FBI Norfolk
Norfolk Public Affairs Office
September 15, 2020

FBI Norfolk Helps Parents Teach Internet Safety to Kids

This was originally published as an article in the November 2019 issue of Tidewater Family Plus with the title "Internet Safety Tips."

Computers, mobile phones, tablets, and video game systems are just a few technologies that connect your child to the world every day. But, do you know exactly who in the world is connecting with your child? Online predators, identity thieves, and cyber bullies use online gaming platforms, social media, and dating and video chat apps to target underage victims. What can you do to protect your child in cyber space? Special Agent Stacey Sullivan of the FBI Norfolk Child Exploitation Task Force offers advice to parents.

First, understand your child’s Internet activity. Know all the devices they have access to and familiarize yourself with the social media sites, apps, and online games they use to communicate with their friends. Parents should also be aware of their children’s access to the Internet outside of the home – at school, daycare, or in their friends’ homes. Special Agent Sullivan says, “One of best ways to learn about their Internet activity is to ask your child. Have them show you all their social media apps and walk you through how each one works. Talk about where they go online, the content they see and share, and ask questions about what they find interesting – what they like to Google.”

Set clear rules and closely monitor their online activity. Take advantage of free parental control options and designate one place in the home where your children are allowed to access the Internet. “Everything they do on the Internet, whether it’s on a phone, tablet, or game, should be done in a central location where you can see it, such as the family room or kitchen table,” says Special Agent Sullivan.

Many families also set device curfews or impose time limits on gaming, and some parents store mobile electronics in their bedrooms at night to maintain control of the device.

Next, teach appropriate and safe use of the Internet. The most important messages to teach are simple: many people online are not who they say they are, never communicate with people you don’t know, and be careful about what you share. Some adults use the Internet to hide who they are by pretending to be an age-appropriate or relatable friend. According to Special Agent Sullivan, parents should teach children to communicate only with people they know in real life – friends they see regularly at school, clubs, and sports, or grandparents and trusted relatives. “You would be surprised at how many teens are friends with or even dating people they have never met.” She says it’s a good idea to go through your child’s friend list together and ask them to tell you how they know each person. “If they don’t have regular, appropriate personal interaction with that person, the friend should be deleted.”

Parents should also talk to their kids about the dangers of sharing personal information – such as their home address, school, or class schedule – and the consequences of posting inappropriate content – such as revealing photos or videos – or making hoax threats. 

Finally, understand that it is never too early to start these conversations. “Even if you think they are too young, they are not too young,” indicates Special Agent Sullivan. These conversations not only warn children about online dangers, but can open lines of communication that make it easier for kids to approach their parents without fear of judgment or punishment. “If they are not sure what to think about a suspicious friend request or message, or if they have been bullied or victimized in some way, you want them to feel comfortable with asking you for help.”

If your child becomes a victim, immediately contact local police or the nearest FBI field office, and report the issue to the social media platform on which it occurred. Special Agent Sullivan stresses that parents should never attempt to communicate with the predator or try to take matters into their own hands. “Most importantly, listen to your child with kindness and understanding. Let them know you are sorry this is happening to them and you want to help.”

By understanding your child’s Internet activity and setting rules and expectations for them, you can help direct them towards safer Internet habits. You can’t always be there when they go online, but you can empower them with the right tools to navigate the Internet safely and avoid dangerous connections.

Resources to Keep Kids Safe Online

To help parents and educators teach cyber safety, the FBI offers the Safe Online Surfing program for students in grades 3 through 8. This free, interactive resource uses games, videos, and other activities to address issues like cyberbullying, passwords, malware, social media, and more. For additional information, visit sos.fbi.gov

For more Internet safety tools, visit www.missingkids.org/NetSmartz

To file a cyber crime complaint online, visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call the FBI Norfolk Field Office at (757) 455-0100. You can also contact the FBI National Public Access Line at 1-800-CALL-FBI.

Allison Phillips
Public Affairs Specialist
FBI Norfolk Field Office