According to the 2020/21 Ofcom Children and Parents Media Use and Attitudes Report: 50% of ten-year olds own a mobile phone and the use of smart phones has risen significantly in the past year. 97% of children aged 12 to 15 watch content on video sharing platforms. 26% of 12 to 15-year olds say that in the past year they had come across bullying, abusive behaviour or threats online.
What makes these statistics even more alarming, however, is the fact that a shockingly low 32% of parents use the parental controls built into devices!
We wouldn’t leave our children alone with strangers and yet if we don’t keep their devices safe, that’s exactly what we are doing. Here are 8 ways to keep your kids safe online:
Phishing messages are untargeted mass emails asking for sensitive information or encouraging recipients to visit a fake website. Unfortunately, even kids can be targets. Teach them to not open links from email addresses they don’t recognize (or to check with your first). There are also a few tricks to spotting phishing mails: The offer tends to be too good to be true, spelling and punctuation errors or an odd sense of urgency are all red flags.
Details like full names, addresses or schools names could all help strangers to find your offline. Criminals will gather this information and may try to use if for identity theft and other offences such as fraud. Online grooming is also a real threat. To combat this, ensure your child’s privacy settings mean they are only sharing information with family and close friends. Use parental controls, which you can find under ‘settings’.
Always have password protection enabled and lock all devices. Weak passwords make it faster and easier for someone to gain access to online accounts or get control of devices, which gives them a route to your personal information. For a strong password, use a passphrase and combination of upper and lower and symbols and numbers. Consider paying for your child to access a password manager as well. Encourage them to have different passwords for different accounts and ensure that the whole family uses Two-Factor Authentication.
We know that kids today don’t know how to survive without Wi-Fi, but when in public, rather keep devices unconnected. Public Wi-Fi is an ideal target for hackers who can use the lack of security restrictions to access devices and the personal information stored on them.
It’s important to make your children feel like they can open up to you about who they are talking to online. The anonymity of online chats mean that your kids could be speaking to fraudsters or predators without even being aware of it.
Cybercriminals also groom teenagers to use their online skills for unethical reasons. If this is happening, there are a few warning signs you can look out for. Sudden evidence of new-found wealth (unexplained new clothes or devices) secrecy around their online behaviour or boasting of new online friendships are all causes for concern.
This isn’t always easy – particularly if your child shows you something you absolutely don’t want them to see, but it’s important that they trust you not to react badly if they show you inappropriate content. Let your children know that you are a trusted adult and will help them decide what to do next. Explain the concepts of ‘trolling’, ‘cyberbullying’ and ‘online abuse’ to your children so that they understand appropriate online behaviour.
Using a device for too long, especially just before bed, can interfere with a child’s sleep quality and reduce their concentration and overall enthusiasm. Most device settings let you specify a screen time limit, helping your child to stay fresh and focused to perform well at school. You can also put some screen time boundaries in place. Consider ‘no devices in bedrooms at night’ as a standard household rule, for example. Try to discourage device dependency as well.
Healthy online habits
It is vital to have conversations with young people about what is acceptable behaviour online and what’s inappropriate, unacceptable or against the law. Warn against reacting even more aggressively towards online trolls, reminding them that their digital footprint will outlast the current problem. Keep the dialogue always open so that young people have trusted adults to turn to when in need.