Whether for entertainment at home, e-learning in school, or social networking in between the two environments, today’s children are more exposed to the internet than ever before. In fact, there are now tablets aimed at two-year-olds, and children are getting their first smartphones at younger ages. Add to this the more than four million apps available for download today via iPhone and Android devices, and it’s clear to understand why parents and guardians are challenged when it comes to protecting their kids from online threats.
A recent Consumer Security Risks Survey conducted by Kaspersky Lab found that 41 percent of children were exposed to online threats in the past year. These threats included being exposed to inappropriate content, cyberbullying, dangerous strangers and more. Making matters worse, parents seemed unaware of these dangers, with just 37 percent worrying that their kids could be exposed to explicit online content, and only a third (34 percent) thinking they could become a victim of cyberbullying.
With the proliferation of the internet – including the rise of the Internet of Things, connected toys, machine learning, virtual reality and more – parents need to take responsibility and protect their children from online threats. There are some common sense and simple steps that household leaders may take to immediately gain more visibility and control over their families’ online activity.
Self-education is the first step for protecting children online. It’s incredibly important to understand the threat landscape today, and parents need to fully understand how these cyberthreats transcend far beyond traditional computers and mobile devices. There are resources and organizations committed to increasing awareness, such as the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), Kids.gov and the National Crime Prevention Council. Additionally, consider looking into regulations around children’s use of the internet, like the Federal Trade Commission’s Children's Internet Protection Act(CIPA), which requires schools and libraries to adopt and implement an Internet safety policy in order to receive government funding and discounted rates. Through CIPA, Internet access via school or library computers prohibits access to inappropriate content by children and blocks minors from sharing unauthorized personal information, amongst many other restrictions.
Once parents and guardians are educated on the topic, it’s important for them to share this knowledge with their children, as well as with other family members to help make them less vulnerable online.
Make it a regular conversation
Communication is key to understanding a child’s online habits. Unfortunately, the Consumer Security Risks Survey found that only a third (38 percent) of parents are regularly bringing the Internet into family conversations. Through these routine discussions, parents will gain additional insight into how today’s kids are using their smartphones, how computers are being used in schools, and what settings children are using on their social media profiles. Additionally, parents should also weave topics such as cyberbullying, sharing personal information online, and identifying spam email into these daily conversations around the dinner table. By doing so, kids are simultaneously disclosing information and learning best practices.
Leverage technology for maximum visibility
A lot of today’s technology offers protection methods and settings to help ensure children remain secure online, even without their parents beside them. To start, regularly check the Internet history on every web browser that children have access to, from family computers to personal tablets and smartphones.
Next, families should invest in parental control software. Certain security solutions give parents the ability to monitor their children’s locations, schedule device usage times, and send automatic notifications when suspicious activities arise. Parental control software helps to give guardians peace of mind knowing that kids may benefit from the advantages of the Internet, such as communicating and learning, without experiencing the many dangers. This approach also helps children feel more independent when browsing online, without diminishing parents’ visibility and control. Despite its many advantages, the Kaspersky Lab study found that a mere quarter (26 percent) of respondents use parental control software to help restrict their kids’ activity online – a costly, yet often overlooked, mistake.
Empower children to be cyber-savvy
The reality is that despite a number of parental controls, history searches and conversations at the dinner table, children will inevitably be exposed to the Internet without a parent around. For this reason, parents must help their children become cyber-savvy. Parents may search for free online demonstrations and use the previously mentioned resources to help children understand what potential threats look like, what online activities are the most dangerous and best practices to avoid falling victim to these threats. Research indicates children are more likely to learn through visuals and demonstrations, which is why using the free tools provided by government institutions and non-profit organizations, such as FOSI, are so valuable.
Overall, parents really don’t have to invest that much time or energy to make a big difference in how safe their children are while using connected devices. By implementing these quick and simple measures, our nation’s children will be safer from cybercriminals both now and in the future.
Photo courtsey of Flickr.com.