The internet is an extremely useful and vital tool for living in today’s world, and in recent times, has only become more prominent.
One of the effects of the corona virus pandemic is the exponential increase in the need and the use of the internet for almost every daily activity. The internet became not just a place for news, games, and other uses, but also a place for work and school. While parents were on office zoom calls, kids were attending online schools, preparing reports, and communicating with their teachers and classmates.
Despite its versatility and importance, the internet still has risks like cyberbullying, predators, and exposure to inappropriate content, especially for kids who may not yet understand these risks or how they can recognise/prevent them. Predators have been known to pose as kids or teens looking for new friends in the online places kids usually use. There have been cases where predators beguiled kids into revealing their address, phone numbers, and other personal information.
The risks increase exponentially every day, as society relies more and more on using the internet for daily activities. More children are online now more than ever. It has been noted that 93% of 12 – 17 year old kids are online and all have cell phones.
Due to these concerns, some governments have put laws into place aimed at protecting kids when they are online. In America, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) protects kids younger than thirteen by preventing websites and apps from collecting personal information from kids without a parent’s consent. These websites are now required to get parental consent before collecting a kid’s name, phone number, address, or social security number.
While it may seem like some of these danger alerts are unnecessary or over-stated, here are some real risks kids face in the online space;
- Cyberbullying; they can get trolled by mean and vicious individuals, adults, maybe even classmates using vile and awful comments, DMs and other means to target them on a continual basis.
- Predators and scammers: These are scammers, violent, and sometimes sexual offenders who pose as kids in the online spaces reserved for kids in order to befriend them and get them to reveal personal information like their house address, phone number, parents account number, and other secret information which can be bused against the kid and their family.
- Inappropriate Content: without certain measures put in place, the internet is a place where kids can get early exposure to inappropriate content like pornographic videos or pictures, violent and obscene content, curse words, drug and alcohol abuse, etc.
- Security Threats: visiting certain websites like peer-to-peer file-sharing programs can result in spy programs being installed in their computer, giving hackers access to their computers.
Three core indices for determining your child’s safety in the online space
- Age-appropriate content
- Privacy Settings
- Time spent
- Parental Control
The first step to ensuring your kids safety is by making them understand the risks that they face and establishing guidelines that they must follow in order to ensure their own safety. This is best carried out first in a conversation. The guidelines should be printed and pasted on the wall where the computer is kept or where smartphones are regularly used like in their bedrooms and the living room.
Some guidelines kids should adhere to for safer internet practise.
- Don’t visit unsafe websites (http)
- Visit only safe websites (https)
- Never share passwords to anyone you meet online.
- Never give out personal information like address, school name, full name, phone number, or location to people you meet online.
- Report and block cyberbullies and trolls.
- Report any conversation that made you uncomfortable or asked for personal details.
- Use a screen name always.
- Never share your pictures with anyone you meet online.
- Never agree to meet a person an online friend without parents’ approval and/or supervision.
- Report messages, calls, or texts that are threatening in nature.
- Always follow this guideline.
Guideline for Parents:
- The first step to take is to install a Parental Control Software in the computer, tablets, and/or phones that your kids use. These software helps you control their access to certain websites and content, as well as monitoring the time spent online, and check downloads and purchases. Google Family Link is an app that gives parents/guardians control over all these.
- The next step is to install an Anti-virus software on their systems. Sometimes, kids may visit some websites that they should not. The anti-virus software will prevent spyware, spammers, hackers, and phishers from accessing their computers and installing dangerous spyware on their systems.
- Go online with your kids and teach them how to follow the guidelines you have outlined for them.
- The computer they use should be kept in a common and open area where you can monitor what they are doing online with a simple turn of the head.
- Monitor time sent on their computers, smartphones, or tablets.
- Regularly check your card purchases to for unfamiliar charges.
- Listen to them and take immediate action when and if they report suspicious online action or conversation.
- Determine if there are places or friends’ homes where kids can be exposed to computer without any adult supervision. An example could be a playdate or sleepover in a friend’s house where internet usage has little to no restriction.
It is vital that parents and guardians pay attention to what their kids are getting up to on the internet. Some advanced parental control software even allows parents to control, limit and determine everything their kids do online. The software can be set-up to determine how much time they spend online, what websites or apps they are allowed to access, block their access to some websites, limit their use of social media, and even prevent messages that contain personal messages, or certain words from being sent.
These software are vastly effective. However, parents and guardians must ensure that they log out of their own profile when they use the computer or tablet, so that the kids will not have access to their adult profile.
Find tutorials here to help you maximize built-in privacy settings and content blockers.
- Parental controls for Apple products
- Parental controls for Google Play
- Parental controls guide for Chromebook
- Content restrictions for Windows 10 and Xbox One
- Parental controls for YouTube Kids
- Content filters on SafeSearch for Google
- Parental controls on Amazon FreeTime
- Parental controls on Netflix
Warning signs that a predator is targeting a child.
- When the child keeps getting strange phone calls from people you don’t know
- When the child spends hours online, especially in the night.
- When the child begins to turn off the computer the moment an adult walks into the room
- When the child refuses to discuss their online activities.
- When the child begins to receive gifts and mails from people you don’t know.