Children as young as 4 or 5 years old can now browse the internet with more ease than some grown-ups. Parents find themselves in a situation where they don’t want to restrict their kid’s online experience as it provides countless opportunities for learning, entertainment, and communication - but also countless opportunities for abuse and bullying. What can we do as parents to provide a safer and better environment for our children online? We’ve compiled a list of tips to help you ensure their secure online presence.
What are the threats?
From cyberbullying to identity theft or online luring, the list is quite frightening. Since the inception of the World Wide Web itself, there have been attempts to use it with malicious intent, and as kids enter the virtual reality earlier and earlier this is becoming a growing issue. While a grown-up can make the difference between a fake website stealing credit card credentials (although this is becoming increasingly difficult even for adults) or a fake Instagram profile, children will certainly not be able to do so. A 4-year-old may stumble across an x-rated video while watching a kid’s show on YouTube, while a 14-year-old might be constantly threatened by a cyberbully on Facebook. In a more dire scenario, an online luring scheme might lead to the actual abduction of a child.
Talking to children about potential dangers
This has to be the new discussion about “the birds and the bees” - a necessity which can be unpleasant both to the parent and to the child. But why is it so important to discuss online security issues with your child as early as possible? These talks will not only help the child to build a better understanding of the threats that the internet might be hiding but will also help the parent implement controls to ensure a safer online presence later.
How do you manage a child´s online presence?
The healthiest approach is to take into consideration the age of the child and accept that there is no proven strategy to exclude all threats.
With toddlers and pre-schoolers, it can be as easy as to monitor all internet access. If you leave the child to browse alone, you can turn YouTube’s “Restricted Mode” on (making sure it will not show any videos that have been flagged as containing inappropriate content), and use kid-safe browsers or search engines. It might also help to use a PIN for apps with in-app purchases as small children can initiate a payment without even realizing it. There are even tablets specifically designed for the youngest, which have only the basic browsing apps and integrated parental controls.
10-year-olds will require a totally different approach, as they already have a basic understanding of online threats but still don’t get the nuances. With them, it is crucial to talk about all possible scenarios so that they can understand the importance of your precaution measures. Only then they will realize that, for example, by monitoring their browsing history you’re not invading their personal space but helping them stay safe.
Teens nowadays rely heavily on social media for communication and self-assurance. This makes the social networks the ideal place for cyberbullying and online luring. Messaging apps are the perfect breeding ground for these types of abuse and it is of utmost importance to monitor them closely. Especially if you notice deviant behavior you cannot explain with anything else - this can be a signal something is not quite right in your kid’s online presence.
Checking messages might seem too intrusive, but making sure there are only friends and classmates on the list can help you prevent a disaster. It’s all about having an open conversation - explaining why reporting cyberbullies is important may help many children remain positive about their self-esteem while letting your kid know that using location services might help an online predator get to them is also necessary.
Discussion and education begin at home
Even if you implement the most rigid parental control system, all devices at home and all mobile phones included, you will never have a full grasp of your kids' online presence if you don’t take the time to talk to them. Problems of privacy can take many shapes, so it’s important to discuss them openly both at school and at home. Today, there are many school programs focused on cyber threats, but making sure children are safe in all aspects of their lives is a big part of any parent’s duties - even seemingly innocent internet activities shouldn’t be neglected. Just as you would ask your kids “How was your day at school?”, you can also ask “How are things going online?”. And the more your children trust you, the better!