April 3, 2020

How can children be protected on the internet?

We are all confined to our homes during this crisis period. Parents are mostly working from home, while the children do their school work. They can no longer see their friends, and tend to fall back on virtual contacts and social networks.

We worry about them and at times feel out of date, powerless to protect them. The internet has become common place in our everyday lives. A source of knowledge, a place to play and communicate with their friends, the web also harbours many dangers for our children. While depriving them of it is unthinkable, how can we best support them to ensure they are safe?

These tips will help you to properly identify the threats and above all to realise that you have the power to protect your children on the internet!

What cyber threats are our children exposed to?

30% of children aged 7 to 12 in Luxembourg have their own device (PC, tablet, smartphone). On the one hand, they are exposed to the same dangers as we are, such as scams, viruses, phishing, etc., but on the other, they are also targeted by specific threats. Here are the main risks for your children online.

  • Addiction: an increasing number of children are becoming hooked on games, but also on social networks, to the point that they spend a lot of their free time on them. This dependence has an impact on their health, their balance and their nervous system. Addiction may also result in expenses, often involuntarily (buying virtual objects in an online game, for example).
  • Inappropriate content: children are extremely vulnerable to shocking images or videos, violence, pornography, etc. Such content may influence their behaviour or leave them traumatised for a long time.
  • Malicious software, viruses, phishing, hacking, theft of personal data, etc. As children are more trusting and less experienced than us, they find it difficult to identify suspicious content.
  • Hackers, scammers and other fraudsters can easily extract personal information from your susceptible child. Even your credit card number can be stolen in this way.
  • Cyberbullying: children are particularly exposed to being bullied online. Insults, threats, rumours, embarrassing photos, blackmail, etc. Unlike offline bullying, cyberbullying does even more damage in that it is generally public (social networks) and continuous: as we are permanently connected, even the home is no longer a refuge for the child victim.
  • Online predators, for whom your child is easy prey. Around 13% of young internet users have been victims of sexual advances. Often, predators first try to win the child’s confidence in chat rooms, on social networks and online games, frequently by pretending to be another child. This is called grooming, and is intended to entice the child before attempting to abuse them.

Technical prevention methods

A few simple technical tools and tips should enable you to considerably increase your children’s cybersecurity when they are surfing, whether on a PC, tablet or smartphone.

  • Create a specific session for your children on the PC, ensuring that they are unable to access administrator functions. This will prevent them from installing software or certain potentially risky applications without your agreement.
  • Install an ad blocker.
  • Block localisation on all apps.
  • Define the privacy settings to ensure your child’s profile is as private as possible.
  • Install an environment especially dedicated to your child depending on their age: do you know that there are specific social networks for children, as well as search engines and even browsers for them? More secure and with limited content, they were also designed to provide appropriate content. Use parental control software on all connected devices. Some are very simple and well designed, such as Witigo. They provide you with usage reports, alerts in the event of incidents or problematic use, enable you to control access to various apps (white list and black list), and even control the time slots in which your child can be online.

In all cases, it’s not about policing your child: talk to them and explain to them why using these security tools is a good idea.

Nothing replaces human surveillance

While we should not of course overlook the technical tools, they can never guarantee your child is 100% safe on the internet. A word of advice: set the PC up in the living room, so you can keep an eye on what your children are checking out.

Almost 70% of parents do not monitor their children’s online activities!

Take an interest in what they’re doing, the games they play, the social networks they use. Ask them questions, or even play with them online, in order to stay as close to their activities as possible, and start a discussion with them on these issues.

In addition, you must gradually educate your child about how to use the internet more freely while being aware of the dangers. But be careful, below the age of 10, children are not old enough to understand all of this. Their perception of the boundary between the virtual and the real is still not clear.

Give them rules and user guidance

To empower your child over time, it is important to set limits, but also give advice that will enable them to make good use of their increasing freedom. Set together the time schedules during which they can be online.

Inform them of the dangers. Show them what a phishing attempt or a suspicious website (for example) look like, in order to gradually arm them against cyber risks.

Teach them how to create very secure passwords.

Give them some security advice:

  • ask their parents’ advice before downloading an app.
  • never give out their telephone number online.
  • never give personal information, especially in chat rooms or online games: their real name, their photo, their address or even their school.
  • only accept the people they know in real life as contacts.
  • do not respond to messages if they don’t know their source.
  • do not believe everything they read or discover on the internet.
  • beware of multiple identities hiding behind user names.
  • beware of public wifi networks, which are more vulnerable to intrusion.
  • above all, don’t hesitate to talk to them as soon as they have a strange interaction or one that makes them uneasy.

Talk, first and foremost!

Both the simplest and most important thing: never stop talking with your children. Discuss the matter with them as often as possible, show you are open, tolerant and honest. Tell them they can talk to you even if they think they’ve done something foolish, that’s what you’re there for. Above all, if they receive messages asking them not to mention it to their parents!

It is crucial that children feel comfortable discussing a problem. According to internet security organisation i-SAFE, more than half the children bullied online do not talk to their parents or another adult about it. Likewise, children often don’t dare to talk about it if they see inappropriate content, for example.

Children seem more up to date than us, and parents quickly feel out of date. But don’t forget that while they seem to have mastered the technical environment, they are often completely unaware of the dangers!

Explain to your child that they may come across shocking, disturbing or traumatic images. Explain to them what pornography is, and direct them to positive resources adapted to their age if they ask questions about sexuality.

In short, focus on listening and education, teach them to be responsible internet users with an alert critical mind!

For more information, the Luxembourg government recommends the website BEE SECURE, which covers measures to raise awareness and the safer use of new information and communication technologies.

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