How Can I Protect My Child From Strangers Online?

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My 9-year-old son spends a lot of time on the computer surfing the Internet and instant messaging his friends. But I worry about him getting into trouble with strangers online. What can I do to protect him?
- Brian

Simple surfing and instant messaging with friends are common activities for kids — and generally safe, if you've discussed some rules of use with them. Chatting with strangers, however, may be a different story. Although there's no way to know the actual risk, the FBI cautions that kids whose Internet activity isn't monitored are most at risk for being exploited.

Keep the computer in a common room in the house, rather than in your son's bedroom. Take an interest in the sites your son is visiting and the people with whom he is chatting (some shady characters pose as kids or teens in chat rooms to seem less threatening). Warn him never to give out his personal information (his phone number, name, address, school name, etc.), agree to meet in-person anyone he meets in a chat room, or share any photographs.

Urge your son to introduce you to any new "friends" he meets online and to tell you if he ever feels uncomfortable about conversations that take place. Most important, talk to him about the dangers of interacting with strangers online and remind him that people online often don't tell the truth. The FBI also recommends that parents maintain access to young kids' online accounts and randomly check their email.

Finally, you can use parental controls offered by your Internet service provider or through blocking and filtering software.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: July 2013

Related Resources

Web SiteNSTeens This site for teens offers advice on topics like online safety, social networking, and cyberbullying.
Web SiteNetsmartz Kids Through games and activities, this site helps kids understand how to stay safe online, especially when communicating via instant messaging and social networking sites.
OrganizationFederal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Visit the FBI website for Internet safety tips for kids and parents and other safety information.
OrganizationFamily Education The best of the Internet's content, resources, and shopping for parents.
Web offers information about Internet safety and homework help for teens.
Web Sitei-SAFE America i-SAFE teaches kids and teens how to be safe on the Internet.
OrganizationCyberangels is an Internet safety organization that seeks to address the concerns of parents, the needs of children, on-line abuse and cyber crime.
Web SiteWiredSafety This online safety group provides help, information, and education to mobile device users of all ages. The site covers everything from identity theft to cyberbullying.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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