Each year it seems as though our lives become increasingly virtual. It is not that we simply choose to spend time online, we depend on digital platforms to purchase, work, learn and connect. The pandemic amplified this more than any time in modern history. With this new, increased digital dependency, how do we identify and combat posed risks to online safety?
The first step is identifying the risks. With school and work closures, parents are spending more time working virtually and children are spending time learning virtually, and unsupervised.
Kaspersky, a cybersecurity company, has released several articles on the risks and importance of online safety. Each of these risks existed prior to the pandemic, but they now have more opportunities to occur.
Call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at (800) 843-5678 if you’re aware of the sending, use, or viewing of child pornography online. Contact your local law enforcement agency or the FBI if your child has received child pornography via the Internet.
Posting Private Information
“Children do not yet understand social boundaries. They may post personally identifiable information (PII) online, for example in their social media profiles, that should not be out in public. This might be anything from images of awkward personal moments to their home addresses or family vacation plans.”
“Much, but not all, of what your children post is in public view. This means that you can also see it—and there’s no harm in reminding them that if Mom and Dad can see it, so can everyone else. Avoid snooping, but speak frankly to your kids about public boundaries and what they mean for your children and your family as a whole.”
“These days sexual and other predators often stalk children on the internet, taking advantage of their innocence, lack of adult supervision and abusing their trust. This can culminate in children being lured into dangerous personal encounters in real life. Online predators lurk on social media and gaming platforms that appeal to children—the same virtual venues where anonymity facilitates cyberbullying. There, they can exploit not only children’s innocence but also their gift of imagination. “Let’s play pretend” is a common and healthy part of online gaming and interaction, but predators can use it as a hook to pull children in.”
A method of cyber predators, grooming is when a predator gradually develops a seemingly trusting and positive relationship with a child online. “Children may not be aware of who they are really speaking to. Cyber exploitation can include sending sexually suggestive messages or material to lure a child online to meet in real life. Predators may try to convince a child to engage in an inappropriate activity or take photos or videos for the offender, which they then use to threaten or blackmail that child.”
“Cyberbullying might range from sending intimidating or taunting messages via email, text, social media, or instant messenger, to breaking into your email account or stealing your online identity to hurt and humiliate you.”
Posts that Come Back to Haunt a Child Later in Life
“The internet does not have a “Delete” key. It is the opposite of Las Vegas. Things that happen online, stay online. Forever. Anything your child puts online is nearly impossible to remove later. The dangers of social media are especially daunting. It is particularly hard for teenagers to consider how a party picture or Snapchat message could cause problems ten years down the road when they interview for a new job, or how a prospective mate might respond to personal content that they post to their social media profiles or other websites.”
“For example, this might be an explicit ad that appears on a free game, children’s cartoon characters portrayed in an adult setting, or a forum that discusses topics not appropriate for children.”
- Set up parental controls and internet filters.
- Ensure your child’s privacy settings are set to maximum. Almost all social media apps will have privacy settings that you can adjust.
- Cover webcams when not in use. Some people do this using duct tape or something similar, having read disturbing stories about malware enabling others to spy on them via the webcam.
Make sure locations cannot be identified. Ask your kids not to geo-tag photos on social media and/or apps, as this lets others know their location.
- Have clear rules about appropriate internet usage – when, why, and for how long. Be alert to signs of distress linked with online activity and know where to seek help. For example, your child might seem distant, upset, or angry after using the internet or texting. If you detect this type of pattern, try limiting the amount of time spent online and be sure to closely monitor the interactions your child is having, with the goal of identifying the potential cause(s) of distress.
- Know what protections are in place outside of the home. Find out what, if any, online protection is offered by your child’s school, frequented friends’ houses, or any place where they may be using a computer unsupervised. Many schools and churches employ security on what can be accessed online.
- Keep the computer in a common area! When dealing with younger children, try to place your family devices in areas where it is easy to monitor your childs use. Be cautious about allowing children to use the internet in private areas such as bedrooms, especially during late hours. Monitor any time spent on smartphones or tablets.
Source: Common Sense Media
Myth: Teaching kids not to talk to strangers is the best way to keep them safe online.
Truth: Teaching kids to recognize predatory behavior will help them avoid unwelcome advances.
“In today’s world, where kids as young as 8 are interacting with people online, they need to know the boundary between appropriate and inappropriate conversation. Kids are often pressured by their own friends to talk about sex, so they need to know it’s OK to tell peers to back off. Go beyond “stranger danger” and teach them what kind of questions are not OK (for example, not OK: “Are you a boy or a girl?”; “Where do you live?”; “What are you wearing?”; “Do you want to have a private conversation?”). Also, teach kids to not go looking for thrills online. Risky online relationships more frequently evolve in chat rooms when teens willingly seek out or engage in sexual conversation.”
Myth: It’s dangerous to post pictures of your kids online.
Truth: If you use privacy settings, limit your audience, and don’t ID your kids, it can be done fairly safely.
“Although it’s true that posting anything online invites some risks, there are ways to limit them if you’re smart about how you do it.
Use privacy settings. Make sure your privacy settings are set so only the closest people in your network can view your posts.
Limit your audience. Only share posts with close family and friends. Or use photo-sharing sites such as Google Photos that require a log-in to see pics.
Don’t rush your kids into social media. Obey the rules about keeping kids under 13 off social media. Once your kids have an online profile, they can be tagged in photos, which magnifies their online presence. If you’re going to upload photos of them, don’t identify them and don’t tag them — that way the photo can’t be traced back to them.”
Myth: Parental controls are the best way to monitor my kids’ online activities.
Truth: Focusing on only one Internet safety method lulls you into a false sense of security.
“By all means, use parental controls to help prevent exposure to age-inappropriate material and to manage time limits. But don’t think they get you off the hook. Continue to discuss responsible, respectful online behavior, set rules and consequences for misbehavior, and train your kid to manage his or her own usage.”
Additional Tips and Resources from Around the Web
Staying up-to-date and informed on online safety isn’t easy. We have listed a few articles and sites that provide tips to help! If you have a tip or resource you would like to share, please let us know through the feedback portal on our contact page.
- 2021 Best Parental Monitoring Apps
- Parents Ultimate Guide to Parental Controls
- 10 things every parent can do to keep their kids safe online
- The Fatherly Guide to Keeping Kids Safe Online
- What Kids do Online Might Surprise You: Review of Study
- Internet Safety 101: (With Age Group Guidelines)
- Bark Blog: Parental Monitoring