Children on the Internet

In a society where most households are connected to the Internet, children grow up with a natural familiarity with the Web. For kids, the Internet is used primarily as a means for leisure, recreation and communication with friends. Studies show that most online activity of children is messaging to communicate with friends, which demonstrates that for children, the Internet is more than a tool for accessing information but a place where they conduct their social lives.

Most parents admit that their children are far more fluent about the Internet than they are. In the ideal parent-child relationship, kids share their browsing interests with their parents, and inform them if they come across indecent Web content.  But this is not always the case, especially when there exists simple, and even random, access to the Web and inappropriate content.  A parent unfamiliar with the Internet is unaware of the dangers faced by his child, and it is strongly recommended that parents closely monitor their child's activity through time management software and content filtering means.  And it is important for parents whose children are in the same circle of friends to coordinate positions and actions to reduce social pressures on the kids, and to assure all the children are safe when surfing at a friend's home.

Why are Children more Vulnerable?

Children are at risk when surfing the net freely.  Their minimal life experience, their unawareness of the complexity of human nature, their lack of knowledge about relationships (sexual, emotional, love) and their natural innocence leaves them unprepared to deal with the dangers of the Internet.  Children may interpret abnormal behavior on the Web as normative, and as a result imitate these behaviors and develop a distorted view of reality.  When making connections with strangers, children or adolescents may be exploited by tempting perverts who may hurt them. Adolescents tend to develop overconfidence and test limits, and these characteristics on the Web may prove hurtful in the short term and cause long-term damage.

What complicates matters further is the gap between parent and child interests.  Parents generally utilize the Internet for information - news, online shopping or other services- and are less exposed to harmful content with these targeted, and usually shorter, surfing sessions.  Parents have a difficult time grasping the harmful things to which their children are exposed.

Will Exposure to the Internet make Children Smarter?

It is a common misconception that a child surfing the Web all day will be smarter as a result of the vast amount of information he is exposed to.  Most children visit the same leisure and communication websites; without proper guidance they are not exposed to the varied fields of knowledge available on the Internet.

Contact with Strangers

Online Chat is one of the most popular uses of the Internet.  For children it can be an expression of the need to communicate, to role play, to experiment with something new and to test limits.  According to research studies, when asked why they join chats knowing the dangers and lies by the aliases, junior high school children answered they enjoyed the challenging, stressful experience, and were confident that they were immune from any danger. Today most chat occurs through Facebook with children receiving frequents calls from strangers, or through "friends" whose identities have been stolen. 

According to Israel's Police, thousands of children were emotionally or physically harmed through chat, and the Israel Police estimated that a 25% of Israeli children online have received an indecent proposal.

Children and Exercise

In research conducted by the World Health Organization, Israel's children were ranked last in athletic activity, but were ranked fourth in use of technology (Yedioth Aharonoth, 17.6.08).

"Instead of physical activity and human interaction, children sit for hours at the computer or television, which results in poor patterns of physical activity.  Technology and devices have become the key components in the lives of youth.  Instead of connecting with each other in a human way, they connected through devices.  They are at risk of losing their social abilities, because they no longer have to interact in real fashion."  (Dr. Harel-Fish, Head Researcher in Israel for the WHO.) 

Effects of Screen Time on Health

New studies show that excess screen time affects children's health, and may increase the risk of various diseases. For details and recommendations, see Dr. Gadi Lissak's article here on our site.

Topics for Discussion with Children

Children must develop proper awareness about, and a proper approach to, the Internet.  Even at the elementary school level, children must learn the about the dangers on the Web.  One simple way to do so is to explain that when connecting to the Internet, we are connected to millions of computers operated by good people, by not so good people, and by bad people, and that one must learn to be careful and protect one's privacy.  Open communication between parents and children is critical, so that children are aware of boundaries, about managing one's time while online, about the dangers, and more.  Rules for Internet use should be defined by a parental authority, but it is important to dialogue with the children to create understanding and cooperation.  Each child should be comfortable telling his parents where he surfs, and feel comfortable to tell his parents if he was exposed to harmful content or harassed, threatened, or propositioned by a stranger.

Parents can receive assistance through time management software and filtering programs. Here, too, it is important to explain to the children through a healthy educational conversation why such accessories are useful.

How to Explain the Dangers without Arousing Curiosity

It is important to clarify that children who surf frequently, or who have friends that do, are more than likely to be aware of most of the threats on the Web.  It is the parents who are least informed about what is happening on the Internet, and their fears or awkwardness to discuss certain topics are unwarranted.  One can discuss almost every topic with middle school age children and older.  And the more open and natural the conversation, the more effective it will be.

Conversations with elementary age children can focus on the negative effects and risks that the child may be exposed to while online.  Here, too it is advisable to talk openly and naturally, and present the topics at the child's level of understanding.  There is no need to go into full detail and arouse interest in matters the child need not know at such as age, but rather speak in general terms.  For example, regarding explicit sexual content, the content need not be elaborated on, and it is sufficient to explain that there are people would do anything for money or attention, including taking off their clothes or other blatant acts.  Tell the child that if sees any such naked pictures, he should show you immediately. The same should be done with violent content.  One should discuss topics that are more relevant for the particular child, for example: If your child surfs a lot, discuss the dangers of addiction, the harm to physical health, and the waste of time.  If a child plays lots of games, talk about advantages against disadvantages (while looking at the game site), and let the child express himself and raise the dangers he knows first; only then add the additional dangers pertinent to mention, without being judgmental or critical.   Instead of talking directly about the negative exposure on your child himself, speak about what effect it has on society.  Lastly, it is not necessary to show examples of negative content sites unless the child asks about this.  Honest and open conversation will build awareness and understanding without incurring unnecessary curiosity.

If the children are still of young age, they should not surf alone.

From What Age Should a Child be Warned about Offensive Sexual Content, and How?

For a young or innocent child, it is not necessary to talk about sexuality.  Determining the appropriate age to discuss sex is not related to the Internet; rather, parents should decide when is the proper time based on the nature of each child.

If the child was already exposed to sexual content, one should determine the level of exposure and provide an appropriate and satisfactory explanation.  However, even if the child was not yet exposed, is important to give some advance explanation given the high risk of chancing upon such content on the Web. Young children can be told that the world contains some people with very blatant and disgusting behavior, as suggested.  A study asked children ages 5 and 6 what would they do if they suddenly saw disgusting naked people? The children answered naturally, "Just do not look at them."  While this is the ordinary reality, on the Internet it is often different. (Perhaps because it's only on the screen rather than in person; perhaps because the child is alone.)  Children should internalize the importance of informing their parents if they see any unusual or bizarre behavior.  Ultimately it is important the children don't surf alone and risk being exposed to difficult things to explain.

Adolescents who surf frequently at home, with friends or on their cellphones have likely been exposed to pornography.  And if not, they may be exposed to or hear about it from friends.  It's therefore important to initiate talks on the subject, building a positive awareness to sexuality as part of intimacy, love and creating life, as opposed to a negative view of sexuality when it is associated with extreme, deviant and perverse sexual behavior, resulting from human and social deterioration.  The child should understand that there are healthy intimate relationships, and unhealthy ones.  And the child should understand the emotional damage that may be caused.

See our article on how to deal with pornography.

How to Talk about Filtering Software

The child should understand that a filtering software program is not just a means to protect him, but also to maintain a cleaner and safer home or school environment, preventing the entry of harmful and inappropriate content, even at random.

Scheduled Browsing Hours

Set limits- preferably together with the child- on browsing time (hours per day) and the hours of the day in which surfing can occur (preferably times when a parent is present).  This will help children plan their time effectively and maintain a healthy balance of activities beyond screens.  For recommendations about age appropriate times, see our article on The Effects of Screen Time on Health.

Receipt of Email or Messages from an Unknown Source

Discuss with children the dangers of opening e-mails or downloading files from unknown sources, which may contain harmful content, viruses or spyware, even under the guise of innocent names.  If downloading is necessary using shared file software, consent of parents is preferred, as well as their being present while opening the file. 

Copyright Regulations

Explain to your children about copyright infringement, both from a legal and moral standpoint, when downloading material from the Internet, and explain the regulations about providing source credit, similar to that which is done with a quote from written material.

Sharing Personal Information

Explain clearly the danger of sharing personal information (name, address, passwords, email addresses, photos, etc.) on the Web, and that this should only occur with parental consent and through a secure site, and when the recipient's identity is known.  Children should learn to volunteer as little information necessary, and to use aliases instead of real names whenever possible. Indiscriminate sending of personal photos on the Internet may lead to the identification of a child, and even to possible blackmailing of the child.  Refrain from using a Webcam without the knowledge of parents. Since Webcams can be operated remotely, rotate the camera lens (if it is an external Webcam) to the side when not in use and refrain from using the Webcam in the bedroom to avoid any unknown violation of privacy.


Do not allow children to make contact with strangers via chat.  Thousands of children have been injured mentally or physically as a result.  Kids should be informed about the consequences that may arise, and that it is impossible to know exactly who is on the other side of the chat.  Sometimes there is a gap between a child's innocent desire to create a new friend, and intention of another to harm.  Explain that there are dangerous people continually seeking contact with children or teenagers, and give an example (such as Ophir Rachum, who was killed after meeting a woman he chatted with for months on the Internet).  Help them deal with the social pressure which pushes them to use chat.  Lastly, parents can use chat blocking or filtering programs.

Language and Communication

Encourage children to keep it clean and appropriate.

Internet Use on a Smartphone

It is strongly advised to not to allow young children to use smartphones.  With its constant access to the Internet from any location, and at any time, a smartphone is the leading to a child's abuse of technology.  The ability to surf the Web at any moment of boredom, and to access content without parental control and restriction, greatly affects children.  Peer pressure among kids to acquire a smartphone is very strong, so coordinate with the parents of other children to minimize it. For further details on smartphones, see our related article about Smartphones and Tablets on our website.

Awareness and Active Involvement

Encourage children to speak out and complain when they encounter inappropriate content or behavior.  Encourage children to support their friends who may have encountered inappropriate content or behavior, and encourage children to urge their friends to report such encounters to the authorities.

Dealing with Children Who Stumbled on the Internet

Due to the Web's easy accessibility to harmful content- even randomly- it is important not to be judgmental of children if they stumble.  The child may have been a victim of deception and exploitation; instead of accusations and shouting, he will need support and assistance to weather the problem.  Here are some suggestions how to deal with a negative encounter on the Web:

A. Understand the complexity of the experience; discuss it openly with your child, and explain the severity without being accusative.

B. Find out about other locations where a similar incident may occur for your child (E.g., at a friend's home, etc.).

C. If there is fear of addiction or post-traumatic stress, contact a professional for advice.

D. If the child is exposed to pornography: 

For a child under the age of 8 - explain that people do unusual things to draw attention.  There is no need to talk about sex.

For a child over the age of 8 – First determine from the child what exactly was viewed; how many people engaged in the act, their gender, if it was only nudity or an actual sexual contact.  If a sexual act was observed, provide a simple explanation about sex and procreation, and explain that what was seen was not a positive example of that, but rather a crude display by people seeking attention to make money.

For an adolescent teen – Talk with the child about passion as a positive force, and how to keep such passions in check so they do not erupt uncontrollably.  Discuss about relationships, love, sex and the creation of life.  Clarify that healthy relationships are very personal and intimate, and infused with emotion and love.  Highlight the devastating consequences of viewing sexual content and how it can cause short and long term harm and lead to the development of uncontrollable impulses, perversion, addiction, distorted views about sex, masturbation, and loss of contact with reality.