The internet is an amazing resource for kids. They can play games, stay in touch with friends and family, and learn all kinds of valuable information. But it’s also a dangerous place and most children are woefully uninformed.
Less than 40% of parents talk to their kids about the various types of online risks. 20% of children have been sexually solicited, 25% have seen unwanted pornography. 60% of teens have received a message or email from a stranger—and half of them replied. There are countless dangers so parents need to take these essential steps to ensure their children stay safe online.
There are many effective privacy and other tools to prevent children from being exposed to illicit content or individuals. However, parents first need to get an understanding of how their children use the internet. How much time do they spend each day online? What do they do? Do they chat, play games, or surf the web? What platforms do they use? This basic level of understanding will help you better comprehend the different threats they might face online.
Likewise, this needs to be combined with communication. Like everyone, children want their privacy, but they need to feel comfortable sharing things with you—particularly if they have been threatened in some way. Weekly talks can go a long way in opening communication channels. It doesn’t have to be formal or scheduled, just enough so you know what is going on in their digital lives.
When adults imagine the most common threats online, the main thing they focus on is sexual solicitation and pornography. While both of these are something to worry about, there is a wide array of other pervasive dangers that children need to be able to discuss with their parents. Dangers can also come from other children in the same age group or even school. One of the biggest concerns today is cyberbullying. Cyberbullying occurs very often resulting in children feeling depressed, sad, angry, and even suicidal.
There are countless examples of this online from hurtful messages and posts on social media to rumors spreading on group chats and forums and more. And it’s growing increasingly common. The CDC recently estimated that cyberbullying affects 15.5% of high school students. In comparison, in-person bullying affects 20% of students.
At this point, most parents know to enable parental controls on devices. Every platform has built-in parental settings features that make it easy to block adult content and websites. And this is a good first step. However, for added protection, be sure to also individually toggle these features on different apps, including social networking, emails, and gaming apps. This will provide an additional layer of safety.
Besides, there are many steps you can take to further enhance privacy and security, not just for your child, but for everyone at home. The best way to do this is by enabling a VPN. A VPN or virtual private network encrypts your internet connection with the latest technology. This will prevent hackers and other suspicious types from using your child’s data to get information about them.
For example, a criminal can learn a child’s approximate location from their IP address and then use that information to learn more about him or her. VPNs anonymize the IP address making this nearly impossible to spot (find out more). A VPN kill switch will further enhance this safety. Occasionally, a VPN connection can be dropped for a variety of reasons. In this time, IP addresses and other information become visible. However, with a VPN kill switch, the internet connection is instantly cut until it’s safe again to go back online.
Digital hygiene is a series of best practices that prevent malware, spam, and hacks. Not only will it keep your children safer online, but also prevent viruses and potential problems. Train your children to recognize and report suspicious websites and emails. Likewise, be sure they only download files from trusted senders. Make sure their devices always have the latest software updates and security patches. This will not only keep their computers and phones safer but yours as well.
In the 1990s, the internet was a lot like the Wild West. There were few rules and even fewer ways to protect yourself online. Much has changed over the last 25 years. The number of users has increased, and so too have the threats. But now, you have a wide arsenal of tools at your disposal to help keep your kids and yourself safe online. Begin by having conversations about how your kids use the internet and explain the different risks.
Be sure to note that one of the most serious of them is cyberbullying, which is something children must learn to recognize and talk about. Take advantage of tools like parental controls and VPNs to increase privacy online. Finally, educate your children on digital hygiene practices that will keep them and their devices safe. These steps will ensure your children will be able to get the best out of the internet while knowing what to do if they ever feel threatened.