Beyond TikTok and Roblox: A Parent’s Guide to Expanding How Kids Use the Internet (Part 3 of 3)


While children are adept at navigating social media and playing online games, seemingly without instruction, there are so many unused and unexplored parts of the digital world. Kids’ digital education is often lacking so parents really need to take the time to work on expanding how kids use the Internet.

What good is this vast and exciting tool if we don’t know what it can be used for or how to use it? As an adult, do you really understand how to use and make the most of the world of the Internet? Lots of people don’t. 

Do you use the Internet as a simple and immediate search tool for information, news, shopping, and connecting to others? There are so many layers to what the Internet offers us that we need to understand it better to improve our use of it, our ability to be safe and understand it, and, most importantly, our ability to educate our kids about it.

Because let’s face it, no one is teaching our kids about the Internet properly and it is a vast and intricate space that has become an integral part of all of our daily lives. Expanding how kids use the Internet can only benefit them.

I am always surprised to encounter young adults who seem unfamiliar with what I consider basic knowledge that I assume everyone knows. Have you met a 20-something who doesn’t know how to address an envelope? I have. I bet you have too.

I spent my kids’ younger years thinking about all the critical things they needed to learn like cooking, cleaning, working hard, and being responsible. It never occurred to me they needed to learn how to mail a letter, or write a check, or use self-checkout! But those things are not being taught in school, so it is up to parents to teach them.

The Internet is the same.

Kids are given rules about Internet use– do not cheat, do not plagiarize, sources online are not always reliable, people online might not be who you think they are and could be dangerous, and don’t share any identifying information or photos of yourself with anyone.

But what are we doing to work on expanding how kids use the Internet? Are we introducing them to the invaluable online tools that are literally at their fingertips and will benefit them now and in the future?

It’s high time we take an active role in bridging this knowledge gap, ensuring our kids are not just digitally savvy but also digitally wise. Expanding how kids use the Internet will help them now and forever. This is not a waste of time. And, while working with our kids, we may discover digital tools that help us in the process!

AI generated image depicting a parent talking to the teens about Internet Use and Tools.

Here are 5 ways to start expanding how kids use the Internet

1. Explore Your Digital Footprint – it’s as unique as your fingerprints and exists forever.

Kids should understand that everything they do online leaves a digital footprint. This includes posts on social media, sharing photos and videos, comments on forums, and even the sites they visit. It’s vital to educate them about privacy settings, the permanence of online actions, and the potential future implications of their digital footprints, like impacts on employment or college admissions.

Just because it was deleted, that doesn’t mean it’s gone – it still exists! Check out Wayback Machine to view archived versions of web pages over time.

Try this: Get your kids to search for themselves, and you, and see how much information they find and how easy it is. Try it with their given names, given names in quotation marks, and using their nicknames. Then add your address. How long does it take to find them? How much information is available? This is something adults should be doing too.

2. Cybersecurity – it’s not just for adults.

Children should be aware of basic online security measures such as creating strong passwords, recognizing phishing attempts, and understanding the risks of unsecured wireless networks.

Do your kids look for the “s” at the end of “http” (to denote that the site is secure), understand what phishing or ransomware are, or know how to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to enhance online privacy and security by encrypting Internet traffic and hiding their IP (Internet protocol)? Can they encrypt an email and do they know never to send their private information over email?

Children are considered highly susceptible targets for identity theft and protecting their personal information is paramount to their safety and future credit.

Recently, my daughter almost fell for one of those email phishing scams that told her a package could not be delivered and she needed to verify some information. Fortunately, as it started to ask her for information, she stopped and realized it was not real before giving out her data. Another phishing scam that is easy to fall for is when you receive an email or message that is supposedly from a friend or known company, but the email address is just slightly different than their real address or has spelling errors. 

Learning how to be safe is a necessary part of expanding how kids use the Internet.

Try this: Work with your kids to understand credit reports, where to get them, and how to check theirs. (Normally, children should not have a credit report unless they have been added as an authorized user on a parent’s account or unless there has been fraudulent activity). You can also review a couple of phishing emails to get an idea of how they look.

3. Information Reliability – half-truths are driving society.

In an age of readily available misinformation, teaching kids to critically evaluate the reliability of online information is crucial. They need to learn how to check sources, differentiate between opinion and fact, and understand that not everything they read online is true or accurate.

Finding the facts is harder than ever as so many things are opinion driven.

A big part of expanding how kids use the Internet is getting them to dig deeper and not just look at the first thing in their search results. Do they know that their search engine uses their previous web activity, searches, links they click on, and even conversations if they have something like “Siri” set up, to provide them with results? It does not care about showing two sides of a story or providing deeper content. A search engine doesn’t care about accuracy, truth, or fairness. 

Tools like Feedly allow users to create a personalized news feed to help filter the vast amount of content, to ensure they see more than the fluff, and remove the junk.

Try this: Have your kid put their phone next to a random radio station (maybe one in another language or something political) for an hour and see how it affects advertising on social media and web browsers.

4. Social Media Reality Check – not everyone is having an amazing day and looks great all the time.

Social media is a significant part of the online experience for kids. They should understand the curated nature of social media, where randomly popular people are often paid to present idealized versions of their lives. Influencers set the stage for inauthentic self-presentation and kids mirror what they see others doing. If they are aware of the financial arrangements and heavily curated social media images that set the tone for social media users, perhaps this awareness can prevent negative impacts on self-esteem and body image.

The people behind the posts are real people, they have feelings, they have bad days, and they live in the same reality. But, when was the last time you saw someone post online about their bad day?

Talk to your kids about what they are viewing, what they are sharing, who their friends are, and how often they post.

Try this: Identify some realistic influencers that promote authentic lifestyles and body positivity. Discuss the difference in content and the impact the content has on your child’s mood and self-image.

5. Tools and access – not just a search bar.

Then, we get to the good stuff – the tools kids probably don’t know exist online because no one has shown them.

These resources are a glorious source of information that can amaze and delight anyone. Sites like these, exploring AI, and digging into reference materials, and research tools are how you can make the best use of the Internet. YouTube, for example, is for more than throwaway videos; the education and resources online are endless, and kids will need this expansive access as they become adults.

Check out some of my favorite online resources:

  • Coursera: free courses that anyone can sign up for from universities around the world.
  • Google Trends: Tracks and analyzes the popularity of search queries in Google.
  • OpenStreetMap/Wikimapia: collaborative, editable maps of the world.
  • Reverse Lookup: figure out who’s calling from an unknown number or find an address.
  • Reverse Image Search: upload an image to find its origin or similar images online.
  • Whois Lookup: where you can find out who owns a domain name and their contact information, and verify a domain’s legitimacy.
  • Flight Trackers: provide real-time data on flight status, airport delays, and air traffic.
  • Language Translation Tools: Beyond Google Translate, there are specialized tools like DeepL that offer more nuanced and accurate translations for various languages.
  • Private Browsing: search engines that don’t track your searches; use Incognito or a Private Window off your browser. (Did you know the price you see for an item or a flight is edited by your search, location, and even the device you are using? – Search and shop privately!)
  • Email Header Analysis: Tools that analyze email headers to trace the origin of an email. for identifying spam or phishing attempts.
  • Language Exchange Platforms: facilitate language exchange, such as Tandem or HelloTalk, are valuable for language learners seeking real conversation practice.
  • Webinars and Online Conferences: Attending or hosting webinars and online conferences is a valuable way to learn and network. Listen to a TED Talk.

The Internet is a powerful tool that, when used wisely, can be incredibly useful. By educating children on key aspects and expanding how kids use the Internet, we empower them to navigate the digital world. More knowledge not only protects them but also enhances their online experiences and opportunities in the future. Digital education should be a priority.

Expanding how kids use the Internet can be a fun and educational experience for all!

Pin this post and be sure to follow Vermont Moms on Pinterest!

A Parent's Guide to Expanding How Kids Use the Internet (Part 3 of 3)

Vermont Moms Insiders get exclusive content that you do not want to miss, so sign up today!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here