5 Myths and Truths About Kids' Internet Safety

Help keep your kids' online experiences positive and productive by learning the truth (and ignoring the rumors) about what really makes them safe.
Caroline Knorr Senior Parenting Editor | Mom of one Categories: Privacy and Internet Safety
Senior Parenting Editor | Mom of one
5 Myths and Truths About Kids' Internet Safety

If you believe everything you hear about kids online, you might think pedophiles and cyberbullies are around every cyber-corner. Yes, there is bad stuff out there. But the truth is, there's a lot of good, and some experts are arguing against a "techno-panic mindset" that worries parents unnecessarily. The bottom line is that we can't keep our kids safe if we don't know the facts. Here are the five most popular myths about Internet safety -- and the truths that can set your worries free.

Myth: Social media turns kids into cyberbullies.
Truth: There are many reasons why a kid might cyberbully, and social media is just a convenient way to do the dirty work.

The reality is that kids who engage in this behavior typically have something else going on that compels them to act out. They might be in crisis -- at home, at school, or otherwise socially. They may also be bullying in person, or they may have an underdeveloped sense of empathy. Awareness of a cyberbully's circumstances -- though not excusing the behavior -- can help parents and educators recognize the warning signs and potentially intervene before it goes too far.

Myth: Teaching kids not to talk to strangers is the best way to keep them safe online.
Truth: Teaching kids to recognize predatory behavior will help them avoid unwelcome advances.

In today's world, where kids as young as 8 are interacting with people online, they need to know the boundary between appropriate and inappropriate conversation. Kids are often pressured by their own friends to talk about sex, so they need to know it's OK to tell peers to back off. Go beyond "stranger danger" and teach them what kind of questions are not OK (for example, not OK: "Are you a boy or a girl?"; "Where do you live?"; "What are you wearing?"; "Do you want to have a private conversation?"). Also, teach kids to not go looking for thrills online. Risky online relationships more frequently evolve in chat rooms when teens willingly seek out or engage in sexual conversation.

Myth: Social media alienates kids.
Truth: Most kids say social media strengthens their relationships. 

Most kids want to have fun, hang out, and socialize normally online -- and in fact, according to the Pew Research Internet Project, that's what the majority is doing. Check out these comforting stats:

  • 57 percent of all teens have made new friends online
  • 84 percent of boys who play networked games with friends feel more connected when they play online 
  • 68 percent of teen social media users have had online friends support them through tough or challenging times

And how about the kids who've fought cyberbullying and used the Internet for a social cause? More and more, kids are harnessing the power of the online world -- and busting up a few myths along the way.

Myth: It’s dangerous to post pictures of your kids online.
Truth: If you use privacy settings, limit your audience, and don't ID your kids, it’s pretty safe.

Although it's true that posting anything online invites some risks, there are ways to limit them if you're smart about how you do it.

  • Use privacy settings. Make sure your privacy settings are set so only the closest people in your network can view your posts.
  • Limit your audience. Only share posts with close family and friends. Or use photo-sharing sites such as Picasa and Flickr that require a log-in to see pics.
  • Don't rush your kids into social media. Obey the rules about keeping kids under 13 off social media. Once your kids have an online profile, they can be tagged in photos, which magnifies their online presence. If you're going to upload photos of them, don't identify them and don't tag them -- that way the photo can't be traced back to them.

Myth: Parental controls are the best way to monitor my kids’ online activities.
Truth: Focusing on only one Internet safety method lulls you into a false sense of security.

To keep your kids safe online -- and to raise them to be responsible, respectful digital citizens -- it takes more than installing parental controls. For starters, parental controls can be defeated by determined kids. They also often catch too much in their filters, rendering any Internet search useless, and they set up a "parent vs. kid" dynamic that could backfire.

By all means, use parental controls to help prevent exposure to age-inappropriate material and to manage time limits. But don't think they get you off the hook. Continue to discuss responsible, respectful online behavior, set rules and consequences for misbehavior, and train your kid to manage his or her own usage. 

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About Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more

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Comments (6)

Parent written by charlene02

It's hard to find the balance between protecting my son and respecting his privacy, but in the end, I still decided to use parental control software (Alvosecure). Of course I still discuss responsible usage (refraining from the porn sites, please, please, please), and in the end I think it's worked out well. The parental control for me is back-up.
Adult written by isaaclee

Well. all though the internet can be full of interesting things to look at, it can also be very dangerous if you don't know how to be safe. When it comes to social media, be careful what you say because anybody can act like somebody else and may want to know your personal information. There is also advertisments that can cause a big problem. I would suggest, know what you are doing just to be safe.
Kid, 12 years old

I must agree with you, person below. However, I would also like to mention that it is creepy to be asked such information that goes absolutely nowhere.
Kid, 11 years old

I believe that giving out your first name, gender, and state are acceptable online. The person can go almost nowhere with such vague information, even if you give your age. There are so many people in one state with your age, even in your town. I wouldn't go as far as town, especially if you give your last name. Some personal information can be "alright' if it is monitored by an adult. According to my instructional technology teacher, this information is okay to give out online.
Adult written by Arlenelm

This is very relevant article these days. Thank you for posting it. Social media trend is spreading like fire even among adults. Naturally kids also are attracted to them. But the problem comes when they don’t know what to do or what not to do in a social network. When internet service providers like terago.ca/fixed-wireless-technology.html are giving high speed internet and their parents buy it for them to access, most kids especially teenagers will be excited to join social networks where their friends hangout. We can’t blame them uploading their own photos for their friends to see. But what they don’t know is, by default not just your friends but the entire social network can see your photo. This mistake can happen to not just kids, but to adults also. In the current situation, not setting privacy settings right is a big mistake for kids as well as adults. Chatting is another thing every social media lovers attract to like flies to fire. If you are chatting and sharing with your real life friends and relatives, then it is fine. But when kids go to a public chat room, then it becomes dangerous.No one knows what kind of people are active there.
Educator and Parent written by Cyber Safety Lady

Thanks for this Caroline, I agree with most of what you say absolutely! As far as uploading photos of your kids on social media, I do have to say that right now it's still highly dangerous, in the main because the privacy settings on most social media are not infallible. I work with families who have suffered greatly because their precious family photos have been used by others to hurt them or in ways the parents object to. No privacy settings stop people from screen shooting photos or in many cases simply downloading them. Also facial recognition is already active on Facebook, and will become, in the future even more accurate. So naming or tagging kids will be unnecessary in the future to identify them. I think the best advice for uploading photos of your kids online is to take part of what you have advised, use services set up to share photos privately, and only share them with a select few trusted members. This obsession some have with uploading every cute photo of their child is often done naively and often with no privacy settings set up at all. Much more education around privacy online and safe alternatives needs to happen before I'd suggest that it's safe to post personal photos of our kids online. Online safety only works well with a combination of understanding the technology, privacy awareness, caution and some common sense :) Love this site, and recommend it as part of my Cyber Safety education classes and talks here in Australia.

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