Keeping children safe online
The web is a vast and complex space which is ever-changing. This can be difficult for adults to navigate, never mind how intimidating and potentially misguiding it can be for children. So, in a world that is infinitely expansive and insufficiently monitored, how can we keep our children safe? For some, this may be to restrict internet access entirely; ultimately the decision belongs to the parents or guardians. Although the internet may be treacherous and formidable in some aspects, it has also changed the world for the better and can provide a whole host of benefits for your child’s life. The struggle here is finding the balance between their freedom and their protection.
It may be argued that there is an element of importance of introducing children to the internet at a young age, that fits with the saying “start them young”. This suggests that it is better for them to understand and experience the internet safely at an early age than be thrown into it later in life with limited understanding and cautiousness.
The danger of not teaching children young, and restricting their access is that, children may access the internet secretly, with friends or at school, and if they have not previously been exposed to and educated about the internet, they may be placing themselves in more danger.
What can be done?
- Begin by educating children on what the internet and technology is, how they are linked and how to use the internet safely and correctly. Enabling them to understand how to use devices correctly lessens the risk of accidentally disclosing information or money or the chance of them doing so intentionally and not understanding the risks.
- An important element to teach children is how to identify and be weary of scams. Children are much more likely to fall victim to a scam, so making them aware of scams and updating them on the current ones can help to prevent this.
- Not talking to strangers can also greatly lessen the risk of them becoming a victim. It is crucial to reinforce the importance of not communicating with strangers online, as well as ensuring they understand that simply adding a stranger online enables them to see their personal information and sometimes even their location. Children often see these as innocent acts and don’t understand the danger behind it.
- Ensuring they don’t reveal personal details. Even when a profile is on private, it still is not truly private. Anyone you are friends with can see your posts and information and they can pass this information on to others. The only way to really protect your information is to not share any of it in the first place. This also includes being mindful of what information is in posts or the background of images. Can your house be seen? Can your address be figured out from this? Can people see where you go and at what time? Who you go with? What school you go to? It makes you very easy to locate, and children are more likely to overshare.
- Not visiting certain sites. Let them know that not all sites are safe or legit. Ensuring they know not to enter personal information in any site. If you have antivirus software installed, most automatically scan websites and let you know if they are safe. This does not require any active effort or participation so is a great added element of protection.
- Social media isn’t real. It is EXTREMELY important that children and young people understand that what they see on social media is not always real. Photos are edited. People or sites are fake. What they see is only what people want them to see, it isn’t real and it doesn’t show the real and negative elements of people’s lives. It is important for their mental health and well-being to understand this and periodically remind them of this.
- Restrict access to devices, apps and money. Increasingly often there are media and news stories of children accidentally spending thousands of their parents well earned pounds on video games, not realising this is real money, or not understanding what they are doing. To prevent this, have an authentication process in place like Face ID, fingerprint, passcode or password. It is also important to restrict the length of time they can spend online and which apps they can access. Many apps are not appropriate for young ages and some apps that claim to be are not. Social media apps have an age restriction, but this is easy to bypass so restricting apps via phone settings is a more effective way of monitoring this. Some social apps designed for children are accessed by adults, who use it to communicate with them, so monitoring what they do is important. Of course, children and young people must have their own freedom, so you have the difficult task of finding a balance here.
- Screen time can be used to limit how long they can use certain apps for or which apps they can access. Authentication is required to bypass this.
- Ensure the devices that you and your child are using are protected. Keep devices up to date, this ensures that any vulnerabilities or patches can be fixed before they are exploited by attackers. Often people delay updating devices as they like the current operating system and do not want to have to upgrade to one that they don’t know how to use or that may be ‘glitchy’, however the update is not just to change the ease of use, it is to keep the phone and your information safe and secure.
- Install antivirus software. This is especially important for computers and laptops. These will defend your computer against malware and attacks and will frequently scan your computer and alert you if anything is found. Many also assess websites for safety before you open them, or links when you click them.
- Strong renewed and varied passwords. To keep your devices and technology secure, ensure you use strong passwords. The NCSC advises that the strongest method of forming passwords is by putting together three random words, such as ‘catcandledoor’. You must have a different password, do not use the same password for all accounts or sites. You should also update this password frequently. To ensure this password is not forgotten, you can use password storing apps such as keychain or dashlane. These are much safer than storing your passwords in your phone’s notes page or a book at home!
How we can help
The Digital Safety CIC offers free, no-obligation consultations to assess your digital health and safety. Contact us via our website or social media to find out more or book your consultation with one of our digital experts. You can follow our social media pages for more informational blogs to keep you and your family safe online.
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