The world can be a scary place, especially the digital one.
Internet safety is something with which we should all actively concern ourselves. Astonishingly, the average person spends roughly 5.9 hours online daily, according to the Digital 2019 report, from Hootsuite and We Are Social, meaning we’re exposed to online threats for roughly a quarter of our entire day. The amount of time being spent online is on the rise, so why wouldn’t the amount of malicious activity be also?
Unfortunately, kids are easy targets for hackers, immoral marketers and others looking to make an influence or steal valuable data. With this in consideration, it’s important to help children navigate the Wild West of the worldwide web by helping to establish the groundwork for their experiences moving forward.
So, what should you and your kids consider when surfing the web and how can we be certain a site is safe?
For starters, let’s talk about what is actually defined as a safe place for children online. Does the website they’re visiting or wish to interact with promote rewarding experiences, improve intellect or increase their creativity? Or does it provide them with media that is harmful, dangerous or of poor value? These are the questions you should ask yourself when discussing safe online practices and establishing the sites they are allowed to visit or restricted from engaging with.
As adults, we have a plethora of apps and assistance that help us manage our ever-growing catalog of passwords, filter malicious digital content and more – but we’ve been living in the digital world for some time, and those aspects of being a tech consumer are second nature for many of us. For children and young adults, the basics for online protection aren’t established and neither are the consequences.
While each site is different, and we can’t speak for them all being entirely safe, there are some basics that you can abide by that will assist in ensuring they’re as safe as can be.
Your children should never provide personal information about themselves, including their age, name, location, gender or method of contact. Many sites may ask for an email address and personal details, but unless your child is at an appropriate age for managing an inbox, we advise they don’t engage without consent or assistance from a parent or guardian.
Ever go to a site and have an item automatically downloaded to your computer? Don’t touch it. Unless you’re expecting that download, you’re best off simply deleting the file and moving on. These files are typically trojan or malware viruses that allow hackers to gain access to your computer and its contents. To help your children best understand why they shouldn’t interact with these files, consider creating an analogy to accepting candy or favors from strangers. You don’t know them and you don’t know what’s in the mysterious item they’re providing – as such you cannot rightfully trust them.
It’s ultimately up to you as a parent to keep tabs on your children and their relationship with the internet. If your children are new to the internet or untrustworthy with the time they spend online, you may want to sit with them during their early online interactions and slowly wean away as time moves on. Regardless, consider setting ground rules for their online activity. For example, ask that they only get online in front of others in an open room.
Today, most browsers have parental control that allow parents to set parameters for where your children can go and what they can see. They even allow you to enable sites you’ve deemed safe so, as your child grows and becomes more reliable as a safe explorer, he or she can begin to access more of the content that is desired. In addition, browsers like Google Chrome offer additional plugins that can be added to your browser to improve the online experience by preventing ads and popups, scanning incoming files, encrypting passwords and more.
There’s a lot of harm that can come from being compromised online, and your children shouldn’t have to bear that burden due to a lack of knowledge. Much like you teach your children to look both ways before crossing a busy street, it’s important they understand the rules of the road and how to abide by them to ensure they remain safe.