5 Ways to Keep Your Child From Seeing Inappropriate Content Online
Here’s how to be a prepared parent in the digital age
We talk about the internet’s dangers all the time, things like hackers, identity thieves, and cyberbullies. Those dangers are why you need the best possible VPN you can afford and powerful antivirus software on all your devices. The internet isn’t just dangerous, though. It can be… well, crude. It’s like the Wild West out there, with gunslingers and rumrunners and houses of ill repute on every street corner.
And if you have kids, that crudeness represents its own sort of danger.
So, what do you do? Obviously, you can’t keep your kids off the internet — at least not forever. But how do you ease them online while keeping them from seeing things that they’re just not ready for yet? Well, if you’re looking for answers, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve got five tips for keeping your kids away from the web’s inappropriate content. So don’t fret. The internet may be like the Wild West, but by the time you’re finished here, you’ll be the new sheriff in town.
5 Ways to Keep Your Child Safe From Inappropriate Online Content
Inappropriate content seems to be lurking everywhere on the internet, around every corner, in places you might not expect. Even Spotify has recently come under fire for some of the pornographic content that shows up in album art. With so much to worry about, one approach just isn’t enough. You’re going to need five ways to protect your kids.
1. Use Technology to Your Advantage
If you’re trying to control technology, what better tool is there than technology? The digital world offers more control mechanisms than ever before, and together they can be a powerful weapon in keeping your kids safe.
- Parental Settings: Parental settings are perhaps the easiest way to block content. Many apps, sites, and programs these days let you control what your kid can do and where your kid can go.
- Privacy Settings: The apps, sites, and programs that don’t include parental controls often include privacy settings. These can be used as a substitute for parental settings. Typically, they let you take charge of who can friend your kids and who can message them. In some cases, they can limit what kind of content your kids can access.
- Device Settings: Many electronic devices — cell phones, tablets, laptops — let you set them up specifically for child usage. Settings can help you limit what kinds of apps kids download in the first place. They may also give you the power to keep track of what your child is doing online.
- Browser Settings: If your child’s device doesn’t offer child controls, their browser might. Many browsers come with child settings these days. Turn on Google Chrome’s Safe Search, and you can eliminate most of the inappropriate content your kids might be able to find. Again, it’s often handy to use browser settings, since they eliminate the need to set app and site settings individually.
- Pop-Up Blockers: Of course, lots of objectionable content isn’t on the sites themselves, but rather in the pop-up ads that accompany them. Pop-up blockers help make us all a little saner, but they can also be useful for keeping adult content away from children.
- Monitoring Software: Finally, there are a number of stand-alone apps designed to protect kids from inappropriate online content. Once you install a program like NetNanny, MamaBear, or Qustodio, the program itself blocks such content no matter where your kids might go.
Pro Tip: Turning on the parental controls in browsers like Chrome can help keep your kids safe. Those controls may also let you limit just how much time your kids spend online.
2. Communicate With Your Kids
Think you can just let a computer keep an eye on your kids? You can probably spot the problem with that idea. Technology is no replacement for actually communicating with your children. This starts with making sure the lines of communication are always open. Obviously, you’re their parent, not their best friend. But it’s important your child feels comfortable enough to come to you with questions, and that they understand why you’ve set the boundaries and limits you have.
Beyond this basic advice, be sure to do the following:
- Talk With Children About the Dangers: You can help kids better understand what content to avoid by simply talking directly with them about what sort of dangers are out there. If they know what to watch out for, they’ll be able to develop their own strategies for staying away from it. At the same time, you can let them know exactly why you’re concerned. They’ll know you care about them, but just as importantly, they’ll have an explanation for the rules.
- Be Open: You want to make sure your child knows that they can come to you if they have a problem or concern about something they’ve come across online. They should definitely know they can trust you to believe them if something on the internet has upset them. Beyond that, though, they should know that your first concern is their safety, and not simply whether or not they’ve broken a rule.
3. Monitor What They’re Up To
Again, technology can be incredibly useful for monitoring what your kids can and can’t see online, but it’s not foolproof. Keeping an eye on them yourself is. But what’s the best way to do that?
- Explore With Them: Take the time to get online with your kids. This can be a great bonding activity, and it gives your child an opportunity to show you what’s important to them. It’ll also give you the chance to find out what those sites and apps are like, so you can intervene if you need to. When you can’t explore with them, take the time to visit the sites and apps they use on your own.
- Create an Online Common Area: One way to guarantee you know what your kids are up to online is to make sure everyone browses in the same common area of your home. If you set this common room up early, your kids will be excited that you’re taking an interest in their activities. As they grow older, browsing together will just feel natural.
- Be Open and Transparent: Most childhood development experts say it’s a bad idea to spy on your kids. That doesn’t mean you can’t keep track of what they’re up to. It simply means that you should be open and honest about the fact that you’re monitoring them. Rather than sneak around behind their back and open up their browsing history, be transparent. Let them know that you’ll be looking, and explain to them why it’s so important to you.
FYI: Come across something illegal online? You can report it quickly and easily to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)1, a government resource that works with local law enforcement and the FBI.
4. Lead by Example
Kids learn by watching adults, and who are the adults they learn from the most? Their parents, of course. If they see you engaging in unsafe online behaviors or visiting questionable sites, they’re more likely to try those behaviors out themselves.
Of course, you’re an adult, and you live by a different set of rules. You might want to secure your accounts — not just so they can’t access accounts with no safeties, but also so they don’t see what you’re up to.
You might also try talking to them about what’s age-appropriate. Adults can do many things kids can’t: drink, smoke, go to R-rated movies. Talk with them about why some online activities are off-limits for now, but let them know that when they’re old enough, they’ll be able to make their own decisions about the content they view.
5. Teach Them What to Do If They Encounter It
All of the tactics above can help limit what your kids see on the internet. Here’s the unadulterated truth, though: you can do everything on this list, and they’ll probably still come across inappropriate content every once in a while. No parental controls or filtering software can catch everything. There will be times when you can’t watch what they’re up to. And even if you’ve taught them well, they won’t always make good decisions.
That’s why when you’re talking to your kids about safe practices, you should make sure they know what to do when they come across something inappropriate. Explain to them that they can use the back button, log out of the app, close the browser, or turn the device off altogether. That stops whatever they’re seeing instantly. In addition, encourage them to come to you and let you know what they’ve come across — and be willing to talk about how the content made them feel.
Other Ways to Keep Your Kids Safe Online
If you follow the five tips above, you should be able to handle almost any situation involving inappropriate content that might come up. But here are a few more quick suggestions to keep your kids safe when they’re online:
- Wait Until 8th: Want to guarantee young children don’t come across anything inappropriate online? The Wait Until 8th movement encourages parents to wait until kids are at least 8 years old to let them have their own mobile devices. There’s even an online pledge you can sign.
- Never Let Them Chat Alone: Even with privacy controls and parental controls, it’s never a good idea to let young children chat with anyone online by themselves.
- Monitor Shopping: It makes sense to monitor your kids if they’re shopping online — the last thing you want is a credit card bill for a life-size version of every character on Sesame Street. Beyond that, though, it’s a way to make sure they’re using best practices when making their purchases.
- Report Problems: Obviously, your primary goal is to keep your kids safe. Don’t forget, though, to report inappropriate or dangerous content to site managers or law enforcement when you come across it. That’ll help keep other kids safe as well.
- Install a VPN: A Virtual Private Network (VPN) assigns you an anonymous IP address and encrypts your data. A VPN ensures no one can track you or your kids when you’re browsing. Our favorite VPN? Check out our review of NordVPN.
- Install Antivirus Software: All your devices should have up-to-date antivirus software. Malware infections can obviously be a hassle, but they can also be dangerous. Some forms of malware are designed to steal passwords. Others let hackers track your movement. The better protected from malware you are, the safer you are.
- Limit Information Sharing: Both you and your children should limit what personally identifiable information (PII) you share with others online. Hackers, identity thieves, and other nefarious characters can potentially use any information about you against you. Share holiday photos while you’re at the beach, for instance, and home invaders know it’s a prime time to target your house.
You’re a good parent. You make sure your kids get to bed on time, you help them with their homework, you don’t let them have dessert until they’ve eaten their brussel sprouts. While you’re keeping them safe, don’t forget that one of the most dangerous places they can be is on the internet.
You can’t be there to watch them 24/7, and no monitoring software can catch every inappropriate image or post before they see it. If you put our five suggestions into practice, though, and use them in combination, you can be pretty sure that your kids will be safe — even online.
Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). (2023). Home Page.
Wait Until 8th. (2023). Home Page.