Online Safety for Kids - Keep Your Kids Safe On the Internet | Camp K12 Magazine
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Online Safety: Keeping Your Kids Safe On the Internet

In current times, especially with a pandemic underway and schools operating on remote or hybrid learning, children are spending more and more time online, and thus need to learn about online safety. The internet is now an integral part of most homework assignments,  many of our children’s extra curricular activities have an online component and much of their entertainment is also online.

As adults, we understand that the internet is not always a safe and welcoming place, but since keeping constant track of our children’s online movements may not be realistic (or even healthy), it’s extremely important to understand common online safety concerns and educate our children about them.

What are the threats to online safety that your child might face?

  1. Cyberbullying: Social media, messaging apps and online gaming have turned the internet into a 24/7 playground. Unfortunately this means that classroom bullying has found an ugly new face online. The vast majority of cyberbullying takes place between children who know each other from school or other social circles. Cyberbullies may be peers who are:

    a. sending hurtful messages to your child over social media or messaging apps

    b. sharing distressing, private or misleading information about your child with others If this information is of a sexual nature, such as intimate pictures, it could constitute a criminal offense.

    c. Excluding your child from certain online groups or activities.
  1. Cyber predators: Online predators can be anywhere, including on social media sites and online games, and many use catfishing to trick children into interacting with them. Hackers and cybercriminals will target anyone with poor security regardless of age, and may try to trick children into sharing passwords or payment details. There are also examples of cyber predators who engage in other forms of manipulation to influence your child to take certain actions.
  1. Phishing/smishing: Phishing emails or messages try to trick people into clicking on malicious attachments or links. They can pop up anywhere and at any time, but cyber criminals often specifically target sites that are popular with children. Children should be taught to avoid clicking on links from unknown senders and be watchful of messages that appear as if they are from their friends but seem “off” in some way as part of online safety.
  1. Scams: Scams targeted at children usually offer free access to online games or special features in return for credit card details or personal information. 
  1. Malware & Spyware: This is malicious software that is installed onto yours or your child’s device without their knowledge or permission. Malware then performs harmful actions on the device, such as altering functions, relaying private information stored on your device or downloading unsolicited content onto your device. 
  1. Self-sabotage: If a child does not understand the “forever” nature of the internet, they can easily post something that comes back to haunt them later in life. Additionally, children may post personal information on their social media profiles that should not be shared with the public due to online safety concerns. 

What should you teach your child about online safety?

1. Create online accounts with safe usernames and strong passwords

The requirements of a strong password have evolved over the years, but typically, a good password should be no less than eight characters, should NOT contain any intelligible words and should contain a mixture of numbers, uppercase alphabet, lowercase alphabet and special characters. Impenetrable passwords are an integral part of online safety.

It’s important to use different passwords on different online accounts so that if your password from one account gets leaked, your other accounts will remain secure.

In addition to this, when you create an account to join a website, be careful and sparing about sharing personal information. Avoid using your full name in the username, as that can enable strangers to find you through a simple Internet search.

2. Make use of the advanced privacy filters on social media

Most popular social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, have advanced privacy filters that allow you to decide what personal information from being shared with others. Choose your sharing privileges carefully to prevent strangers and individuals with malicious intentions from getting a hold of your information. Ensure nobody outside of your friend list can see details on your profile for online safety.

3. Never share personal information or contact details with strangers online

When we say personal information, we mean anything about you that can be used to determine who you are in real life. This includes your full name, where you live, the name of your school, your parents’ names, home address, phone number, names of places you visit frequently and more. These seemingly small pieces of information can help strangers on the internet find you. Ensure that your children understand what counts as sensitive information, and that for online safety it should not be shared with anyone they do not know well. Caution should be exercised, and parental guidance should be encouraged,  when submitting confidential information on online portals. 

4. Your child should check with you before downloading or installing anything

It is invariable that your child will want and need to download things, ranging from photos, videos, applications, to games and streaming services. Make sure they know to check with you before doing this so that you can check that the content being downloaded is child-friendly and online safety is being followed.

5. Ask them to report any teasing or bullying online to you immediately

We discussed cyberbullying earlier, and all parents should ensure their children are aware that they may face it on the internet. Your children should be able to identify cyberbullying and should immediately inform you if they come across any harassment, bullying, or otherwise abusive behavior not just towards themselves, but towards others as well. Cyberbullying can have a huge impact on the well-being of a child and they should feel safe coming to you if they are on the receiving end of it.

6. Avoid using unsecured networks & public Wi-Fi

While the convenience of free Wi-Fi at hotels, malls, coffee shops, airports etc. is huge, they also come loaded with their own risks to online safety. Discourage your children from using public Wi-Fi hotspots to keep their data and browsing safe.

What can parents do about online safety to protect their children?

1. Educate yourself and stay up to date

The internet is constantly changing, so stay abreast of the latest online safety tools as well as new threats your children may encounter online.

2. Talk to your child openly and empower them

Initiate an open dialogue with your child about the risks of being online and the importance of online safety. Ensure that your children feel safe and comfortable in asking questions, sharing any concerning online experiences with you or talking to you if they feel they are in trouble. Even if they have broken a rule and found themselves in a fix, try to turn it into a learning opportunity and emphasize that their safety is the most important thing for you.

3. Set up some basic rules

Basic rules mean foundational rules that a child will follow for online safety when they use the internet. Examples of such rules can be:

  • I will only use approved apps and websites.
  • If I want to download anything, I will ask permission.
  • I will only go online after taking permission from an adult.

These online safety rules can be expanded as your child grows.

  •  I will never approve in-app payments without a parent being present.
  • I will never share my real name, address, or contact information online. If sharing information is required, I will wait for a parent or guardian to do so.
  • If someone is mistreating me or trying to get me to do something unusual, I will share this with my parent or guardian.

Rules will need to be further expanded as your child enters their teenage years, and should be built with their unique needs and behaviors in mind. Once your child is older, you can talk to them about creating online safety rules that are about safety only, not restriction.

4. Invest in protective software and tools

While online safety rules can help to protect your children from social threats coming from other online users, to protect them from threats of a digital nature, such as malware, you need to invest in the right tools and software.  This can include anti-virus software, anti-phishing software and plugins, webcam protection, web filters that restrict inappropriate or adult content, VPN, password protectors, and more. This is an extensive online safety topic, and can be read about more here.

Above all it’s important to remember that in the right hands, the internet is a beautiful tool, and your child deserves to experience using it with security, awareness and insight. At Camp K12, we constantly strive to help our students navigate new technologies safely and responsibly.

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