s the world’s safest computers Jonathan Banks told you about, with multi-pronged hardware and software defenses.
Start with our list of the best HP laptops for kids. Failing that, use a trusted malware blocker like Microsoft Windows Defender.
Phishing is another worry when dipping your toe in the online stream. Teach kids that black-hat types can send them emails with bad-guy links. The links look fun like free pizza or an online game, but one click can lead to a virus. Also, some phishing attacks ask for sensitive info like their passwords, name, or address.
Web browsing safety tips for kids
Just want 10 quick web browsing safety tips to tell your kids? The ideas below for how to surf the net safely can save your family a world of hurt. Pro tip: Print it out and hang it over the computer desk.
- Tell an adult if you see something inappropriate.
- Keep your information private. Don’t share passwords with anyone - even your best friend. Kids get hacked when someone lets a password slip.
- Choose strong passwords. Mix uppercase and lowercase, numbers, and symbols. Use at least 8 characters, and don’t use real words or names.
- Use strong protections like 2-factor authentication or fingerprint readers - like the optional biometric reader in the HP Pavilion x360 15t.
- Posting is forever. Even if you take it down, it’s often archived. Also, unsavory types can download or screenshot anything you share.
- Don’t chat with people you don’t know personally. You don’t know who they are unless you’ve met them.
- Not everything online is true. Just because you read it doesn’t make it real. Use Snopes.com or get your facts from reputable sites like the BBC or WSJ.
- Don’t say online what you wouldn’t to their face. That’s cyberbullying, and it’s illegal in many states.
- Don’t download without permission. Like the Trojan horse, cybercriminals can sneak bad code into your computer during downloads.
- Don’t share anything you wouldn’t want a stranger to see, save, and show to everyone. Scholarship judges watch social media like velociraptors.
How to surf the net safely with internet filtering software
If you have the Google kid-safe browser in your corner, you may not need internet filtering software. But filters have their perks, like tracking calls, SMS, and Facebook, and notify Mom & Dad about questionable use. The downside? Most of these safe surfing mode options cost $50 or more per year. Here are our picks:
- Qustodio: Choose from 29 filter categories and anti-cyberbullying tools. Record chats and set screen time limits for safe searching online
- Net Nanny: Let your kids free-range, with profanity masking and parent notices. Social media monitoring requires an in-app purchase
- Surfie: Works on iOS and Android devices. Tracks social media use and red-flag words and phrases. Can also block violence and warn about dangerous texts
- Content Barrier: Specially designed for Mac computers. Lets you set barriers and time limits based on child age and maturity. Doesn’t work with iPhone or iPad
- OpenDNS FamilyShield: Runs from your router, so it covers all devices in the house. It’s also the most affordable internet filtering software on the list
Make YouTube kid safe
There’s a lot of great stuff on YouTube for kids - the Houston Zoo, TED-Ed, WordWorldPBS, and Sesame Street to name a few. But there are also things out there that aren’t kid-friendly. What’s a parent to do? For safe searching online in the video realm, use YouTube’s safe surfing mode.
To do it, follow these steps:
- Create a YouTube account for you or your child
- Click your profile picture, choose Restricted Mode, and toggle it to On
If you use the Google kid-safe browser, there’s good news - YouTube’s restricted mode is already enabled. And your child can’t change it on any of their signed-in devices.
Screen their movies, TV, and video games
If your kids are old enough to surf the web, they’re probably streaming movies and TV. That’s dicey. They can access everything from Harry Potter to American Psycho. Worse, some flicks seem innocent until you watch them.
The upside? Some sites rate movies by child age and give a quick summary for parents. Just go to CommonSenseMedia and search the movie’s name. You’ll get a quick rundown of what you need to know, like “characters get bloodied and kicked.”
You can’t play every second of every video game - nor would you want to. What’s a Deathclaw? Are Regenerators dangerous? Find out by searching CommonSenseMedia to see if a game is kid safe. Just type the title in to see the age rating and a detailed list of what to watch for. You can get the quick lowdown on console games, streaming games, mobile games, and more.
Parental controls just about everywhere
Just about any device, search engine, or store like Apple TV or Roku comes with parental controls. Again, the best approach is the Google kid-safe browser. But to get more granularity for safe searching online, see the popular parental controls below.
Be warned though; kids will always find ways to get around them. There’s no substitute for talking, listening, and supervision.
Supervise for the best safe searching online
Teaching kids how to use the internet is vital. The web browsing safety tips in this article are a big help, but there’s no stand-in for supervision. Especially for young kids, turn devices off and lock them when you’re away.
When kids are online, be present. Sound like a no-brainer? It is, but less than 20% of parents do it. Thankfully, Google’s safe searching mode and their browser can help, keeping you notified with device usage reports.
Dangers and benefits of screen time
We live in a connected world, and childhood internet use has proven upsides. For instance, improvements in memory, spatial skills, critical thinking, concentration, and phonological awareness. But what about the hazards? For kids under 5, too much screen time can put the brakes on brain development.
Excessive screen time can also cause insomnia, lack of exercise, and social disconnection. It can worsen impulsivity and inattention, especially in those with ADHD. To remedy this, set responsible limits in Google’s family settings on all devices, and ensure plenty of fresh air and exercise.
Talking is the most important protection
Of course, the best-protected child is one who can protect themselves. Surprisingly, teaching kids how to use the internet safely isn’t all about teaching. Most of it comes down to listening. Dr. Cynthia Khun, best-selling author of Just Say Know - Talking with Kids about Drugs and Alcohol - points out that talking with kids is the sharpest tool in our box.
When it comes to drugs, she says parents often have a hard time raising the subject. “Well,” she points out, “when are you going to talk to him? After there’s a problem?” It’s the same with safe searching online. The important thing is to start the conversation.
This isn’t a one-time talk. It’s a series of talks in the car, waiting at the dentist’s office, or other times when they’re a captive audience. Some tips:
- Get the recurring conversation going
- Don’t be critical. Be open
- Listen more than you talk
- What are their fears about internet use?
- What have they heard about online dangers?
- What are their friends doing? Have they heard stories?
Kids know more than you think.
The positive: safe places for kids online
What are some designated safe zones for kids online? Here are a few of the best websites for kids we’ve tracked down from around the web:
- DIY.org: Online video learning site for tots to teens. Has courses and challenges based on kindness and communication. Monthly fee
- Nature Cat’s Great Outdoors: PBS-based app for 4-7 year-olds with 100+ learning adventures. Free
- Khan Academy Kids: Nonprofit educational site for kids of all ages. Crammed with fun lessons in science, math, art, and computing. Free
- PBSKids: Safe place for kids to browse educational games, videos, and more. Free
- Out of Eden Learn: Learning site that connects students around the world on topics like history, geography, and science. Free
The best web browsing safety tips
It’s dangerous to let our kids roam free in the internet jungle. But how can we give them the joy and learning that comes with responsible internet use? Teaching kids how to use the internet safely starts with listening. Show them where the online dangers are, then teach them how to use safe passwords.
Finally, tune in to the Google kid-safe browser and other smart parental controls. When kids understand safe searching online, they’re proven to learn more, faster, and have more fun while they’re at it. That gives them the tools they need to become powerful lifelong learners.
About the Author: Tom Gerencer is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Tom is an ASJA journalist, career expert at Zety.com, and a regular contributor to Boys' Life and Scouting magazines. His work is featured in Costco Connection, FastCompany, and many more.