The online world offers children unprecedented opportunities to learn and socialize, but it also opens them up to a number of dangers. How can you steer children towards safe internet habits?
The way our digital lives have become entangled with our physical world has brought new, major challenges for parents, carers and teachers. Not only because it is important to teach children to read and understand information online and generally navigate the Internet, but especially because of a potentially overwhelming list of risks that lurk online.
As children settle into their school routines, this is the perfect time for parents and educators to guide children and teens toward a safe digital life.
1. Setting up strong authentication
Just like adults, kids struggle with password security. You can help them by explaining why they need strong and unique passwords—and then keeping those passwords private. And that, even with their video games, a strong password will protect their game inventory from anyone trying to steal it.
In fact, they should consider using passphrases instead of simple and easy-to-guess words that are made up of different words and types of characters and are long rather than short – but not too long or complex to remember. Something like “HarryPotterAnd5DinoNuggies!” is far better than e.g. “berry”.
And be sure to emphasize that their passwords or passphrases should never be shared with anyone, and that an extra layer of security (aka two-factor authentication) never hurts anyone. If necessary, you can help them set it up and protect the online accounts that are home to their most personal data. Speaking of which…
2. Personal information is personal
While it’s important to emphasize the value of our data to young children, keep in mind that even older teens don’t always understand the full implications of giving out their personal information online, such as the risk of becoming a victim of phishing.
Explain to them that they should never open links from someone they don’t know, and that if a friend sends something through a messaging app, they should always confirm if the link was actually sent by the friend and is valid and safe, or if it’s spam before you click on it. And above all, make sure they know that they should never give their full names, ID numbers, addresses or bank details to anyone at all.
Consider the risks as a parent or educator. It is very likely that children and teenagers will break the rules. So let them know that if this happens for any reason, they should never disclose the schools they attend or their home addresses.
3. Your data matters
Growing up in the digital age means having all your data online, whether it’s on a government platform or a parent’s social media profile showing off their little ones. They already use facial recognition systems, store health data collected by wearables, have their grades in an online database, and provide their personal information for registration on video game platforms. There is no escape.
On the other hand, it is important that they understand how this data can be used. Explain that it is valuable for companies to profile them, for social media to target them for ads, for governments that want to collect information about their citizens, and ultimately that our data is a source of income for hackers who can use them to fraud. activity.
4. Sharing is not always caring
In a way, mobile devices such as laptops, phones and tablets may have added new meaning to the term “personal computer”. But computers were built to be used by individual users rather than shared. Teens may not know this and may be inclined to share their devices with friends when they’re viewing photos, playing mobile video games, or “just checking something out on TikTok.”
But even if this happens, it should always be done under their supervision. Not only for safety to avoid not-so-funny pranks, but also to protect their private information. And just to be safe, also remind them to never lend their devices to someone they don’t know – and that’s not up for debate.
5. Beware of strangers
Another topic that parents and educators should not steer clear of is “stranger danger.” In addition to telling kids not to get into a stranger’s car, remind them that the Internet is just one big public place full of strangers. Explain what could happen, assuming the worst-case scenario, and how to prevent any damage.
Your children should know that the Internet is a place where people, hidden behind computers, can be mean. The more information the children share, the greater the potential harm; in other words, the greater the likelihood that adults with bad intentions will be able to gain and then undermine their trust and friendship or otherwise use it against them.
Teach children to be careful not only with people they don’t know, but also with people they know. Explain the meaning of terms like cyberbullying and grooming to them, and how strangers take the time to build fake friendships and trick young people into sharing personal data and even sexual content, which can result in intimidation, fear and potential physical harm.
Guide them through this wild, wild world
Navigating children through the dangers of both the physical and virtual worlds can be really challenging. It is difficult even for adults. On top of that, teenagers don’t always listen to adults’ opinions about the Internet; after all, some of them belong to the first generation of true digital natives.
To get the message across, don’t resist or condemn them for the apps they use or the games they play; join them instead by helping them install these apps and by taking the time to play the games with them. Create accounts, share content, discuss potential dangers, and make your own experience part of the conversation.
That said, you may still be concerned about what kind of websites your kids visit or how much time they spend online. This is where technology such as parental control software comes into play, as it can protect children from harmful content, among other things. It is important that this software is best thought of as a form of nurturing rather than some kind of enforced control. It can be especially helpful with younger children, at least until they get older and can fend for themselves.
Finally, why not also plan short breaks from technology for your kids and the whole family? We all get a little too hooked on screens sometimes, right?
Why not also watch ‘Hey PUG’, ESET’s new animated series that teaches children to recognize online threats?