How to Talk to Children About Online Safety

20th of January 2018

how to talk to children about online safety

The progressively connected world we live in has increased the dangers that exist for youth online. According to a report by Common Sense Media, children spend an average 3 hours and 17 minutes online. By the time they are teenagers, the average almost doubles to 6 hours and 17 minutes.

Without awareness of how to interact on the Internet, children and teens can inadvertently expose themselves to dangerous situations.

What to Tell Children About Online Safety

Forbidding children to go online is an impossible task. Everything from homework to socialization is geared towards a plugged-in audience, especially as children mature into teens.

So how can children and teens be protected from unsafe situations? The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has several tips for how to talk to children about online safety.

Educate Your Kids on How to Go Online

One of the main reasons that children engage in risky online behaviors is that they do not know it is wrong. To prevent situations from escalating to an unsafe point, have a conversation with children to find out:

  • What they would do if contacted by a stranger.
  • If they would send photos of themselves in compromising situations.
  • When they would come to you or another trusted adult.

A conversation that covers these topics will help children become aware of when to end a conversation and that they can approach an adult if they don’t know what to do.

Help Children Recognize Inappropriate Information

Children develop their sense of right and wrong by talking with parents and testing limits. Although this is a natural part of development, it’s also important to set appropriate boundaries with children. Sharing personal information about themselves or others, hate speech, illegal behavior, pranks or revealing pictures can all lead to dangerous situations.

Teach Children Responsible Posting and Sharing

Sharing personal information or photos online is something that children and teens gravitate towards naturally. They might not realize that a photo is seen by an adult, or might be shared even though sent in a private message. Make sure that they are aware of the consequences of posting something themselves or that other people may post private conversations or photos sent in a direct message.

Children Have the Right to Say “No”

It can be hard for children to say “no” to an adult or an online “friend” they believe is their age. Helping children set appropriate boundaries is an excellent start, but it is also important for them to practice saying “no.” One way to do this is to review scenarios that are inappropriate to ensure that children do not get involved in dangerous situations. NCMEC has child-friendly online tools for children and teens to help them understand when to say “no” and what to do.

Children's Foundation Kelly BaumannKelly BaumannAmeriCorps VIP Fellow
Kelly specializes in creating and optimizing digital content for the Children’s Foundation of America blog. She has ten years of experience as a marketer and has held a variety of positions including content writer, social media coordinator, public relations executive and content strategist. At Children’s Foundation of America, Kelly focuses on sharing stories and information to educate the public about the issues faced by children that Children’s Foundation of America serves.
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