Lock the doors! Don't speak to strangers! We all remember the rules our parents set when we were young to help keep us safe. But which rules should we set when our children go online? Even though we've been practicing the art of parenting for thousands of years, when it comes to digital, we often feel clueless about how to protect our children.
The reality is that as connectivity becomes the standard, our children are exposed to more and more online threats. Although they are generally tech-savvy - often showing us up by getting to grips with the latest gadgets before we do - they're not always aware of the dangers that lurk on the internet. Dangers that put both themselves, and the wider home, at risk.
This concerns many parents, and rightfully so. As the latest version of Norton's Cyber Security Insights Report shows, eight in 10 parents admit they worry about their child's safety online
And they have a point.
Even innocuous features could present an unwelcome window into your child's movements. That could be bullies pin pointing your child's exact location by previewing their publicly shared picture or cyber criminals working out your family's daily routines by watching you through compromised webcams. You may even have seen the recent experiment where hackers were able to unlock a garage through a connected child's doll. Your home is only as secure as your weakest link. That could be your kids leaving the digital equivalent of the front door open, or a connected home device with poor security. Once that's compromised any information on that home network could be meddled with or used for extortion.
With that in mind, it is critical that your children know how to protect themselves and when to open up about things worrying them. Whether it's taking care with their social media presence and online footprint or just being mindful that hackers can use their favourite game as the gateway to your family home, open communication can help keep the whole family safe.
Keeping the kids on the lookout
Parents have various ways to ensure their children use the internet safely. Research shows the most common method is by limiting access to certain websites, checking browser history or setting parental controls. But here's the kicker: over half of parents say that children will do dangerous things online regardless of safeguards parents put in place. Rules alone may not always be enough.
When it comes to protecting your children, education is key.
Just like we remind kids to look both ways before crossing the street, parents have a responsibility to teach them how to stay safe. This isn't just a case of presenting children with the digital 'highway code', or even holding their hand when they cross every street. It's opening a discussion, understanding their online experience, teaching safe behaviours, and helping them to recognise the risks.
Here are a couple of key things you can put in place to encourage safer behaviours online:
- Consider talking through a set of "House Rules" for online communication, downloading, time spent online, websites that are safe to visit, appropriate language when chatting, and cyber harassment
- Teach young children to use strong and unique passwords across all their accounts and never to share passwords, even with their friends
- Discuss the risks of posting and sharing private information, videos, and photographs, especially on social media websites - everything posted online is a digital footprint for children and can be challenging to completely erase. Parents should help ensure kids are not posting content that will compromise their security or which they will regret when they get older
- Children are likely to imitate their parents' behaviour, so parents can lead by example and show their children how to safely surf online
- Encourage kids think before they click; whether they're looking at online video sites, receiving an unknown link in an email or even browsing the web and seeing banners or pop-ups, remind your children not to click links which may take them to dangerous or inappropriate sites. Clicking unknown links is a common way people get viruses or reveal private and valuable information to criminals
- Use a robust and trusted security software solution for all household devices - from tablets to smartphones, laptops and desktops
Online safety is an ongoing conversation. Be curious about the sites, apps and services that your children use, and talk about them together. The key is to empower your children to make the right decisions so that everyone stays safe.