Life has changed enormously since the rise of the mobile phone. Perhaps the most important change is the way it’s given children direct access to the internet via a device they own themselves.
A generation ago, parents’ worst nightmares were filled with child abductions, but now they need to worry about the kind of inappropriate content that can be stumbled upon by their offspring.
“If you are aware of the possible threats, you can take steps to avoid them,” explains Daniel Markuson, the digital privacy expert at NordVPN. “That’s why parents need to know everything about the dangers lurking on the internet. Not only should they inform their kids about the risks, but also show their example on how to keep away from them. Teaching about online safety should start as early as possible.”
The pervasiveness of the problem might surprise you. According to a survey conducted by Microsoft, 53% of the children between ages 8-17 in India have become victims of cyberbullying. Although the study was carried out in 2017, it’s only natural to assume that the problem hasn’t gone away since then. This becomes all the more worrying as younger and younger children begin to use digital devices.
NordVPN themselves have seen the number of installations of their personal virtual private network service increase by a factor of 5-6 since the end of 2018. Their recent survey showed that privacy and security online are the biggest worries that are driving this uptake.
Daniel Markuson lists what he thinks are the five most common problems that school-age children will encounter online, along with some advice to parents about how to handle them:
Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It’s a form of bullying and should be treated as such because it can cause embarrassment and humiliation.
What to do: Encourage kids to talk about online bullies and other things that make them anxious. Help them understand that they are not alone. Also, document everything that’s happening and help them to report users about their inappropriate actions online.
Kids start using social media at a younger age than ever before. They tend to post a lot of personal information online without realizing the consequences.
What to do: You should have a conversation about what kind of information is safe to share. Most social media or messaging services allow their users to manage their privacy settings. Sit down with your kid and adjust those settings to make sure their profile is as safe and private as possible.
The internet makes it easy for criminals to reach out to their victims without drawing attention. They can fake a personality or get in touch anonymously. As for kids, they feel more comfortable online and tend to be more open to strangers than in real life.
What to do: You need to insist that they should not accept friend requests from unknown people. Also, discuss information that shouldn’t be public. Predators find addresses, school location, parents jobs, and other personal information very useful.
Nothing is ever for free. But the internet features plenty of gift offers, contests, or email lotteries, most of which are scams. And sometimes they are easy to fall for, both for kids and adults.
What to do: As a parent, you should learn everything about scams yourself. Only when you’re able to spot them, teach the kids. Advise your child to be careful about deals that may look too good to be true. Ask them to show you every suspicious message or offer they receive. Encourage them to consult with you before buying or redeeming anything online.
In the future, it will become harder to tell fabrications from reality. With falsified visuals becoming more accessible and easier to make, everybody should become more aware of fake information. Also, kids often can’t recognize sponsored content or paid advertising.
What to do: It’s essential to teach them about checking facts and sources. Show them the most trustworthy websites, but also discuss how to evaluate online content critically. Explain how advertising works and why influencers sponsor specific products.
So ultimately it comes down to treating online threats much the same as you would a real-life threat. Children still need to be warned about the dangers that strangers can be. Always remember that it’s a real person at the other end of an online threat, so a casual chat over social media could eventually lead to actual physical danger.
As ever, the best way to protect your children involves talking to them and being aware of what’s going on in their lives. You can’t take care of a problem that you don’t know about. Also, like in real life, don’t be so afraid of the dangers so much that you don’t take advantage of the wonderful opportunities out there. The internet can be a powerful tool for education and a force for good, if used safely.