In our world today, we don’t only have ‘real life’ (the physical realm), we have a whole other dimension too - the virtual one: CYBERSPACE, where a myriad of good (and not so good) things can take place. Crimes that can happen in real life, such as stealing, can also happen just as easily on the Internet and children have to be taught that they need to be careful when using the Internet, just like they’d need to be careful of things in real life. It is imperative that we teach our children about the dangers that can take place online, how to protect themselves and how to use their devices for positive and meaningful purposes.
Did you know that kids aged 8-18 years old spend approximately 7 hours and 38 minutes per day online? Essentially, that means that they spend almost a third of their day in the virtual realm! It has also been found that 40% of children reveal sensitive information online, including their home address. A third of young people lie about their age online, and 37% of kids have experienced online dangers, including bullying, financial threats and inappropriate content. The most common threats that children face online include: cyber predators, cyberbullying and identity theft:
Cyber predators: These are people who use, control, or harm others online in various ways.
Cyberbullying: This is the electronic posting of mean messages about a person, often anonymously (which is exceptionally cowardly and hurtful).
Identity theft: This is the illegal use of someone else's personal information to steal money or credit.
What’s more (and very scary) is that there are essentially three groups of people that you need to protect your children from online:
Strangers: In the form of online predators who lurk on sites that children frequent, such as social media and online games. These predators will often pretend to be children themselves (catfishing). They may also try to trick your child into sharing passwords or payment details.
Friends: Your child may experience bullying or harassment from children they know or go to school with. This can often happen on private chats on social media, messaging apps or online gaming.
Your children themselves: The sad part is that unsupervised children are a risk online themselves. They often click buttons or install things without understanding the consequences of their actions. They might also publicly post private information, such as their date of birth or address.
So, here’s the most important part: how do we protect our children and teach them how to protect themselves?
- Focus on empowerment, not fear. To start, make sure that your children are not scared of the threats online, but rather feel empowered that they know how to use online for good. Let’s be honest, we all love our devices, the Internet and everything it has to offer. There are a myriad of benefits to being online and the digital world doesn’t have to be scary for kids, they just need the skills to protect themselves. Create a trusting and respectful environment from an early age, so your children know that they will not get into trouble if they make a mistake or ask for help.
- They must not talk to strangers: Implore your children to not communicate with strangers online and to never agree to meet anyone in person. If a stranger is harassing them online, be sure to make them tell an adult about it.
- They must not share personal information: Children should never enter contests, join clubs, or share any personal information online for any reason, unless an adult they trust gives consent.
- Remind them that if the offer seems too good to be true, then it probably is: Emails or pop-ups offering free goodies in exchange for personal information should always be ignored.
- Set up some basic Internet rules: Such as not being allowed to go online without permission from an adult, limiting screen time and the use of certain apps - and always asking permission before installing anything.
- Use the right tools to help keep them safe: Every device in your household should have tools such as:
- Anti-virus and anti-phishing software: To help prevent you or your child from accidentally clicking a phoney link leading to downloading a virus.
- Webcam protection: So no one is able to spy on you or your children through the camera.
- Content blocker: The best way to avoid hackers and viruses is to stay away from unsafe content.
- VPN: Safeguards your data when moving from one place to another. This is especially important if your child is using a public WiFi connection, like the one at school.
- Password protector: Children (and even some adults) can have a very hard time making strong passwords, so a password protector will create an uncrackable password for them and keep it safe for the next time they log in.
There are also a few things that you, as a parent, can do in order to safeguard your kids’ cybersecurity.
- GPS tracking: Monitor your children’s locations at all times. You can also set a safe zone on your local map and receive a notification if they travel outside of it.
- Screen time controls: Automatically manage your child’s device usage. You can use this to limit the hours they spend each day on games and social media.
- Content filters: Protect your children from unsafe content using filters that will hide anything unsuitable in web searches and on YouTube. You can manage the restriction levels to suit your child.
We all know that being a parent is the greatest responsibility any of us will face. We all want to allow our children the freedom to explore the world and seek out exciting opportunities - and what better platform is there to do that, than cyberspace? However, it is imperative that we also make sure that they’re safe and that they avoid danger, ensuring that when they use an electronic device, it is a gateway only to learning and positive growth.