Many children and teens have access to a smart device of some sort – a phone, tablet or laptop – all connected to the internet. While online security has always been a concern for parents, the changed circumstances that social media and mobile devices bring to the table have amplified the need for greater security awareness not only on how much screen time children spend online, but most crucially, what and who they could be exposed to.
“For any parent, the biggest concern is that children don’t have the necessary grasp of the privacy issues and any potential threats that could put them at risk. Cyber bullies, stalkers, hackers and wholly inappropriate content are also online unfortunately, so make sure you spend the time to educate your children about the risks, how to identify and avoid them before they happen, and that anything that makes them feel concerned or uncomfortable is cause for your immediate attention and intervention. Three of the most important aspects of protecting your child online come down to opening the lines of communication between you so that your child shares any concerns with you and secondly, putting the necessary security and monitoring measures in place to keep them safer online. Finally, the most important thing to remember is that because they’re online so much without your supervision, you want to empower them with the understanding and knowledge to be able to identify acceptable and unacceptable online content and behaviour independently when you’re not around. They need to know how to behave online and how to identify and avoid online risks,” explains Brett Russell, the chief information security officer of MetroFibre Networx.
It’s important to understand the four key areas where your children are at risk when online, so you can appropriately address each of these risks with them, and put measures in place to manage them. MetroFibre Networx shares some handy tips on how to keep your child safe online while they embrace all the educational value and treasure that the internet has to offer:
- Content risks – Sexually explicit and other inappropriate content in music videos, movies or online games, simulated/real violence, hate sites, fake news, harmful content like self-harm, drug use, suicide, negative body image content and so on.
- Contact risks – Coming into contact with online predators posing as children, online scammers, and others who may try to persuade them to meet in real life or provide location details.
- Conduct risks – Behaving in inappropriate or hurtful ways online or being the victim of such behaviour including cyber bullying, sexting, making unauthorised online purchases, revealing inappropriate content or information.
- Contract risks – Contract risks include your child signing up for contracts, terms or conditions that they aren’t aware of or don’t fully understand or making unauthorised purchases which may open them up to identity theft or fraud, receiving inappropriate content, marketing messages or scams, and having their personal data collected from apps and devices.
What can you do to keep your child safe online?
- Open cards and straight talk: Before you allow your child to access any digital platforms, have THE talk. Make sure that your children understand the risks around content, contact, conduct and contract, and all the potential content that they could be exposed to, and what is appropriate and not appropriate. They should understand that the very same ‘stranger dangers’ that lurk in the real world, exist on the web too in many different formats. Make rules with your children such as never uploading or downloading photos of themselves or friends, never divulging any personal information whatsoever (age, gender, address and so on) and never talk to strangers online. Your children should always clear any downloads and apps to be installed on their devices with you first. Have an honest discussion and let them know that they can talk to you about anything that concerns them.
- Controlling online content and browsing:
- Google has a child-friendly version – https://www.safesearchkids.com/ – not only is it a safe search engine specifically designed for children, but there are loads of excellent material for parents and children on how to keep safe online.
- Video streaming services: While Youtube kids provides a version of the Youtube service oriented towards children, it is not always guaranteed to be safe for children as it is extremely difficult to curate the sheer volume of videos uploaded to the platform. So, use this service with caution. Services such as Disney Plus, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video etc. have accounts for kids which have content specifically selected according to age groups. These tend to be safer to use, although be sure to protect against access to parent/adult accounts on the platforms using the relevant controls (pins, passwords etc.).
- Social media platforms are not intended for children and any participation of children that are younger will need express consent of a parent or guardian. Many platforms have introduced age restrictions which have been reinforced with the European Union’s introduction of its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018 that set the age of 16 as the digital age of consent. As a rule, children should not use social media, specifically as there is very little control on what they can access through the various platforms.
- Virtual assistants – Google assistant, Siri and Bixby could take a child to online places that they should not be. To restrict what path your smart device’s voice assistant will lead your child, read this simple tutorial or consider disabling them on child devices.
- Monitoring apps – There are various parental monitoring apps that allow you to keep track of your child’s online behaviour and what they can access, and even set time limits. However, this functionality is now also build into your phones and devices. So before investing in any apps, be aware of and try the built-in family protection tools that exist already in your device for free from Google (Android), Apple and Microsoft.
- DNS Protection – Various companies such as CloudFlare provide a free filtering service on all your web requests to filter out malware, adult content and so on. By default, MetroFibre makes use of the 22.214.171.124 service from CloudFlare to protect from Malware and keep our customers browsing history and privacy safe. CloudFlare also has an additional free service that blocks Malware and any adult content. This can be configured on your router or various devices by following the instructions here.
“Giving your family and children the gift of fibre connectivity is a massive advantage in terms of the educational progress and ability to keep pace with the new remote learning realities, as well as access to some of the incredible educational, recreational and entertainment content that it holds. But with that gift comes the responsibilities of keeping your children safe online. Have the all-important talk with your children about the online world, and all its benefits and risks. If you need help with setting up the necessary security and safety measures for your home devices, invest in the services of an IT techie to advise you and help set everything up – it’s likely to be one of the best investments you can make in helping your family navigate their online journey and get the best out of your internet connection,” concludes Brett.