Five tips to keep your children (and your wallet) safe online
By Seok Cheng Chia
Safer Internet Day was created in an ongoing effort to combat potential malicious online activity facing the average connected user. While the internet can be an educational and resourceful gift, it can also be a fertile breeding ground for criminal activity.
Children are especially susceptible to falling victim to cyber criminals, unequipped with the essential knowledge required to safely navigate the web. As digital natives, however, today’s kids are quick to learn when it comes to technology, making it easier to teach them necessary internet safety tips. With proactive approaches, your children can stay secure online with minimal privacy intrusion from your side.
- Monitor your children’s online gaming habits—especially to whom they’re talking.
Online gaming has seen explosive popularity in the past decade, with games such as Minecraft and Roblox enabling young children to connect and play with people around the globe. This invites potential predators who see children as easy targets, with a recent study reporting that over 40% of connected children between fourth and eighth grade admitting to talking to strangers online. Even with these threats, however, there are efforts parents can take to ensure their kids stay as safe as possible while enjoying the social benefits of online gaming with friends. For example, make sure that chat options—both text and voice—are off, or at least off for anyone your kid doesn’t personally know, such as a friend from school. Remind your kid to take advantage of the “block” feature implemented in these games, and to use it liberally for anyone who makes them feel even remotely uncomfortable.
- Ensure your child can’t make any in-app or online payments.
Beyond taking measures to ensure your kids stay safe from strangers, it’s also important to make sure your children can’t purchase anything on the apps and websites they engage with. Mobile games especially make it easy for children to purchase in-game currencies or cosmetics in a process known as a microtransaction, with transactions being made with just a few simple taps that even toddlers can accidentally activate. A study found that over 8.2% of parents reporting their children spent over $100 a month on mobile game purchases. Ensure your payments are locked behind a password. PIN, or fingerprint, or that payment methods are blocked entirely on apps your children may use.
- Keep your children’s data private.
Data privacy is a growing concern amongst the connected population, with major data breaches being reported on constantly in the news cycle. The United Nations reports over 80% of children have a digital footprint before reaching the age of two years old, raising concerns about what information parents are sharing about their children. Also, children are still learning about what information is okay to share and what’s private, but even conversations between trusted friends or personal information stored on an online profile have the potential to be seen by the wrong people. Teach your children that some information, such as their address or full name, should never be shared online, outside of websites approved and used by their school. Additionally, make sure your kids’ online profiles are set to private so that they can only be seen by approved viewers. When posting on social media about your children, be mindful of who can see what you’re posting and what their intentions could be.
- Review your child’s account settings.
In addition to setting your child’s account to “private,” most social media networks also support the toggling of individual features or privacy settings on or off. This allows you to make specific decisions about how your child can interact with the platform. For instance, you can often disable direct messaging, or set daily time limitations for an app’s use on your child’s phone or tablet. 66% of parents with children aged 12-17 report their child has at least one social media account, which can potentially expose sensitive information to a broad audience if the proper privacy settings aren’t configured.
- Keep an open ear.
While monitoring your child’s internet usage will minimise potential threats they face, it’s still critical to equip them with knowledge on how to enjoy online activities safely and privately on their own. The internet is a massive place, and cyberthreats are constantly evolving — realistically, you can’t prepare for every possibility. That’s why the most important tip of all is to have an open and honest conversation with your kids. Let them know that they can always talk to you about anything they see or experience online, without having to worry about negative consequences. Also, as with other social outlets, be sure to be there for your child if they face bullying, known as cyberbullying when done online. More than half of all connected children report receiving harassing messages online, damage which can be mitigated if the child knows how to correctly block and ignore such messages.
With remote work and schooling models exploding in popularity due to the pandemic’s restrictions, online safety measures are more critical than ever before. Bad faith actors are out there looking for money and sensitive information, and they’re getting smarter with their tactics. You don’t have to be afraid, however, as it is possible to securely navigate the web and its offerings with the right knowledge and software.
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