Digital Citizenship: Teach Your Kids About Online Predators
Sometimes, seeing is believing — especially for kids as they learn about some of the dangers of using the internet. That’s why the Bark team created a video to show children just how easy it is for an online predator to create a fake social media account and pretend to be a child. Watching it will help them learn an important lesson about digital citizenship: that people really aren’t always who they say they are online.
We’ve also come up with some discussion questions to help you talk about it with your child after you watch it. And because being a good digital citizen is about more than just knowing not to talk to strangers, you’ll find a resource bank at the end of this post with links to helpful blog posts, online safety experts, and nonprofits.
Watch How Easy It Is for Adults to Create Fake Profiles
Discussion Questions and Conversation Starters for After the Video
If you sat down with your child and watched the video together, that’s great! To help make sure they understood everything — and get them thinking about how it’s related to their own life — we’ve drafted some conversation starters. They’ll help you spark a dialogue so you can get insight into your child’s world and feelings around this very serious topic.
For kids 6–9
Kids this age don’t usually have a ton of experience talking with lots of people online — especially strangers. The way they use the internet usually revolves around watching videos, playing games, and chatting or texting with close family members. Here are some ways to get them thinking about online safety:
Make the connection between real-life stranger danger and online stranger danger. Start with tying it to a past discussion, if you’ve had one. If you haven’t, check out this helpful guide.
- Ask: “Remember when we talked about stranger danger? Why is it important that we don’t talk to strangers?”
- Follow up with: “Did you know that people on the internet you don’t know in real life are also strangers? Why do you think we shouldn’t talk to them, too?”
Explain why predators are dangerous.
But keep it light — kids don’t need to know all of the scary details. We recommend keeping the subject light and talking about “tricky” people.
- Ask: “How would you feel if a grown-up dressed up as a kid? You’d be able to tell right? On the internet, it’s harder to tell.”
- Follow up with: “Sometimes, on the internet, like when you play games or watch videos, adults pretend to be kids. They do this so other kids will trust them and they can be tricked easier.”
Create a few example situations to show how predators work in the wild.
- Say: “Pretend you’re playing Fortnite and using your microphone. What would you do if a grown-up voice started asking you where you live?”
- Follow up with: “Always tell me anytime someone makes you feel weird on the internet. I promise I will never be mad or upset — I just want to make sure you stay safe.”
Use an analogy they can understand. Compare online safety to physical safety.
- Ask: “If a stranger asked for the keys to our house, what would you say?”
- Follow up with: “It’s the same with being online. If someone asked for our address or phone number, you say no and tell me right away.”
‘Make sure they know that “tricky people” are the bad guys.
- Say: It’s never your fault if a tricky person sends you a message.”
For tweens and teens 10–13
By this age, many children will have their own phones. They’ll also have more experience with managing their online relationships with friends and family members. Some may even have a social media account (or a few). Questions for kids in this age range should involve a little more critical thinking as you delve into their personal experiences.
If you’ve never talked about this subject before with them, broach the subject gently.
- Ask: “Have you ever felt uncomfortable online?” Be understanding if you find out something you didn’t know about before.
Get them thinking critically about other examples of how strangers may act online.
- Ask: “Where do you think potential predators could hang out online?” (Examples they may say include: a chat room, in a DM, or even in YouTube comments. They can get creative.)
- Follow up with: “Where else could they hang out online? Why do you think they do this?”
Explain that online abuse is still dangerous — even if they never meet a predator in real life.
- Ask: “Do you think bad stuff only happens when you meet a predator in real life?”
- Follow up with: “They can send you inappropriate photos or make you feel weird, which is a form of abuse.”
Teach them that it’s never their fault if a stranger sends them a weird message or makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Say: “Nothing you do online means you deserve for someone to make you feel bad.”
For teens 14–17
Teenagers, as many parents know, usually live on their phones. By this age, they’ve probably been online for several years, and are experts at texting, chatting, watching videos, and listening to music. Social media is an everyday part of life and a huge aspect of their social life. Discussions with teenagers can be more serious and mature.
Get them thinking about other clues that a stranger may actually be an adult online. This can make them feel like they’re outsmarting bad guys.
- Ask: “The video showed that adults don’t talk like kids when they’re online. What are some dead giveaways that an online stranger would actually be an adult?”
Find out what they would do if a stranger started messaging them. They may instantly say they wouldn’t engage, but add these twists to show that it’s not always black and white:
- “What if they said they were a friend of a friend?”
- “How about if they seemed really nice?”
- “What if you and some friends wanted to “play along” with a stranger to fool them?”
- “How about if the stranger shared all of your favorite interests?”
Inquire about ways they may have encountered strangers online.If you ask your teen if they chat with strangers online, they’ll probably instantly say “of course not!” But to show that they may not always know 100%, try the following:
- Ask: “You’re in group chats right? Have you met *every single person* in each one?
Stress that no matter how they respond to a stranger, online it’s never their fault for what happens.
- Say: “Even if you messaged them back, I’m not mad at you.”
Teens can feel invincible, and that something bad could never happen to them. Consider reading this article about online grooming with them. Predators are master manipulators, and kids may not even realize that it’s happening.
Digital Citizenship Resources for Families
Helping to keep your kids safe online will be an ongoing conversation as they grow up. Digital citizenship isn’t just about avoiding strangers on the internet, it encompasses every facet of a child’s online world — including texting, social media, school work, and gaming. Here are some resources to turn to when you have questions. And as always, when in doubt: Talk it out. You can find more helpful internet safety information here.
Bark blog posts
- Here’s What to Do If Your Kid Is Sending Nudes
- The Stages of Online Grooming
- Difficult Topics: How to Talk with Your Kid
- What to Do If Your Kid Is Watching Porn
- How to Talk to Your Kids About Digital Citizenship
- Human Trafficking Awareness: What Parents and Guardians Need to Know
Online safety experts, nonprofits, and government agencies
Bark is a comprehensive online safety solution that empowers families to monitor content, manage screen time, and filter websites to help protect their kids online. Our mission is to give parents and guardians the tools they need to raise kids in the digital age.