Computers, mobile phones, tablets, and video game systems are just a few technologies that connect your child to the world every day. But do you know exactly who in the world is connecting with your child?
Online predators, identity thieves, and cyber bullies use online gaming platforms, social media, and dating and video chat apps to target underage victims. What can you do to protect your child in cyber space? Special Agent Stacey Sullivan of the FBI Norfolk Child Exploitation Task Force offers advice to parents.
First, understand your child’s internet activity. Know all the devices they have access to and familiarize yourself with the social media sites, apps, and online games they use to communicate with their friends. Parents should also be aware of their children’s access to the internet outside of the home—at school, daycare, or in their friends’ homes.
“One of best ways to learn about their internet activity is to ask your kids,” says Agent Sullivan. “Have them show you all their social media apps and walk you through how each one works. Talk about where they go online, the content they see and share, and ask questions about what they find interesting, what they like to Google.”
Set clear rules and closely monitor their online activity. Take advantage of free parental control options and designate one place in the home where your children are allowed to access the internet. “Everything they do on the internet, whether it’s on a phone, tablet, or game, should be done in a central location where you can see it, such as the family room or kitchen table,” advises Agent Sullivan.
In addition, many families set device curfews or impose time limits on gaming, and some parents store mobile electronics in their bedrooms at night to maintain control of the device.
Never Share Personal Information Online
Communicate Only with People You Know in Real Life
Next, teach appropriate and safe use of the internet. The most important messages to teach are simple: many people online are not who they say they are, never communicate with people you don’t know, and be careful about what you share. Some adults use the internet to hide who they are by pretending to be an age-appropriate or relatable friend.
According to Agent Sullivan, parents should teach children to communicate only with people they know in real life: friends they see regularly at school, clubs, and sports, or grandparents and trusted relatives.
“You would be surprised at how many teens are friends with or even dating people they have never met,” she says and suggests going through your child’s friend list together and ask your child to tell you about each person. “If they don’t have regular, appropriate personal interaction with that person, the friend should be deleted.”
Parents should also talk to their kids about the dangers of sharing personal information, such as their home address, school, or class schedule, and the consequences of posting inappropriate content, such as revealing photos or videos, or making hoax threats.
Finally, understand that it is never too early to start these conversations. “Even if you think they are too young, they are not too young,” Agent Sullivan says. “These conversations not only warn children about online dangers but can open lines of communication that make it easier for kids to approach their parents without fear of judgment or punishment. If they are not sure what to think about a suspicious friend request or message or if they have been bullied or victimized in some way, you want them to feel comfortable asking you for help.”
What should you do if your child does become a victim? Immediately contact local police or your nearest FBI field office and report the issue to the social media platform. Agent Sullivan stresses that parents should never attempt to communicate with the predator or try to take matters into your own hands. “Most importantly, listen to your child with kindness and understanding,” she says. “Let your child know you are sorry this is happening to them and you want to help.”
By understanding your child’s internet activity and setting rules and expectations, you can help direct your child towards safer internet habits. You can’t always be there when your kids go online, but you can empower them with the right tools to navigate the internet safely and avoid dangerous connections.
What You Need To Know
Tools To Help Parents Keep Kids Safe Online
To help parents and educators teach cyber safety, the FBI offers the Safe Online Surfing program for students in grades 3 through 8. This free interactive resource uses games, videos and other activities to address issues like cyberbullying, passwords, malware, social media, and more.
For more information, visit sos.fbi.gov.
To file a cyber crime complaint online, visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov/complaint/default.aspx or call FBI Norfolk Field Office at 757-455-0100. You can also contact the FBI National Public Access Line 800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5324).
Allison Phillips works in the Public Affairs Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Norfolk Division.