The internet hasn’t been around for long. Still, it plays a central role in our lives and our children's lives as they experience education, socializing, entertainment, and other aspects of life through their connected devices.
But since parents may be overwhelmed by the broad threats across the web in general, we think it could be useful to compile all these possible risks into one article and explain them one by one.
This way, parents can have go-to resources for understanding the various risks their kids may face and know what must be done to address them effectively.
Hopefully, this will make the entire experience of digital parenting less daunting and give parents much more leverage as they set out to create a safe and secure online environment for kids. Let’s get started.
What Counts as an Online Risk?
Since there are so many types of risks to consider in the online environment, we’ll start by breaking them down into a few major categories and help make sense of them for parents.
Can online interactions lead to situations that compromise a young person’s physical safety? As cases have shown, this is a real risk, although rare.
Online predators can piece together digital identities that allow them to blend into digital spaces where young people go and socialize. They then execute plans that can give them information about location and other real-life data points that could be extremely risky.
The most infamous example here is the “chat rooms” of the 90s and 2000s, which still exist today to some degree. However, tech has advanced to the point where nearly every app has some social element, from content creation platforms to video games, streaming services, and others.
Another concern related to physical safety is the role of smart homes and connected device networks for home security, appliances, and more. With the added convenience of these tools comes other risks that parents must understand and plan to protect.
The emotional toll of being online is especially high for kids and teenagers, particularly as they find their way through the social pressures of growing up.
Parents are aware of cyberbullying and other harmful social interactions that can happen online, not just between known peers but also strangers and anonymous users.
Social interactions are just one aspect of this risk, as well.
Studies have repeatedly shown that young people report heightened feelings of generalized anxiety, depression, and other emotional health issues from extended time spent online.
Social media is a high-pressure environment where young people can play mental games, and self-esteem or body image issues may worsen.
These risks are especially concerning for parents because the cause may not be clear from the start, and kids and adults need to have an open conversation about these risks if red flags start to appear.
Some risks are specific to individual users or families and don’t fit neatly into any particular category of concern.
Internet and screen usage in general impact people in countless different ways, and every family has a unique experience with these technologies.
If you have a concern about your children’s use of the web or any sort of tech, you should take it seriously, even if it doesn’t match up with what you’ve read or the experience of other families in your immediate circle.
11 Online Risks Parents Should Know
Let’s get into specific risks parents should have on their radar, no matter how old their kids may be or how their households use the internet.
1. Screen Time and Addiction
Nearly every parent can relate to this one: too much screen time is a real problem for a generation of young people raised on tablets, TVs, and computers.
The average child spends upwards of five hours online each day, and that number is only rising as schools and social interaction necessitate the use of this tech.
Parents should promote a healthy balance between physical and digital activities for kids, ensuring that they get outside, play sports, exercise creativity, and don’t miss out on the memorable parts of childhood.
2. Exposure to Inappropriate Content
Inappropriate content can mean different things for various age groups, but parents generally know it when they see it – and must do their best to block it from view.
A huge percentage of content on the internet is adult by nature (sexual or violent material), so adults do face a challenge in this regard.
However, content filters have improved dramatically in recent years, and parents better understand what policies work to keep inappropriate content at bay.
3. Negative Social Interactions Online
Social interaction is a large part of the online experience, and this can be particularly difficult for parents to monitor and protect kids in real-time.
Social media and chat rooms are just part of the risk here. Video games are also generally unfiltered with live chats, and despite age-restricted environments, young people can still find themselves in spaces with unwanted input from adult participants.
This type of risk takes some more proactive monitoring and engagement from parents to protect children and promote a safe environment.
4. Vulnerabilities to Online Predators
There is no shortage of predators online, and kids must be taught how to deal with strangers properly.
Kids need to recognize red flag behaviors from YouTube and Facebook to their favorite games and apps.
They also need to learn the confidence necessary to leave uncomfortable conversations and report suspicious users quickly. Parents can make a big difference here in what – and how – they teach their children about strangers online.
5. Identity Theft Scams
We think of identity theft as mainly a concern for adults, but kids are often targeted as “weak links” and can end up compromising family information if they aren’t made aware of scams.
With so many online environments and ways to harvest info, scammers now target kids within apps rather than only chat rooms or emails.
This can make it difficult to discern what is legitimate or not. Generally, kids should be taught to disregard any online offers unless reviewed and validated by parents.
6. Economic and Spending Traps
Children can be hooked by online games or digital economies where the real money is used to buy online items, equipment, costumes, and other goods.
Parents are more aware of this phenomenon than before, ensuring that credit cards are not attached to kids' accounts. If purchases are to be made, they must be accessed by password or another authentication form.
7. Posting/Sharing Regrettable Content
It’s never too early to learn that what gets posted online is likely to stay online, even if you think it has been deleted.
Parents should teach kids to stay on the side of caution when posting or sharing content on the internet, whether it’s personal info, pictures, videos, or even opinions on social media that seem innocent or harmless at the time.
8. Misinformation and Dangerous Groups
Many dangerous or deceptive groups exist online to recruit young members and even blackmail unwitting users.
Kids should be made aware of these groups and the misinformation they push online to attract young people with edgy or rebellious materials.
9. General Security Threats
The more our devices and appliances become interwoven with our home networks; the more important cybersecurity practices become for ourselves and our children using the web.
No longer are we only concerned with bank accounts and health info, but hackers can also now tap into our home security systems, garage doors, vehicles, and other connected assets.
These risks are not so common now but should be on our radar moving forward with smart homes and the internet of things.
10. Mental Health Issues
More young people are suffering from mental health issues due to too much technology use. Parents have a responsibility to talk with kids and make sure they have a healthy relationship with tech and the people they’re connecting with.
11. Miscellaneous Safety Concerns
Any strange or uncharacteristic behavior is worth noting for your kids and their experiences online.
The internet is constantly changing, and so are the risks associated with kids as they grow up with technology. Parents should have strong, router-based parental controls in place, along with clear family policies that are always upheld and adjusted if necessary.
Teach the Truth About Online Risks
It’s important for parents not to be paranoid about online risks but not to bury their heads in the sand about these issues.
Use this guide as a framework to assess the risks you face with your own family and how they use technology, then implement the policies and solutions you see fit to create the ideal digital environment moving forward.
Threats On Social Media | Experian
Internet Safety | Kids Health
5 Risks For Youth Online | Engage Together