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online safety

Learn about privacy settings and keep lines of communication open with your kids. (Stock photo)

What parents need to know about kids’ online safety | Ask the Pediatrician

Tips for dealing with online bullying and threatening or suspicious messages.

Uggh. Online safety is a tricky and ever-changing topic. While we have been discussing online safety at home and school for some years, cyber bullies have evolving tactics. Sometimes, even if you are following all the online safety recommendations, a cyber threat or a message from an unknown person can get through.

Just like how you need to re-child proof your house every time your toddler gets to new developmental stage, online safety is also a moving target that requires updates and refreshers. It can be a vertical learning curve for parents to really understand the technology, privacy settings and how to protect kids.

Let’s talk about how to deal with online bullying and threatening or suspicious messages:

Online safety: tips for parents

Keep the lines of communication open with your child: First, encourage your child to tell you if they have received an anonymous or threatening message. They may feel embarrassed or concerned that they have done something wrong if they receive a creepy message. It is important to talk about it before it happens, so they know to tell you, know it’s not their fault and so they have a game plan in place.

Teach your child to avoid responding to anonymous messages: This is easier said than done. Most anonymous message are inoffensive seeming, and children may respond without realizing they are starting a conversation. It is important they learn that a scammer is skilled in keeping the conversation going and is trying to get personal information. Remind children to never respond to unknown messages and to never give out any personal information such as name, address, school or photo. Share your phone number, photos and personal information only with trusted friends or family.

Online safety: threats and bullying

If you receive a cyber threat, do not delete it: If your child does receive a cyber threat, it can feel natural to want to delete it and make it go away. Unfortunately, that makes it difficult to retrieve the message on many platforms. Take a screenshot of a cyber threat and save it, and do not delete the original message. This gives police something to work from when tracking down the perpetrator.

How to report cyber bullying: If your child, or you, receive a cyber threat report it to the police. If you feel that your immediate safety is at risk call 911. If you are in a safe place, you can make a standard police report. The police will interview you and help direct next steps. Once you or the police have gotten all the information needed, change passwords and phone numbers and delete apps or platforms where the threat occurred.

Privacy settings for online safety: This can be tricky because each platform has different settings and policies for privacy control. Many have settings that allow you to block messages from unknown senders, for example. Learn about the different sites and platforms to be sure you are using all of the privacy settings.

  • Some platforms have an option for individual privacy settings that prevent messages from unknown senders as well as separate privacy settings if you are part of a group (i.e. a Minecraft group for shared games). It is important to turn on privacy settings for both.
  • Pay attention to features like encryption, messaging and anonymity that predators may exploit. Considers avoiding platforms where you can’t control those features.
  • Consider a service or online subscription to help track family members and to monitor emails for flagged key words and send a parental alert.


General safety

We want our kids to feel independent while at the same time instilling safety practices.

  • Encourage children to walk on busy, frequently used roads when they are going to and from school and activities.
  • Have the child check in with family frequently and make sure a friend or family member knows where they are.
  • Consider occasionally changing walking routes and times, and don’t use earbuds when walking alone.

While you can’t monitor their every move, you can set them up for a safer digital experience by adjusting technology, setting ground rules and helping them understand risks and safer actions.


More from Dr. Block and Kaiser Permanente in Seattle’s Child:

About the Author

Susanna Block

Dr. Susanna Block, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente in Seattle and lives with her family in Queen Anne.