With a dangerous virus spreading rapidly in the U.S. right now, parents and caregivers have a lot to worry about in this “new normal.” School closures and government instructions to isolate ourselves from others particularly challenge those of us with children. As many of us are now trying to work from home, the reality is that our children are spending more time online and much of it may be unsupervised.
If your inbox and social media feeds are anything like mine, they’re flooded with ideas for online fun and learning- virtual tours of museums, artists livestreaming doodling classes and celebrities reading books. Truly, there’s a lot to be grateful for in the ways people all over the world are coming together to support one another online during this time. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sounded the alarm recently about something that we know all too well here at NCMEC: there is increased opportunity for exploitation with children going online more often and less supervised. On our CyberTipline, where the public can report online child sexual exploitation, we expect the numbers of reports may increase as the COVID-19 health crisis continues.
Fortunately, NCMEC has developed many resources to keep children safer online.
- Our NetSmartz program provides parents with critical information about what risks children face online through a variety of free resources available for viewing and downloading at home. Our one-of-a-kind perspective as the national clearinghouse for child exploitation informs all of our NetSmartz products, from videos to conversation starters and discussion guides that are easy-to-use with your children while you’re indoors together.
- Young children can watch videos and find activities in a safe online environment at our NetSmartz Kids website, as well as download our latest app, “Cloud Chaos,” for free. This challenging game encourages them to engage with our brand-new internet safety series, Into the Cloud, to learn about how to be safer online in a fun and developmentally- appropriate format.
It’s also critically important for adults to provide guidance and oversight of children’s online activities.
Children and teenagers need direction from adults about what they can do online, including how often and when they can use technology, what platforms they can use to post content and appropriate privacy settings. Young children should be monitored closely while online. Older children and teenagers will inevitably have more privacy, but parents should still convey clear expectations about appropriate behavior through frequent conversations and regular monitoring of their online activities.
Parents should be sure to “check-in” regularly with their children of all ages about what they do online. Ask specific questions about online friends and activities and invite children to share about positive and negative experiences online.
One of the best ways to start these conversations is to try using technology together! Look through social feeds with them, make funny videos to post together and team up to play games online. The more kids perceive that adults respect their interests, the more willing they will be to engage in conversations about rules and expectations. Ask them to show you what they like to do online and engage naturally in a conversation about online risks, responsible choices, how to report if something makes them uncomfortable and your expectations of their behavior online.
And keep in mind that any platform that children use online is an opportunity for offenders to gain access to potential victims. Adults should know what ‘red flags’ to watch for in their children’s behavior and how to report to NCMEC’s CyberTipline, as well as on the apps/websites themselves. As always, if you are concerned child is being harmed online, you should contact your local law enforcement agency or call 911 if they are in immediate danger.
For more tips about keeping children and teenagers safe online, check out the Protecting Your Children Online tip sheet, and explore more of NCMEC’s NetSmartz resources at MissingKids.org/NetSmartz.
Make sure you follow us on social media @NetSmartz. And stay tuned to hear direct from NCMEC staff about how they use and adapt our safety tips while working from home! We’re here to help keep our kids safe during these uncertain times.