There are potential risks that we all face online. These include malware, phishing scams and junk-mail. But there’s an added dimension where children are concerned. They’re less worldly-wise, so they are typically less wary about sharing information or responding to fraudulent messages or clicking on links on web pages.
There are also specific dangers that children face. These include obviously undesirable content like pornography, violence and drugs, but also sites focused on self-harm or even suicide. Sadly, inappropriate material can be just a few clicks away: objectionable content can be displayed alongside search items as innocuous as ‘Peppa Pig’, ‘Dora the Explorer’, ‘Fireman Sam’ or other items that we’re happy for our children to view.
Children can also be exposed to banner ads on pages they visit. You may wonder what fraudsters hope to gain by delivering context-sensitive advertisements to children. But a lot of children use their parents’ credit cards and this makes them a prime target. It’s less a problem of fraudsters peddling bogus products and services than it is about children looking to pay for online goods like computer games, books, films – and in-app purchases inside games – on laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Hide nothing, share everything
There’s another aspect to online safety too. Our children are growing up in a culture of ‘share everything’. Social networks allow them to treat the web like the notice-board in the family kitchen – and they do. They post information about where they are, who they’re with, what they’re doing – with pictures to illustrate this narrative of their lives. But while the notice-board in the kitchen is accessible only to family and friends, what’s posted on a social network could be shared with the whole world. Personal information could be used by an online predator to profile a child or teenager, get their trust and then try to arrange to meet them in the real world. Shared pictures can be used by their peers to bully or coerce them. Adults are more likely to see the inherent problem in the ‘share everything’ culture, but children don’t – until something goes wrong.
Technology generation gap
Unfortunately, we face a technology generation gap. Parents are more worldly-wise, but they’re often less tech-savvy. They don’t always understand what’s possible with today’s technology. Children have no trouble driving the technology, but are often blithely unaware of the potential dangers.
Monitor and mentor
That’s why it’s so important for parents to involve themselves in their children’s online activities from a very young age, so they can ‘mentor’ their children and help to shape and inform their online experiences. Of course, the online safety message needs to be tailored to the age of a child. We can’t expect a young child to understand the intricacies of online threats. But they need to know that there’s good and bad online – just as, when a child is old enough to walk around town with us, we introduce road safety and the importance of staying close to us. It’s also important explain the online safety equivalent of road crossings too – using Internet security software to block harmful code, the need to protect things that belong to us with a password, the danger of disclosing personal information, and so on. These messages need to be reinforced and developed as a child gets older. But if they’re ‘on board’ with security from an early age, they’re less likely to see security measures as an encumbrance.
Here’s our list of top tips for keeping your children safe online.
- Talk to them about the potential dangers.
- Involve yourself in your children’s online activities from an early age so this is the established norm, and so you can ‘mentor’ them.
- Encourage them to talk to you about their online experience and, in particular, anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened.
- Today’s ‘share everything’ culture is pervasive. Children are less likely to instinctively recognise the inherent dangers in oversharing, so it’s important to spell out the potential problems.
- Set clear ground-rules about what they can and can’t do online and explain why you have put them in place. You should review these as your child gets older.
- Use parental control software to establish the framework for what’s acceptable – how much time (and when) they can spend online, what content should be blocked, what types of activity should be blocked (chat rooms, forums, etc). Parental control filters can be configured for different computer profiles, allowing you to customise the filters for different children.
- Encourage your children to be vigilant about their privacy and settings on social media sites so that posts are only visible to selected friends and family.
- Wordly-wise vs tech savvy: you may be more aware of the potential pitfalls of the internet, but the chances are your children are more technologically clued up. Encourage an exchange of information so that you can both learn from each other.
- Protect the computer using Internet security software.
- Don’t forget their smartphone – these are sophisticated computers, not just phones. Most smartphones come with parental controls and security software providers may offer apps to filter out inappropriate content, senders of nuisance SMS messages, etc.