Protecting Your Children from Online Threats
By: Melissa Harper | Date: February 5 2020
The internet has become an increasingly popular source of entertainment and education. However, for our children, it can be a dangerous place. In this society, it is unrealistic to isolate yourself or your children from technology: not to get a mobile phone or avoid the internet. There are several things you can do to ensure the safety of your family online. Knowing what threats are in the online world will protect your children. Let’s start with some of the more down-to-earth topics.
- Limited General Awareness
- Cell Phone Addiction
- Sharing Photos/Media
- Inappropriate and Harmful Content
- Predators online
- Age-restricted Apps
- Scams and Identity Theft
- Password Hygiene
- Instagram Parties
- Online Dating
Limited General Awareness
The first one is dear to my heart. Today, we cannot walk around without seeing mobile devices. We wander down the street with phones in our hands and earphones in our ears. The awareness of the world around us is growing increasingly limited by the devices that play such a role in most lives. This poses a huge risk to our children. They cross the road looking down at their phones not even realizing the potential danger of a car coming their way.
Be an example, but be realistic
Parents need to follow to same rules and boundaries to encourage the awareness of their children
- Setting an example – our children watch and learn everything we do. If we are going to walk down the street looking at our phones, then so will they. Parents need to teach the concept of being aware of
theenvironment around them, for the safety of them and other people.
- Follow the same rules and boundaries – all of us have heard at some point of an accident involving mobile phone and a car. If we are so absorbed in our phones, then we put our children at risk.
- Enforce boundaries – Don’t allow your child to walk down the street looking at their phone, or – the bare minimum – make it clear, that whenever there is impending danger (close to cars, train approaching at station, walking down stairs …) to rather focus on the danger, than on the phone – that applies for us parents as well.
Cell Phone Addiction
How often do our children walk into a room and ask to play games or go on the iPad? No “good morning” or “I love you” They just wander around with a cell phone or some other device glued to their hands. Children as young as two know how to work an iPhone or find videos on YouTube they want to watch without knowing how to read or spell!
Smartphones are an integral part of all their lives. How do we find the balance between allowing children to a part of a ‘screen society’ without them becoming so obsessed, they miss out on key experiences that benefit the development of a healthy child?
How to approach this issue
Parents can help control the growing cell phone addiction with their children by:
- Family time, spending time with your children and as a family is so important. Spend your weekends doing something fun like swimming or baking or just playing with the toys growing dust in a corner.
- Getting active, encouraging children to physically move their bodies on a daily basis.
- Prioritize, enforce boundaries when using devices, children need to know the importance of chores or reading or doing their homework. Lifestyle lessons that enable a child to grow up to be a functioning adult.
- Smartphone breaks, older children with more control over their phones need encouragement to have a break, or agree a time when all devices are left alone (mealtimes, before school/ college)
In a recent report, 42% of parents have been reported to share frequent photos of their child on social media and young people on social media constantly share selfies with their friends or people they have ‘mutual connections’ with. We as parents should always consider who is looking? What are your privacy settings? Do we know what else we are sharing? In photos posted online, information such as school details or where you live can be accidentally posted to third parties.
A huge concern is the ownership of photos posted online. When photos are shared online, the network used can reproduce your image and share it to third parties where that ‘innocent’ photo can be used for commercial purposes, allowing complete strangers to have access to images of your children.
Also, those photos might negatively affect your kids future.
Inappropriate and Harmful Content
One of the biggest threats to our children online is the availability of explicit material. Any child with unrestricted internet access can knowingly or unknowingly click on sites or pictures that are inappropriate. Most sites online do not have age verification and in reality, children and young people can click the ‘I am 18 or over’ box with no concern over being caught or aware of the dangers in these sites.
Innocent word searches on search engines now pose an added threat to children. Many website operators purposely use popular words or specific words that have nothing to do with the content they display. Allowing children (and adults) to be exposed to images or material that they were not searching for. Often ‘free’ online games have advertisements or banners for pornographic or age-inappropriate material that children will watch so that they can play the game. Trying to remove the adverts or accidentally clicking on them can open up a new web browser with the intended website or scam sites.
How to be aware here
Parents can prevent or reduce the material their child is exposed to by enforcing parental controls on websites and on their devices. Most portable devices and streaming platforms (Netflix, YouTube…) now come with an option to have a ‘kid’s profile. Parents should always monitor what their children have access to and not allow them to enter sites or play games that are age-inappropriate.
When our children go online, they have direct access to their friends and family. They also have access to strangers and strangers to them. Predators have easy and anonymous to children, where they can conceal their identities or lie about their ages and gender. They can create the perfect ‘schoolchild’ profile and it would be accepted. Keeping an eye on the warning signs can keep you alert whether your child is being groomed online. Your child may:
- Withdraw from family and friends
- Change screens when an adult enters a room
- Receive gifts or mail from unknown sources
- Become obsessive about being online
- Become secretive about what they do online
Safety Measures and talking points
Communication is so important when protecting your children from online predators. Parents should supervise internet activity and discuss internet safety often. It is crucial not to overreact if a child tells you they have been talking to people they don’t know or feel they are in an uncontrollable situation. Predators will and do use this to their advantage and often win ‘brownie points’ because they are on that child’s side.
The internet is becoming more accessible and enjoyable to people every day with thousands of apps available. It is so important that we as parents ensure our children are using the appropriate ones. There are so many child-friendly apps that children can use and enjoy but even with these, there are still risks. 59% of apps send information about the user’s privacy and user habits to third parties, exposing children to other online sources that could cause harm. A shocking 29% of parents allow their children to download apps without permission or supervision, allowing their children to download games or content way above their age tolerance or even allow their children to download apps with a suggested age-restriction and then fail to monitor the material their child is absorbing.
Scams and Identity Theft
People assume that identity theft can only affect adults but children are becoming increasingly affected. Two-thirds of the children were affected were 7 or younger. We’ve all seen photos of young children on Facebook with the status attached. ‘please prayer for X, he has X wrong with him.’ Most of these images are pictures stolen from other people and used to send hoax statuses or scam people for personal details and monetary donations to help ‘cure little X’. Children who unwittingly give their contact details or personal information out to other people can allow scammers to use their details to open accounts in their name or commit fraud using their identity.
Parents can protect their children by keeping their data out of circulation. Avoid sharing personal details and warn your children not to share their information with people they do not know. Parents can monitor the interactive content, children have access to and monitor the warning signs that their data may be being misused,
The homes of children are no longer a safe place from playground bullies. Being online allows children to be bullied constantly and often without notice. Cyber-bullies have a distinct advantage online. They can hide their identity and bully without fear of being caught or punished. Cyber-bullying is described as repeated and deliberate harm to an individual through technology and the internet. Cyber-bullying can be seen as: gossiping about your child or excluding them from online groups, making cyber-threats or posting fights on public social media. Cyber-bullies can also stalk or send offensive messages to their victims or impersonate them with fake profiles.
Talking to your children about cyber-bullying can prevent them from being deliberately attacked online and prevent them from unknowingly bullying themselves.
- Tell your children they shouldn’t accept online activity that causes harm to them or others
- Encourage your children to talk to you about any concerns they have
- Guard their contact information
- Watch for warning signs of being bullied (withdrawal, lack of sleep, performing badly in school…)
Most things we use have some security protocols around them. For many of us who use online banking, we have passwords and security questions. Even our devices have passcodes or facial recognition! Passwords can often by the only barrier protecting your private information. To protect your family and your data it is important to have password hygiene.
- Create strong passwords- when asked to create a password most say to have a minimum of 8 letters with one capital letter and one number. However, some research suggests that a fourteen-letter password with three random words strung together can be effective and keeping hackers (and children) away from the material you would rather have protected.
- Stop using the same password- if your password is the same for your YouTube account as it is for your bank account, chances are little fingers may accidentally share passwords or use passwords to really important data. It is so important, especially if you share a device with your child, to have separate passwords for separate accounts.
Social media has become a great place to socialize and arrange events. Recently, a trend on Instagram has been circulating. Instagram parties… when young people are planning a party, they sometimes create new accounts with a handle that depicts the details of the party and the account is set to private. No one knows the address of the party until an hour before it starts and often has stipulations or things you have to follow to be allowed to come. Although it is becoming increasingly popular, there are risks that young people are not aware of.
Instagram parties often don’t show the information of the organizer which can allow predators access to a whole group of susceptible children and parents who find the account often have no way of proving the invite or who has sent it. These organizers who set up the Instagram parties can pick and choose who is acceptable to come to their event. They can pick pretty or popular people, allowing other young people to be excluded and bullied because they are not ‘cool enough’ to go. Parents really need to monitor where their children are going and who has invited them. With the difficulty of anonymity on the internet, it can be hard to monitor who these people are, but you can ask. Too many parents do not ask questions or overreact and do not allow their children time to explain the details of the situation.
Online dating can be a really positive thing… for adults! However, like with most sites, it is so easy for young people to lie about their age and log on to dating sites or download ‘meet people’ apps like Tinder or Omegle. So many young people and children have access to chat rooms and apps that are not age restricted or age appropriate. They are the lonely or just want to have some fun or are being pressured into finding a boyfriend or a girlfriend and this alone puts them at an increased risk for predators or bullies to take advantage of them. Parents need to monitor what their young people have access to. If they have no control over their mobile phones, you can control the internet usage. Put parental controls on the internet or turn it off after a certain time.