From connecting with strangers to adopting inappropriate behaviors from peers, young kids are engaging in dangerous online behavior that can jeopardize their safety and well-being.

Earlier this year, (ISC)2, in conjunction with the Center for Cyber Safety and Education and Booz Allen Hamilton, released the Children’s Internet Usage Study ( Surveying students in grades 4-8 and their parents, the report focuses on the time youth are spending online and the suspicious behavior in which they are taking part vs. the frequency and content of which their parents are aware.

Despite receiving instructions on how to use the Internet safely, the report found that “40% of kids surveyed said they connected with or chatted online with a stranger.” Some children (21%) took even riskier chances and spoke to a stranger by phone. Though fewer tried to meet with a stranger they first encountered online (15%), children believe these strangers are friends who pose no threat. Eleven percent of those surveyed met a stranger either in their home, the stranger’s home, a park, mall, or a restaurant, often accompanied by a friend.
How parents can help
The more active kids are online, the more likely the potential of incidents, and the online reality is that even in the nicest of places, there are still dangerous things happening.

“It’s not responsible for a parent to say, ‘My kid is the greatest kid and would never do anything wrong,’” said Robert Reichmann, CEO of VISR, which aims to help parents keep their children safe online with its social media monitoring platform. “Instead, be there for them, talk with them about their online usage. The world is not the safest place for children right now, and we need to be a lot more vocal about what we want in a safer world.”

Technologies that will help parents support their children when they need it — rather than virtually spying on them — are ways to open the lines of communication.

And there are a variety of ways to protect kids online. Bill Carey, vice president of marketing at RoboForm, a password-management platform, said engaging in conversations about what personal information should and shouldn’t be shared online is a good place to start.

“Kids are naïve and don’t understand there could be danger lurking out there,” he noted.

Parents should be setting ground rules upfront, and the rules should be age-specific, especially when it comes to the sites and apps to which children are permitted access.

“Teach them to look for the HTTPS — for a secure site,” Carey added. “Those sites need to go through a process of getting approved.”

While it might seem insignificant, teaching children to use a secure and unique password for each site also provides a layer of protection.

“Teach them how to research a site,” he said. “Google it first and see if there are any negative reviews about it. Teach them not to be impulsive. They are just clicking and moving around. Teach them to slow down.”

Since the birth of Snapchat and Instagram, which gained popularity with the younger demographic before adults even knew it existed, kids have been taking greater risks and pushing their learned line of right and wrong a little further away with each click.

Joel Scambray, managing principal at Cigital, a technology company that works with application developers to build more secure software, said that most people who use technology — especially young people — are not concerned about risk. Rather than teaching kids about the threats and potential consequences, perhaps teaching them to be skeptical would provide an added measure of safety and lead to good online habits.

“This cyber world is 24/7. The expectation that a parent can control everything their child does online is unreasonable,” Scambray said. “Have a good, trusting relationship with children, and then enforce that with technology, where appropriate using restrictions, control panel privacy, Touch ID passcode, Find My iPhone, and other features [are] set up to help parents.”

Software can be dangerous, and many children have racked up thousands of dollars in cell phone bills or corrupted their home computers by downloading software.

“When bad software gets in, it’s taking control of a portion of your machine. As fun as the app economy is, you have to be skeptical,” Scambray added. As a household, learn together about how to evaluate the reputation of different links, and look at site ratings and application reviews from other users before visiting a site, engaging with others in the virtual world, and downloading applications that might be harmful.
In today’s virtual world, in which the You Only Live Once (YOLO) attitude encourages kids to take advantage of every opportunity to enjoy life, many young people are suffering from what is popularly referred to as FOMO, a Fear Of Missing Out.

“Internet access is changing childhood in ways that I had never seen before,” said Dr. Tracy Bennett, a psychologist with more than 20 years of clinical practice and the creator of Get Kids Internet Safe ( “Nine- and 10-year-olds are talking as if they are really worldly and sophisticated. The topics they are engaged in with the peers is alarming.”

When children are young, prior to being introduced to connected devices, parents help build a child’s emotional development skills. Virtual online environments, such as video games, social media, and websites, are not places that teach interpersonal skills. When children play together and a conflict arises, parents are able to step in to help with problem solving.

“We ask them things like, ‘How do you think that person felt when this happened?’ ‘How do you think that made your sister feel?’ They are building that teaching dialogue,” Bennett said.

Online, however, “they are not working things through, and no one is asking questions or guiding them on how to have that conversation. I really think parents are failing kids on this,” she added.

The (ISC)2 survey results concluded: “Parents are not always vigilant in their follow-through. They seem unaware of how late children are online (often at midnight or later on a school night and after 1 a.m. on weekends).”

Unfortunately, many, if not most, parents do not frequently monitor their children’s activity on social media sites. “They are aware that their children sometimes use the Internet in ways they don't approve, but don't always hold their children (especially younger ones) accountable for that behavior,” the survey concluded. Providing parents with the tools they need to connect with their children to better monitor and communicate with them is a good first step.