The coronavirus outbreak has led to school closures and social containment measures around the world. As a result, children are spending more time online, as families rely on digital technology to learn, socialize, and stay connected with the outside world.
While the internet has proven to be a valuable lifeline during this crisis, allowing different aspects of life to continue, the issue of online safety for kids has increased in importance. With schools closed and many parents working from home, children are more likely to be using the internet unsupervised.
In this article, we explore some of the key internet safety issues for kids and how you can keep your children safe online.
Threats and Dangers Children Face on the Internet
As children have been spending more time online during the pandemic, their exposure to potential risks has increased. Children face a broad range of threats and dangers online, including:
Sharing too much information about themselves online
It’s easy to feel anonymous on the internet, and kids may not be aware of the consequences of the digital footprint they are creating. For example, they may post personally identifiable information in their social media profiles, that should not be displayed in public. This might be anything from images of awkward personal moments to their home addresses or family vacation plans. They may also post content which they later regret.
Cyberbullying might range from sending intimidating or taunting messages via email, text, social media, or instant messenger, to breaking into your email account or stealing your online identity to hurt and humiliate you.
Children may not be aware of who they are really speaking to. Cyber exploitation can include sending sexually suggestive messages or material to lure a child online to meet in real life. Predators may try to convince a child to engage in an inappropriate activity or take photos or videos for the offender, which they then use to threaten or blackmail that child.
That is emails that try to trick people into click on malicious links or attachments. This can be especially difficult for kids as the email can sometimes appear to be from someone they know, like friends or family members. This can also be done using messaging apps or text messages – which is called “smishing.”
Hidden costs in advertising and in-app purchases
Children may not realize the hidden commercialism in games, apps, and websites. For example, mobile games persuade children to buy virtual goods using their parents’ credit card accounts while playing. These games have been called “bait apps” in class action lawsuits.
Being exposed to views considered radical or extreme, whether political, religious, sexist, or racist.
Age-inappropriate content or content that is hurtful or harmful
For example, this might be an explicit ad that appears on a free game, children’s cartoon characters portrayed in an adult setting, or a forum that discusses topics not appropriate for children.
Inadvertently downloading malware
Malware is computer software that is installed without the knowledge or permission of the victim and performs harmful actions on the computer. Cybercriminals often trick people into downloading malware. Phishing is one such trick, but there are others — such as convincing victims to download malware masquerading as games — can be especially appealing to children. Ensuring you have comprehensive, cross-device cybersecurity software and related security protections can help safeguard your child’s computer against such malware.
10 Tips to Help Keep Your Children Safe Online
- Set up parental controls and internet filters. Software such as Kaspersky Safe Kids is designed to help you protect your kids online. It includes an app on your child’s device plus an app on your phone, which lets you see reports and customize settings. It even allows you to manage access to games and inappropriate apps.
- Make sure your child is running the latest antivirus programs and latest software Antivirus software protects your devices from incoming threats and seeks out, destroys, and warns of possible threats to the system. New viruses are coming out all the time, and antivirus software keeps up with the latest threats.
- Ensure your child’s privacy settings are set to maximum. Almost all social media apps will have privacy settings which you can adjust. Get to know them and sit down with your kids to adjust them together.
- Cover webcams when not in use. Some people do this using duct tape or something similar, having read disturbing stories about malware enabling others to spy on them via the webcam.
- Regularly review your children’s friends lists and block unwanted or suspicious contacts.
- Turn off in-app purchasing on devices where possible:
- Open Settings, then choose “Screen Time.” Enable it if not already enabled
- Tap “Continue”, and then choose the option of “This is my iPhone” or “This is my child’s iPhone.”
- If it is your phone, you’ll be asked to choose a passcode. If it’s your child’s, you’ll need to follow the prompts and set a Parent’s Passcode.
- Tap Content and Privacy Restrictions and enter your passcode. Then activate Content and Privacy.
- Choose iTunes and App Store Purchases.
- Select In-App Purchases and set it to “Don’t Allow.”
- Open “Google Play”
- Open “Settings”
- Go to “User Controls”
- Choose “Set or Change PIN” and pick your PIN
- Go back to User Settings and activate “Use PIN for Purchases.”
- Make sure locations cannot be identified. It is good to ask your kids not to geo-tag photos on social media, as this lets others know their location. You can turn off location services on their devices, so their physical location cannot be monitored.
- Have clear rules about appropriate internet usage – when, why, and for how long.
- Be alert to signs of distress linked with online activity and know where to seek help. For example, your child might seem distant, upset, or angry after using the internet or texting. A children’s charity, like the UK’s NSPC or USA’s Childnet, will have resources to guide you. National Centre Against Bullying will have resources to guide you.