Protect your children in a digital world

home internet safety

Though the internet is full of content that informs, educates, motivates and inspires, it’s also a hotbed for cybercriminals and people with hostile intentions. With this in mind, it’s crucial that you protect your children from the digital world by taking the following proactive steps.

Discuss internet safety with your kids

The best place to start is by sitting down with your children and having a chat with them about staying safe online. In the same way you’d explain to a child why they shouldn’t speak to strangers in the park, the same applies when they’re using computers, laptops, smartphones, online games consoles and anything else that connects to the internet.

As well as letting your children know that there are bad people out there who want to cause them harm, it’s also important to teach them about their own online reputation. The internet provides a platform where we can remain anonymous, so we all need to ensure that our behaviour is kind, respectful and understanding when interacting with others or posting updates.

This online safety conversation isn’t a one-off, as you should repeat it with your children on a regular basis, especially as they begin to use new websites, apps and devices.

Monitor their online activity

If your kids are still young, you can check their online activity in multiple ways. The simplest yet most effective method is to keep the computer in a central spot where you can see the screen, as this allows you to keep an eye on what your kids are getting up to online. Many parents also check the browsing history after their child has been on the internet, as this will help you to understand what kind of content your child is trying to access.

Other options are a “no internet in bedrooms” policy for young children and setting Wi-Fi passcodes on mobile devices so that the kids can’t use them without your permission.

Whichever approach you take, we strongly recommend turning on parental controls on internet browsers and streaming platforms, as this is a fair and effective way to block inappropriate and potentially harmful content when your children are spending time online.

Make your children share-aware

Being share-aware is a relatively new concept that was brought about by the rise in social media. It’s incredibly easy for people to share too much information these days, as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, TikTok and other social media platforms are targeted by cybercriminals looking for confidential data.

For instance, a cute video of your child playing in the front garden could give a clear indication of your postal address. Meanwhile, everyday photos can inadvertently include information regarding family members, contact details and your child’s school, so it’s crucial that they are aware of the risk and ask for your permission first before posting content.

This is as much a lesson for adults as it is for kids, as every individual has a digital footprint that can last forever. Even if you delete a photo or social media post, there’s a chance that a trace or copy of it can remain online. By being share-aware, we can all take control of our digital footprints and prevent stressful, upsetting and dangerous situations from arising in the future.

Know who your children’s friends are

We understand that many parents want to give their kids privacy in the same way they would an adult, yet children do need additional monitoring to ensure that they remain safe online.

Young people are much more trusting than adults and often don’t realise that they may be in danger. By checking your child’s social media circles and looking at what’s being shared, you can keep tabs on the type of activity and make sure that nothing unsavoury is taking place.

How to prevent cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a very serious issue for modern children and teenagers, as it can cause serious damage to an individual’s confidence, social skills and mental health.

The bad thing is that cyberbullies are everywhere – sometimes it might be one of your child’s schoolmates and on other occasions it could be a total stranger. The good thing is that there are many ways you can support your child and protect them from cyberbullying entirely.

  • Set social media accounts to private: This means that your child has to approve whether or not someone can connect with or follow their account. If they ignore the request, that person won’t be able to see your child’s posts or interact with them in any way.
  • Educate children on password safety: Aside from never sharing their passwords with anyone, your kids should understand the need for strong and unique passwords across their different apps. This will prevent cyberbullies from hacking their accounts and posting malicious content to their feeds or sending inappropriate messages to their friends.
  • Encourage them to disengage: If your child finds themselves being bullied online, the best course of action is to disengage from the conversation. The less that’s said by your child, the better.
  • Capture evidence and report it: If your child does come across a cyberbully, they should take a screenshot of the harmful activity in case they need to refer to it at a later date. The inappropriate activity should also be flagged as it occurs, as social media platforms come with an option to report an issue to its moderators. If desired, your child can then also block the bully across all of their accounts.
  • Log out when using public devices: Your child may use public laptops and computers at schools, in which case they should always log out of every email account, social media platform and the device itself before ending their session. This prevents other students from accessing their personal accounts and carrying out a cyberbullying spree.

The dangers of sexting

We understand that this may be an uncomfortable topic, but many children start sexting or at least try it out from a very young age. It’s natural for young people to explore their sexuality, although some methods such as sexting can be dangerous.

Sexting takes different formats, ranging from text conversations or even just the use of certain emoji all the way to explicit photos and videos. These are usually sent via WhatsApp or Snapchat, although other social media accounts and even old-school platforms such as text message and email can be used.

The important thing to teach your children is that once a message, photo or video is out there, it may be out there forever. Even if the content is set to disappear after a few seconds or your child deletes it at their end, the recipient could take a screenshot and share it with other people. This is a major cause of humiliation, depression, anxiety, cyberbullying and even blackmail, all of which can be prevented simply by teaching your children about the dangers of sexting.

Fake news and radicalisation

Last but by no means least, the internet is a breeding ground for fake news, misinformation and militant content that’s intended to radicalise young minds. Sometimes fake news is obviously bogus and can even come across as funny, but usually it will be well-written, realistically laid out and very convincing, leading the reader to believe all kinds of incorrect and potentially damaging “facts”.

Common instances of fake news and misinformation focus on topics such as politics, immigration and the coronavirus pandemic, although they can cover pretty much any subject matter that the creator uses to sway public opinion in their favour.

Meanwhile, radicalisation is targeted primarily at young people and encourages them to adopt extremist views. This kind of online activity can lead to lack of tolerance and compassion, aggression towards minority groups, violent acts, joining criminal gangs and even terrorist activity. Radicalisation can occur through websites, forums, social media platforms, videos and other types of online content, so the best approach is to help them understand the risks, the importance of forming their own opinions, never to trust everything a stranger says, and that you’re always there to help and support them.

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