Do you know what your kids are doing online?

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For parents, keeping kids out of trouble is a never ending struggle. With kids now spending so much of their time online, the phrases “look both ways before you cross the street” and “don’t talk to strangers” have taken on a whole new meaning. So, how do you really know what your kids are up to online? And how can you make sure that your kids stay out of trouble?

Keep an eye on the indicators

 As a parent, you know your kids better than anyone. You know best when something is… off. Fortunately, there are a number of behavioral changes that can clue you into your child’s relationship to the internet, social media, and their connected devices. 

Going online after hours 

One example is frequent night-time browsing. You know the old adage, “nothing good happens after midnight?” There’s a reason that so much risky or inappropriate internet usage occurs “after hours”: kids are alone with their devices outside of supervised school or home environments. Fortunately, there are a few best practices you can follow to monitor or even limit this behavior: 

  • Track screen time, usage, and activity history. You can learn a lot about what your kids are up to online by tracking their usage. Most smartphones now include native apps that track screen time, breaking it down by app, time of day, and so on. These usage reports are a great starting point for parents. 
  • Keep devices out of the bedroom. If kids are going to use a smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer after school, make sure they do so in a common area where they can be monitored by parents, siblings, or caretakers. Put simply: your phone, tablet, or laptop stays out of your room after a certain time at night.
  • Set screen-time limits and curfews. A simple but effective tactic. Establish a “hard stop,” after which kids are not allowed to use their screens any more. This could be after they’ve surpassed a certain amount of time, or after a specified hour. Alternatively, you can enforce screen-time limits and curfews on each device using software, such as ESET Parental Control

Unauthorized account transactions

We frequently meet parents who were completely unaware that their kids were spending money on in-app microtransactions. This can happen when devices default to the parents’ app store accounts, for instance, or when two-factor authentication for purchases hasn’t been set up (or is intentionally disabled). 

A 2020 survey revealed that 31% of parents say their kids spend money on Fortnite. Then there are the horror stories of kids unwittingly emptying bank accounts on in-app purchases. We recommend that you periodically scrutinize your bank and app transaction receipts to make sure there are no surprises. 

Ask yourself a few questions: 

  • Do you know which accounts your kids have access to? 
  • Does your child have the ability to download and install free and premium apps on their devices? 
  • Are they authorized to make in-app purchases, or order products from your Amazon account?

Distant, secretive, or new and unexplained behavior

While we’re hardly advocating that parents create surveillance states in their homes, or an atmosphere of fear, it is important to pay attention to the signs. Again, you know your children best, and there are a few indicators that might tip you off to things like cyberbullying, online grooming, or digital addiction.

  • Hiding accounts, email messages, and other online behavior is a common warning sign that kids might be up to something unsavory online.
  • Growing more distant from family life. Online predators work very hard to drive a wedge between a child and their family, and will try to exploit relationships to gain more influence.
  • Physical changes, loss of appetite, mood swings, and school avoidance could be indicators of cyberbullying. Learn more about how to spot if your child is a victim of cyberbullying.

What to do if you notice any of the behavior

First of all, sit down with your child to discuss the potential risks that lurk in cyberspace. Talk to them openly and be honest if you have any suspicions. Educate your children about the kinds of malicious actors that are out there, so that they know how to avoid harm.

Often, these are learning experiences for both children and their parents. 

You can also spend some time with children online and let them show you their favorite websites, social media platforms, and apps. Have them show you their favorite things about these channels, how they typically use them, and what their profiles and connections list look like.

If you do opt to monitor device and app usage using parental control software, let your kids know how and why you are doing so. This can help reinforce the guidelines for safe and healthy screen time that your parental controls are designed to enforce and monitor. 

To that end, do consider a cybersecurity tool to give you more control over what your child does online. Our own solution, ESET Internet Security, includes robust parental controls for all of your devices. With ESET Internet Security, you can limit the time your child spends playing games or browsing the web, track and limit screen time, and filter certain categories of content. 

Yet, this solution is about more than control. It’s about educating children about being safe online and opening a channel for dialog about what content is appropriate for them. Through the application, your kids can have their say on what is okay by requesting permission to access websites that have previously been blocked or ask for extra time to play games or surf the web.

In our experience, working together with children, having open and transparent conversations, is the best way to keep up with what they’re up to online.

About ESET

For 30 years, ESET® has been developing industry-leading IT security software and services for businesses and consumers worldwide. With solutions ranging from endpoint and mobile security, to encryption and two-factor authentication, ESET’s high-performing, easy-to-use products give consumers and businesses the peace of mind to enjoy the full potential of their technology. ESET unobtrusively protects and monitors 24/7, updating defenses in real-time to keep users safe and businesses running without interruption. Evolving threats require an evolving IT security company. Backed by R&D centers worldwide, ESET becomes the first IT security company to earn 100 Virus Bulletin VB100 awards, identifying every single “in-the-wild” malware without interruption since 2003. For more information visit or follow us on  FacebookYouTube and Twitter.