The Worst Things Your Kid Can Learn on the Internet

Being aware that kids can discover some iffy stuff online – and discussing what to do with the information – are the best ways to keep kids safe. By Caroline Knorr
The Worst Things Your Kid Can Learn on the Internet

Set a curious kid loose on the internet, and you have a match made in learning heaven. Unfortunately, for every geometry lesson on Khan Academy there are step-by-step instructions for something not just age-inappropriate -- but potentially illegal or dangerous.

While browser settings and parental controls can help keep your kids on appropriate sites, it's nearly impossible to shield them from every risky thing. But most tweens and teens who look up how to make fireworks, for example, are not reckless enough to try it. Try not to freak out if you find them searching for something iffy. That way, you keep the lines of communication open, and you can better help kids to think critically, ethically, and safely about what they find online.

Here are a few examples of the not-so-nice info kids can easily find, plus some conversation starters. (If you're really concerned that your kid's explorations are leading them into dangerous territory, you may need to take more serious action.)

    How to Drive
    You can learn anything on YouTube, even how to operate a vehicle. An eight-year-old boy apparently learned how to drive on YouTube. He then drove his little sister to the McDonald's drive-thru. It's not wrong to watch videos on how to drive – but they should never be attempted without the proper permit and an adult.

    How to Do Dangerous Experiments
    There are plenty of legit science games, sites, and apps that explain how to conduct experiments responsibly using the scientific method. But just as popular are videos that show step-by-step instructions for risky procedures such as "Fire in a Bottle," "Mentos and Coke," or an erupting volcano without proper safety procedures. Adding insult to injury -- literally -- are the so-called "fail videos" that show kids getting hurt in the process of doing these experiments. These can all lead to copycat videos where kids post their failures for others' entertainment.

    How to Make Fireworks
    Fashioning your own fireworks is popular around Fourth of July. If your kids are curious about it, you can find instructions that include all of the necessary safety precautions – including not attempting without an adult present.

    How to Vape
    Not only can you learn how to use an e-cigarette, you can also learn how to do what's called "vape tricks." Sort of like blowing smoke rings, vape tricks are done to entertain friends. Vaping videos and pictures of celebrities vaping make it look cool and fun, but it's obviously an unhealthy habit. Remind your kid that e-cig companies give vapes to celebrities for free so that they can be photographed by the paparazzi.

    How to Cheat
    Cheating instructions take advantage of the internet's anonymity. If no one can see you copying answers, using other's work, or even downloading game cheats -- who cares, right? Wrong. Because it's so easy to do, it's crucial to talk to your kids about behaving honesty and with integrity -- even when no one can see you.

    What you can do:

    Talk to your kids about your expectations for what they do online, including being safe and using common sense. Then, ask questions that prompt deeper thinking such as:

    • Is it ethical to teach people how to do risky activities online?
    • Do you think these lessons are accurate?
    • Who's responsible if someone gets hurt from attempting online instructions? Only the injured party? The original poster? The website?
    • What would you do if a friend wanted to do something harmful?
    • What are the best conditions for conducting experiments?
    • Just because you can find certain information online, should you look for it?

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    About Caroline Knorr

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    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 (4)

    Kid, 11 years old

    Now the internet has billions of people on it, with millions going on it on a daily basis, so there is bound to be one bad egg or two. With so many people on the internet, there will be a large minority of people who are messed up. These things are bad, yes, but they are nothing compared to other stuff on the internet. With some of the largest sites for viewing content being pornography related, kids most likely will be exposed to non-age appropriate things, and will definitely see something very graphic on it by the time they are 18. It doesn't matter what you do, this will happen. Now, the main thing we are speaking of is bad things on the internet, there are very messed up sites and such, and kids can learn some crazy stuff, ranging from how to kill someone and cover up their murder, how to kidnap someone and how to make drugs. This is not even a joke, this is true. Then there are sites like 4chan, where you can meet some very great people, but about 90% of the place is just... well not very child-appropriate is all I can say without scarring you. Sometimes kids will need VPNs to get into it, and VPNs can be used to access blocked sites and such. Overall, the best method of coping with this is to prepare your child. Do not sugar coat things. Go on the internet with them, block as many of these sites as you can with software to prevent them from going on these sites. Overall, you can not prevent your child from being exposed to these things. Just help them and hope for the best.
    Teen, 13 years old written by tabbcat248

    Unless your kid is a reckless six year old, I don't think you have anything to worry about. And cheating is definitely NOT the worse thing you can learn on the Internet...
    Adult written by Kathryn D.

    These aren't the worst things kids can learn on the internet. Sites like Wikipedia give access to a lot of content that isn't censored and is quite inappropriate. Fanfiction sites can introduce lots of themes and content that can lead kids to experimentation. Be very careful about these kinds of sites because, speaking as someone who has a very strong SafeSearch, it is very easy for these sites to slip through.


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