Keenan Blog

Keeping Kids and Teens Safer Online

July 06, 2020

Like many of us during these days of social distancing, kids and teens are spending more of their time online. It’s a way for them to stay in contact with their friends, served as a vital link for students to keep up with learning, and is probably helping to fill some of the hours that feel like this pandemic will never end. But just as we all are doing more remotely through the Internet, we should all stay aware of those who use technology to exploit and abuse children.

Online abusers have perpetrated various tactics to victimize young people long before anyone knew about coronavirus. From cyberbullying by their peers to predatory adults who groom child victims or use illegally obtained images through web cams for sextortion, children can be at serious risk when they are online. It’s a shockingly widespread problem. According to 2019 statistics from the Cyberbullying Research Center, more than one-third of 12- to 17-year-olds have been subjected to cyberbullying. The overwhelming majority of online perpetrators used personal information from social media and sensitive details from victims themselves.

Parents are in the best position to protect their children from these cyber dangers. It may be a challenge, but knowing just how and where your kids are using computers and smart phones, and the kinds of applications they are accessing is the first defense for lowering their risks. Your internet provider may have parental control features that let you see or restrict the sites they are accessing. Their devices have privacy settings that can help keep personal information out of the wrong hands. Explore your options to reduce the chances for your child to unknowingly give their information to others. Child identity theft is another way cyber criminals victimize families and they can be very skillful in gleaning small bits of data from a child’s online footprint to assist their crimes.

It’s impossible for you to be with them every minute they’re online, and you are likely to hear that staring over their shoulder is intrusive. Nevertheless, you can accomplish a lot by having an ongoing dialog with them about their activities. Talk to them regularly about how they are using technology, the social media they access, and with whom they are texting and emailing. Instruct them in what they should never post online and the consequences of inappropriate conduct. Most importantly, be sure they know they can come to you if they ever feel uncomfortable about anything they encounter online and that you will help them. Reinforce that it is safe for them to come to you about any threat and that you will assist them supportively for any mistakes in judgment.

Discuss the dangers they can potentially face online, but always keep in mind what is age-appropriate for the individual child to comprehend and apply to their online behavior. You can be more frank with a high school age teen. In addition to the risks of victimization, they should also be aware of how their social media posts could affect their future prospects with colleges and employers. They should know that once they put something out there, it’s probably out there permanently. A post that is read years later could be one that they regret. It’s good advice – for kids, as well as the rest of us – to think twice before we hit “send!”

For more information about preventing child abuse, exploitation and bullying, please visit the Keenan School Safety Center which includes resources for talking to your children and educational links.

About Greg Trapp
Greg has worked in the insurance industry for 27 years.  He has been with Keenan & Associates for 18 years as the Vice President of  Property and Casualty Schools.  Greg works with nearly 50 school and community college districts in Southern California.