Keeping Your Children Safe Online
Top risks and strategies
Kids today are surrounded by the internet. As a result, most small humans are tech-savvy and computer literate. In 2015, three in five children used the internet at home, six times the number of children online than in 1997. Figures for the last five years have increased in line with these numbers.
Children under ten years of age can manage multiple devices, from tablets to phones, computers, and net-connected gaming devices. They also share information on many different platforms. Older children may use all of the above plus social media, online chat platforms to communicate with friends and video-sharing platforms.
Connectivity on this level means children are vulnerable to a multitude of online threats, including cyberattacks, scams, cyberbullying, and online predators to name a few.
As a parent, you need to have a strategy to educate your children and keep them safe while making sure they tell you when something is wrong. It’s impossible to keep technology away from kids completely nowadays, so to help you out, we compiled a list with some recommendations on how to manage it in a smart way.
4 Key Risks to Keep in Mind
These are some of the dangers your kids face when they’re online.
1. Online Predators
Probably the thing parents fear the most is an online predator speaking to or trying to make in-person contact with their child. If your kids spend hours online unsupervised, it’s entirely possible they’ll end up speaking to an adult pretending to be someone else. Unfortunately, online predators are in-the-know when it comes to finding victims online.
Sometimes, this leads to your kids sharing pictures of themselves, or in the worst-case scenario, meeting someone in person, creating immediate and long-term risks.
Kids may also put themselves in danger by sharing information, such as addresses, phone numbers, or social security numbers, which can lead to identity theft. An innocent vacation picture can let people know you’re away, which puts you at risk of someone entering your home when you’re not there.
Cybercrime and phishing scams are also increasingly common, with the FBI receiving 1,300 complaints every day, and billions of dollars being lost to this type of crime each year.
2. Inappropriate Content
Kids can accidentally click on links or download content they’re not looking for. P2P services, especially, where users send information are often untrustworthy sources for downloads.
Your child may think they’re downloading a game, but instead, they accidentally share access to your private files or infect your computer with spyware.
Additionally, children may also download pornographic content or gain access to it when you’d really rather they wouldn’t. Even older kids may struggle to differentiate online sex from real-life experiences and are often lead to believe that what they see in porn is what happens in real life. Understandably, this gives rise to a number of issues later down the line, particularly for girls.
The advent of user-supplied sites such as Pornhub means these materials are more available than ever before. Most sites do not even check a user’s age as they used to do.
Pornography isn’t the only content issue. Kids want access to the latest and greatest of everything, including new music and movies. Downloading copyrighted material can bring you legal problems if children aren’t stopped from pirating media.
Cyberbullying is a growing problem. In a January 2020 Statista survey, 44 percent of internet users reported facing harassment online. Kids are just as exposed to cyberbullying as adults, and offline bullying at school can follow them on social media, sometimes with devastating consequences if the abuse is persistent and ongoing.
Children are often scared or ashamed of sharing this with their parents, so you may not immediately notice your child is coping with bullying.
5 Ways to Help Your Children Stay Safe
You can help keep your kids safe by teaching them the right practices when they’re online, and by implementing some clever technological solutions. Here are some of the techniques you need in your web-safety arsenal.
1. Educate Your Kids
Have a conversation with your children to educate them on the best practices online.
Instruct children on how to distinguish safe and dangerous sites. Make sure they know to only download archives and programs from official sites and never click on suspicious links that appear on pop-ups, emails, or text messages.
Tell your children not to answer messages that are requesting information, even if they seem to be from a legitimate source. When you receive a suspicious email that seems like a phishing scam, use it as a teaching opportunity and show it to your children. This way, they’ll see exactly what to avoid.
Tell them to never share personal information about themselves or their family members on social media. This includes addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and other personal information.
Remind your kids that once they post something online, they can’t take it back. They should never post or send anything they wouldn’t want everybody to see.
2. Protect Their Devices
With young children who don’t have smartphones, it’s easier to maintain a watchful eye over their online time. One good option is setting rules for computer or tablet time and keeping the devices in a common area of the house, where you can watch over your kids.
Consider using a VPN app on your kid’s devices to make sure their location and personal data remain private.
Use parental control apps to limit and monitor what your kids do online. There are often basic integrated controls on your operating systems, but you can also find specific programs for both desktop and mobile devices. Many antivirus companies offer family plans for you to track your kids’ online activity.
3. Keep Information Safe
Make sure your children know they need to keep their passwords secret. Teach them to never share their passwords with others, even friends, and to invent strong ones. They should use words that aren’t obvious to others — like “password”— and mix upper and lowercase letters and numbers to make them harder to figure out.
Sometimes children may have access to credit card information on your computer, which can lead to accidental charges. If you have young kids that use a shared device, make sure you don’t keep sensitive passwords and credit card numbers stored on it. You can also keep your information on a separate, password-protected profile they don’t have access to.
4. Keep Track of Their Friends and Habits
Make some ground rules with your kids about who they can talk to online. You may want to limit their online interactions only to people they know in real life, especially if your kids are young.
Ask them about their friends and who they spend time with. You can also choose to keep their profiles private and check their online friends from time to time. Install a sense of online stranger danger in your children. Without destroying their faith in humanity, try and make sure they understand that not everyone has good intentions.
Teach your kids to block or ignore people they don’t know. Make sure they’re suspicious if someone they don’t know tries to start a conversation, especially if that person is requesting information or pictures from them. It’s always better to block than to regret it later.
Keep track of your children’s behavior to note if anything changes. This can help you detect if your child has been a victim of cyberbullying or harassment, or if they’ve met someone who’s not who they say they are.
5. Stay Updated and Engaged
If your kid uses specific social media or gaming sites, you need to educate yourself on these platforms as well. Find out how they work, how they protect users’ privacy, and how you can keep kids safe on them. Knowing how and where they spend their time makes you much better equipped to deal with any problems that may arise.
It’s also important to encourage your kids to tell you whenever something’s not right. You need kids to trust you when an interaction with someone makes them uncomfortable. Remember to stay engaged in their online activities and keep your advice positive.
If you communicate honestly with your kids and they know they can confide in you, they’re more likely to tell you if they encounter something suspicious.
While kids do spend more time online than ever before, you also have some great tools to help keep them safe. VPNs, secure passwords, and educating children about phishing will maintain your private information safe and minimize risks, and parental control apps let you monitor your kids’ activity.
Even so, your best tools are trust and communication. When it comes to keeping kids safe online, it’s good to maintain a positive relationship with technology and open communication in the family. You should set boundaries but also let children know they can come to you in case anything goes awry.