Parental Tips

How to Talk to Kids About Online Safety & Predators by Age

The following post was written by Moe McClanahan, a retired investigator with more than 20 years of law enforcement experience – nearly half of which was spent investigating Internet crimes against children. Moe now works with the Safe Surfin’ Foundation and co-authored our free eBook, C.R.A.M., A Parent’s Guide to Managing Kids & Technology.

As an Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Investigator, I educated the community on Internet Safety, presenting to kids and adults on the basics of online safety and trends of victimizations. I spent most of my time discussing the dangers of sexting, sextortion, and exploitation. My message is: What you post today will affect your future. My presentations are based on real cases involving child victims.

In January of 2016 our community suffered the tragic loss of 13-year-old Nicole Lovell. She met a Virginia Tech student online, developed a relationship with him, and after she told him that she may be pregnant, she was killed. He lured her out of her home late at night, took her to a remote area and stabbed her many times. He disposed of her body on the side of the road.

I learned later that she was present during one of my presentations and realized I needed to change the way I delivered my message, because I wasn’t reaching the kids. Nicole has been my driving force to not give up on educating and reaching more people.

A Better Way Forward

It helps to talk to your kids in an age appropriate way concerning online dangers. I learned to be specific about the message based on the age of the child and that what I said had to be relevant to their specific experience

Here are some conversation starters you can use based on your child’s age. Start with simple topics at a young age and then build on those conversations with more important topics. These conversations need to happen regularly. When the conversation is constant, kids feel comfortable sharing about their online activities. There’s no fear of punishment over the inappropriateness of others, just guidance on how to address it next time.

K-2nd Grade: Key Messages for Early Elementary School Aged Children

Teach them:

  • Never share passwords with anyone other than you, the parent. Write passwords down and keep them in a safe place.
  • Netiquette – how to act online. Always be kind. Learn more about Netiquette from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
  • The difference between real friends and “friends” online. Set up rules and expectations that kids can’t add friends that you don’t know, and to ask your permission first.
  • Never add or chat with anyone they’ve never met in person before. Explain that there are some bad people out there who want to hurt kids online.

3rd – 5th Grade: Key Messages for Tweens

Teach them the above plus:

  • Report any inappropriate behavior from friends online. This includes bullying and talking to strangers
  • YouTube/YouTube kids viewing should be age-appropriate. Place restrictions to protect them from seeing violent, pornographic and inappropriate material.
  • Only use devices in common areas. This means no devices in bedrooms or bathrooms. Kids are less likely to post or share inappropriate content in public areas of the house.

8th-9th Grade: Key Messages for Teens

Teach them the above plus:

  • Sexting & Consequences. It can cause embarrassment, lead to bullying, and it’s not something you can take back or delete. It also is against the law depending on the state
  • Don’t keep secrets. Teach them to report any inappropriate or sexual requests to a trusting adult, and reassure them they won’t get in trouble
  • There’s an open door policy. Tell them they can come to you about anything and you will listen without discipline. Set up expectations well in advance.
  • How to deal with Cyberbullying – it’s okay to tell an adult when it’s happening. They should learn how to stick up for themselves and others, and how not to be a bully.

10th – 12th Grade: Key Messages for Young Adults

Teach them the above plus:

  • Post with the future in mind. Talk about how what they post or share online will affect their reputation and their future, like being accepted to a college or getting a job.

If you’re unsure where to start, you’re not alone. That’s why we partnered with the Safe Surfin’ Foundation to release a free E-Book, C.R.A.M.: A Parent’s Study Guide to Managing Kids & Technology.

With C.R.A.M., you’ll learn practical tips to keep your kids safe online, how to talk to kids about predators by age group, how to recognize the signs of grooming, what to do if a predator contacts your child, and you’ll get device settings and safety tips for popular online games. Download your free copy today!