How to Protect Your Kids Online: Internet Safety & Digital Citizenship
Updated: Jul 22
The internet is an amazing tool with so much to discover and learn about. Sadly, children and teens can be exposed to a lot of inappropriate content on the internet. So it’s important to talk to use parental control tools and talk to kids about internet safety to prepare them with the knowledge and tools to be safe online.
There are plenty of ways you can prepare your kids to be safe online, and the tools and tips I’ll share today will be beneficial to both educators and parents who want the best experience online for their children.
HTTPS, Cookies, and More
Maybe when you first started using the world-wide-web yourself it was probably a much more simpler time, with less threats online. Now there are many fraudulent websites, phishing schemes, and ads that might lead to inappropriate or scary downloads.
A good tip to teach kids, if you aren't sure whether or not you can trust a website, your browser should usually be able to tell if the website you’re on is safe or not by displaying a small lock in the URL (or search bar at the top) to indicate that it is a secure site. If it doesn’t, then you can look up the link at the top of the page. You may have to click it to get the address to display fully, but it should start with something like “http” or “https.” These are different, both in spelling and what they do. When you see, the “s” in “https” it stands for secure, indicating that the website is safe.
Cookies are types of trackers that help customize your experience online. A lot of websites use them, and they aren’t so scary once you get to know them. You can always deny cookies if you don’t feel comfortable using them, but most of the time they aren’t harmful. There are instances however when they might potentially be harmful, such as on an unsecured website. You can always go into your browser settings and turn off cookies altogether, or clear them from your history if you happen across a questionable website.
Now about phishing scams and emails. A good rule of thumb for kids is not to open emails from people you don’t know, or from places you’ve never heard of. You should also be careful around emails that have attachments, even if they're from people you know, if it seems unexpected, ask the person if they really sent it. Better to be safe than sorry!
Another thing to talk to kids about if they're surfing the internet are those big green download buttons! You'll want kids to know they shouldn't click a download button unless they are sure they know what is being downloaded and that it's from a trusted source.
Common Sense Media and Parental Controls
Have you ever needed to know how to use the parental controls on a certain device, or needed to help a parent with this? Common Sense Media’s Parents’ Ultimate Guide to Parental Controls is a good link to bookmark as it gives you all the best ways to keep tabs on what children may try to get on to with their devices. This guide leaves no stone unturned with how many options it opens up, such as tracking a device’s location, and how to set up parental controls on devices like iOS and Android. This guide is primarily targeted to parents and also comes in Spanish.
Bark Parental Controls Review
A while back I started using Bark Parental Controls for my 9 year old and I highly recommend it! I wanted to give it somse time before I shared an honest review. From the parent controls, I can monitor when he has screentime access and keep an eye on all different areas like youtube, spotify, pinterest, his chromebook, and more! Bark covers text messages, YouTube, email, and 30+ social media platforms and apps. If you have a question, I've found that there support team is very helpful.
If you're worried about your child is being bullied online, you can get alerts set up through Bark, the best parental control app (in my opinion!) If you're concerned about your kid’s website browsing, you can filter out entire categories of sites (like streaming) or just block specific domains (like Netflix). If you want to set a custom schedule for screentime (like disabling internet at bedtime) you can do that! There is even location check-ins but I haven't used those yet.
I love that Bark is a parental control app that sends me alerts about internet trends too (like huggy wuggy, who sounds cute but is actually an evil villian from a video game!) that I wouldn't have known about. It also keeps me up to date on slang words, text slang, and 2022 slang. Not only is this helpful for me as a parent, but it is also helpful for me as a school counselor. Staying on top of these things is important.
I feel confident that Bark is good for children's mental health and is an effective parental control tool that helps protect kids and I have become an official partner with Bark, so please use my link to learn more.
National Online Safety Guides
More often than not children will explore the internet to seek knowledge, or maybe just to play a fun game. While this can be great, you can’t be certain where they will go or what they will see. This is why we must monitor and set parental permissions. The National Online Safety Guides is one of my go-to places because they have lots of great resources and keep up to date with various online activities and apps, like TikTok and Games. They've got guides that cover:
These guides are my go-to for sharing with parents as they are downloadable and easy to digest for parents or educators. Best of all, most of them are free to access with a National Online Safety account. These guides are up to date, and you can reliably find relevant guides to whichever website or game your child wants to check out.
Common Sense Education Digital Citizenship
Common Sense Education has plenty of great resources for educators and parents including a free digital citizenship curriculum. This is a structured course for teaching children about their digital citizenship. The content ranges from grades K-12. This course is more geared towards educators, but I think parents may appreciate it too.
For lessons with kids on internet safety and usage, I love to share this song from Common Sense Education called: “Pause & Think Online.” It's only a two-minute video, but they manage to pack a lot of messages into one place!
The video is structured around children using various body parts online, such as their mind, arms, legs, gut, feet, and heart. It sends plenty of good examples for children to follow, such as using their… well, common sense about what they see online, such as when they depict a faulty article about how ice cream allegedly makes you smarter. Of course, it doesn’t, but would a child be able to make that judgment? Maybe, but the video shows the character using what they know to make an educated decision to not believe the article. One of the more important messages they convey, I feel, is when they ask to use their feet online. They
say to watch the tracks you leave behind and mention online privacy.
Net Smarts on Netsmartzkids
Netsmartzkids has plenty of resources for parents and educators alike. The website features interactive games, videos, and various activities. The Netsmartzkids videos are a very interesting resource, providing children with a simple narrative of the child protagonists helping out people in a cyber world with internet safety. Their Into Th
e Cloud series first season tackles the idea of information, and why children should be careful about what they post online. This is a common trend with the Into The Cloud series and the second season features a character having an inappropriate picture used to threaten them. These series are very relatable because kids today face many similar issues online.
Be Internet Awesome: Journey To The Interlands!
Interland is a very fun platformer video game made by Google, based on the idea of blocking haters, spreading love, knowing what’s true or not, and making sure what’s private is secured. It is simple, and anyone can pick up and play this. It helps secure ideas that are discussed in other sources in this post, but this being interactive the child has a part to play and directly affects the gameplay with their choices. The goal, in the end, is for the child to better understand online safety and netiquette. Google’s Interland videogame also has a free curriculum for educators that covers all the same topics covered in the game as well.
Cyber-Five is from abcya.com and it's an interactive animation about a pair of animal friends exploring the “cyber-five,” or the five rules of using a computer. The animation gets right to the point by explaining what each rule is and giving examples of what they do. This is an excellent tool for educators because this animation can be paused to discuss. This will likely also be useful in classroom discussion when used in the classroom setting. Parents can also use this by applying the cyber-five in real life, ensuring their children practice effective computer safety!
SafeKids.com is a massive resource that is more aimed at adults. It’s very comprehensive and tackles many topics. Some guides dive very deep and so this is a fantastic resource if you want a comprehensive guide to help teach children safety online.
Digital Citizenship & BrainPOP
BrainPOP also has a great section on Digital Citizenship. There are plenty of videos regarding things about digital citizenship, including copyright and plagiarism. Not only are the well-known BrainPOP videos here, but there are also games and lesson plans for educators! I have to say that of all the sources here, this has to be my favorite because of how accessible and popular it is.
And for younger kids, BrainPOP Jr. has always been a great website and teaching tool for educators and parents alike, so to see that they have a video on Internet safety is wonderful! They cover topics like how to deal with messaging with strangers, if you go to a site you don’t mean to go to, viruses, and passwords.
I hope you found these internet safety resources, parental control app recommendations, and free digital literacy activities helpful!
If you're looking for an easy PDF with all of these links for easy access, or to share with families, scroll up to the top of my page to subscribe to my email list (just check your email to opt-in) and then head to my resource library to grab this freebie today and feel free to share it with parents you are working with!