Privacy doesn’t seem to be a huge concern for our children anymore. Our kids are growing up online and as parents we are worried about how they appear to be sharing everything about their lives with everyone they know- and don’t know. There may be threats lurking behind the next message your child receives, or they may be about to leave an unwanted digital footprint that will be around forever. What exactly are the threats and what can parents do to minimize the potential negative consequences of our children’s online behaviour?
What are the threats?
Online dangers, which are threats for adults as well as for children, include phishing, where you are misled into providing your data; cyber-stalking, when someone repeatedly contacts, frightens, or threatens you; malware installed on your device which may lead to data loss or loss of access to data; cyberbullying or posting negative or harmful content about someone; scamming, where you are conned into giving information or money; and being exposed to obscenity.
In addition to this we should all be aware that we are constantly being targeted for advertising purposes, which may not be a direct threat, but certainly something to consider. Our children (and indeed many of us) may also be engaging in illegal activities through downloading copyrighted music, movies, TV shows or software. We may do this without much thought, but in fact doing this is partaking in illegal activities.
Safety hazards may occur anywhere online. They can for example appear on instant messaging or chat apps, computer games with chat features, text messaging, email, through downloads and social networking sites. Since most of our kids carry their phones with them all the time, they can be exposed to these threats anywhere and at any time.
How to keep the kids safe?
It is extremely difficult to completely block our children’s access to the internet as that would also prevent children from accessing important and useful resources. Asking your child’s user name and password may help a little, but it’s not too difficult for children to circumvent that. After all it takes just a few minutes to create a new account under a different alias and keep the old one for showing to the parents. At KIS International School the approach is to educate children about safe online use, maintaining open communication and, as an additional measure, blocking several sites for specific age groups. This could also be a good approach for parents. All children need to learn how to responsibly use the internet, as they will at some point be independent and will have to manage their online activities themselves. The school also has families sign an internet use agreement, and you can find examples of similar agreements to use within your family (indeed, you would find these online!). Other tools to support sensible internet use are age specific websites, for example the family friendly Youtube Kids or kid-safe search engines. There are also certain programmes that control which sites children can visit, for example Blocksi (for schools) and Qustodio (for parents).
What to say to your kids?
When talking to your children about internet safety what exactly should you say? Of course each family would approach this in their own way, but some examples could be:
Think before you post
Think about whether or not it is safe to share with others where you are. Who are you sharing this with?
Never send photos to strangers
Keep your passwords private except to parents
Tell an adult if you receive a strange or mean message
Be aware that you will leave a digital footprint that will never go away
Don’t publicly share your address or phone number
Put privacy settings to the most conservative level.
We all have to face the reality that our children are growing up in a world where being online is simply a part of normal life. Spending some time with your children talking about internet safety will help them to become aware of the risks, act responsibly and recognize when there is an online threat.