Modern virtual times have the internet world a core part of our lives. And despite the rising online threats to our children’s physical and mental wellbeing, we can’t prohibit them from their time online. However, what we can do is follow a thorough safety guide for children to ensure they remain safe online.
Since young minds are curious, they can easily be inclined to fall prey to cyberattacks. Do you remember the phrase “curiosity killed the cat?” It seems to have been exemplified with the mass suicide and self-harm news of youngsters while playing games such as Momo or Blue Whale. In such dire circumstances, it is necessary to make your children aware of the prevalent online threats.
Why Do kids Need Protection on the Internet?
The internet has long been a neutral platform that provides you with what you ask for, which might be true when it comes to adults using the internet. However, as a child accessing the internet, there are no clear distinctions between what’s right and what’s wrong since they are unaware of the many downsides.
As a parent, your goal might be to keep it that way as long as possible. Once they grow up, they’ll learn about the dangers of the online world in detail on their own accord. However, before that, you have to be their eyes and their ears.
But, do you even know what you need to protect your children against? Can you even protect your children if you don’t know what you’re up against? As the saying goes, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” Hence, you need to be aware of the dangers of the internet before you start searching for their solutions.
Some of the prominent online threats are as follows:
Cyberbullying remains one of the most prevalent online threats since it usually occurs anonymously and isn’t even considered a crime in several countries. Research stats suggest that nearly 59% of teenagers in the US have been victims of cyberbullying. Studies also show that, in most instances, cyberbullying proves to be worse than regular bullying since the rumors and defamation takes place on a broader scale.
Several campaigns are now active to stop cyberbullying. since children all around the world were subjected to mental health issues, such as depression or panic attacks, as a byproduct of cyberbullying. Moreover, most of them were also reported to have committed suicide or self-harm. Hence, it is essential that you converse with your children and take prompt action for their safety.
– Online predators
Children are often warned against the internet being a big baddie, but that doesn’t seem enough to describe the horrors of online grooming. Through online grooming, predators target minors and approach them in an overly friendly manner, seeking an emotional relationship.
Typically, online predators prey on minors through social media platforms, online games, and unmoderated chat rooms. Such online predators often create a false profile for the purpose of sexual favors or radicalization of young minds.
Considering the neglect of children’s online safety, it doesn’t come off as a surprise that the US ranks second in hosting child abuse URLs, proving to be a huge safety threat for children.
– Inappropriate content
You might think of it as a compliment when you tell your child that they are more mature than their age, but is it really a compliment? What if your child actually starts thinking and viewing mature content or starts using explicit language?
Not to mention the fact that your children are already constantly exposed to inappropriate content on the internet, which might affect their personality and also how they view the world. This inappropriate content ranges from being violent to sexual in nature. Moreover, it contains content aimed towards adult viewers, disturbing facts or pictures, and half-truths that might lead your children to engage in harmful or illegal activity.
– Malware threats
Malware threats remain a critical issue for children as well as adults; however, adults are less likely to fall into traps. Meanwhile, children have to learn the hard way that ‘all that glitters is not gold.’
For this purpose, cybercriminals usually consider children as their prey online. They will lure children in through enticing advertisements, fake websites, malicious download links, and popup messages to join a chat or avail of a discount. As tempting as it sounds, it’s all a lie and a mere means to exploit your information.
– Data stealing
You might be thinking, “Why would anyone ever want to steal a child’s data? What’s in it for them?” Well, you’re in for a tumultuous ride. Children’s data is the most sought out on the dark web since it doesn’t have any credit history and can be easily exploited. Moreover, the crime will also remain hidden until the child has grown up, so that gives cybercriminals more courage to get on with their malicious motives.
The extent of children’s data-stealing knows no bounds. Cybercriminals have often occupied pediatrician databases with stealing data of children as young as under four years old. This makes children’s data-stealing a critical matter that has been pushed under the rug for far too long and needs to be out in the open now.
How Can You Guide Your Children About Online Safety?
Your children’s online safety is directly equivalent to the extent of vocality in your relationship with them. Good parenthood doesn’t imply that you’ve to invade your children’s privacy and keep excessive tabs to keep them safe. Instead, you can simply ask them to reach out to you and share whatever they’re going through.
- Establish boundaries on what your children can view online. It’s critical for you to establish internet usage rules for your children, so they are able to distinguish what’s wrong and what’s right for them.
- Counsel your children about the importance of not sharing personal information on the internet. It’s highly unlikely that a child even understands what identity theft is. Hence, you are to be their counselor and warn them about the drawbacks of oversharing on the internet, but without intimidating them to the point that they develop trust issues.
- Instruct your children on how to navigate social media websites responsibly. Social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., adopt a false pretense of being a safe space, whereas they can be easily exploited by cybercriminals. Hence, it is necessary that you encourage your children to talk to you instead of confiding in random strangers on the internet.
- Prompt your children to reach out to you if they are experiencing trouble. Remind them that your door is always open for them, and they should never face anything alone.
- Practice conversing with your children about their overall day, including their online activity. Regular conversations about your children’s day will enable them to confide in you and seek you out for help when needed.
As a parent, it is your duty to remain in the loop of your children’s social life and know their friends and acquaintances so that they do not mix in with the bad company.
How can You Minimize Online Threats to Your Children’s Safety?
The very first route you can adopt for your children’s online safety is setting up a worthy example for them. Allow them to follow in your footsteps and establish the importance of healthy internet usage. Set up family-friendly cartoon/movie nights with your children and keep them company when they’re watching something alone without coming off as intrusive.
Some other precautionary measures you can adopt for your children’s safety are as follows:
1. Apply content filter
Content filtering lets you manage what shows up on your children’s searches. In most instances, children might accidentally stumble upon violent or inappropriate content, which affects their personality. Hence, you need a content filter that filters out such harmful content and only shows age-appropriate content.
There are content filtering options available on certain platforms as well, such as YouTube’s Safety Mode, which hides adult videos from underage users. Moreover, you can also employ third-party content filtering tools such as Net Nanny, Safe Eyes, Qustodio, and FamilyShield.
2. Configure browser settings
Almost all browsers allow you to configure its settings so that you can customize it according to your requirements. All you have to do is add some parental controls to your children’s user accounts. Time limitations, URL restrictions, and the ability to regulate which programs your children can access are examples of such constraints.
Moreover, you can also employ web browsers that are regarded as safe by cybersecurity experts. These would include the Tor browser, Brave browser, and DuckDuckGo browser. All of these web browsers include HTTPS encryption, built-in ad blockers, and anti-fingerprinting features to keep your children secure on the internet.
3. Use a secure VPN
VPNs are often mistaken as a complex adult security tool; however, they are just as necessary for children’s online activity as they are for adults. A secure VPN connection would anonymize your children online so that cybercriminals cannot target them specifically. Moreover, it will hide your location and prohibit them from snooping in your children’s private information or getting access to their devices.
Furthermore, if your child is addicted to gaming, a VPN should be your saving grace since most cybercriminals initiate their malicious activity through gaming websites/apps. A VPN will prevent them from getting access to your webcam and block advertisements while maintaining the content filtering restrictions that you have set on your browser/router.
4. Use a Child-Friendly Search Engine
A child-friendly search engine will automatically remove age-restricted content from your children’s search results, allowing them to access a plethora of information within a safe zone.
Most schools also employ child-friendly search engines in their computers to make students learn how to adapt to a virtual learning environment. Some of the child-friendly search engines are as follows: DuckDuckGo, Google SafeSearch, KidRex, Kiddle, etc.
5. Use an Antivirus Software
Antivirus software will scan the content your children are looking to download and warn them if they are harmful. Moreover, it will also prevent malware from spreading into your children’s devices.
You can also install firewalls on your children’s devices and routers as well for added safety. A firewall will scan incoming and outgoing traffic and block or allow it depending on your set restrictions.
6. Separate children’s account
It is best that you create your child’s own Gmail account through Family Link if they’re under 13, which will allow you to manage their online activity and restrict access to harmful websites. Moreover, Google will also provide them with age-friendly content for a safe and wholesome online experience.
7. Use Ad-Blockers
Installing an ad blocker will eradicate most of the online malware threats. Even though the HTTPS encryption on a website will secure your children’s online activity, the ads might still lead them to untrusted websites that will snoop on your information.
Moreover, cybercriminals might also trap you with enticing advertisements by offering fake discounts so that you click on the harmful link. For this purpose, an ad blocker becomes necessary for the safety of your children.
8. Monitor Online Habits
You can subtly monitor your children’s online habits until a certain age; however, you need to ensure they do not feel violated. For instance, you can keep the computer in the living room so that you can check what they’re up to while you’re doing your own chores.
It is also necessary to ensure that your child is not the one bullying other children online. Most parents only keep tabs on their children to ensure that they are safe but neglect the fact that their children can also be a source of harm to other children.
9. Contact ISP for Parental Control Options
You can also ask your ISP to allow you to enable parental controls so you can manage your children’s internet access and personalize their search results directly through the source.
Your ISP may assist you in the following ways:
- Block specific websites
- Establish time limitations for internet access
- To block harmful chat rooms and services such as IM
- Manage the internet configurations
- Eliminate age-restricted pictures and videos from showing up
- Send request access from your children’s account every time they visit new websites and platforms
- To enable notifications if someone attempts to modify your personalized settings
Your ISP will also allow you to create multiple user accounts so that you can customize the settings for each individual user.
How Can Children Protect Themselves Online?
As a child accessing the internet, it is also up to you to prevent online dangers and browse the web safely. Here are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to online safety:
- Communicate your online activity and friendships with your parents.
- Ask for your parents’ permission before joining a chat room.
- Inform your parents before posting pictures online and get their approval first.
- Consult your parents if you come across something you don’t understand over the internet.
- Ask for your parents’ approval before buying something online.
- Do ask permission from your parents before downloading something from the internet.
- Maintain a healthy internet schedule and adopt other hobbies as well for your physical and mental stability.
- Don’t share your personal information such as your account password, name, residential address, school name, etc., or even your family’s personal information with anyone on the internet.
- Don’t use your real name and email for gaming websites.
- Don’t feel obligated to respond to someone if they make you uncomfortable over the internet.
- Don’t fill out online forms that ask you to provide personal information.
- Don’t agree to meet up with someone you have met online and aren’t well-acquainted with.
Following these safety measures, you are bound to explore the bounties of the internet without any safety threat looming over your head.
The internet may be an excellent platform for learning, shopping, playing games, and communicating with friends. However, unfortunately, for kids, the cons of the online world supersede its pros, constantly keeping you on edge as a parent.
Most cyber criminals specifically target children knowing they’re naive and can be manipulated. Moreover, due to the generation gap, most parents are unaware of how to tackle online threats and how to keep their children safe.
However, even though being unaware of something is completely okay, the problem arises if you choose to remain ignorant and turn a blind eye towards it. Hence, this guide serves to enlighten you with all the safety hazards on the internet and how you can overcome them.