Recent research by CoreData and Choosi indicates that modern conveniences make lives easier but most Australians also agree that an easier life may not always be a better life. This rings true especially when it comes to how often our children are exposed to the internet and the risks that come with it.
These risks can include – cyberbullying, exposure to unwanted/dangerous content or contact with people who are looking to “groom” children to facilitate child sexual abuse. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicated that while there were over 13,000 web pages hosting child abuse content in 2013, the number of domains hosting this content had increased since 2012 i. This growth implies that the problem is still a long way from being eradicated and the best way to approach it is to ensure that your child’s safety and privacy are maintained. It should also be understood that children aren’t necessarily prepared to understand these risks from someone who they may not trust. Ensure that you or someone they are close to can speak to them and explain these issues as soon as you can.
Here are a few tips that might help your children navigate the online world safely.
- Don’t assume your children know the basics, teach them
While children may find it easier to navigate the internet than we might have at their age, it is important to remember that they may not know how to protect themselves against cyber bullies, viruses, and strangers claiming to be ‘a friend’. Teach your children the basics. This includes exercising caution when asked to reveal personal information, regularly changing passwords and taking care when accepting message requests from strangers.
- Partially monitor and restrict your child’s internet usage
Monitoring your child’s internet usage may seem like an invasion of their privacy but when managed skillfully, it may work for all parties involved.
Promote conversation with your children and let them discuss how they feel about being monitored. Have an open forum where both parties agree to the online transactions being monitored. Placing safe search filters or other barriers should also be fine but be open to their questions about why you might be doing so. Also, ensure that you give them enough space. If they choose to not speak to you, have someone else they trust to be their confidant – an elder sibling or cousin, a close relative or even friends might help.
- Explain possible scenarios
It’s difficult to defend against dangerous situations when your children don’t know what they are. The best way to help them learn is to talk about the possible scenarios they could come across online. Include solutions for them to implement if they were to come across a similar situation. While an in-depth exploration of the subjects isn’t necessary, even a cursory understanding is likely to help your child understand and become more aware of the risk they face. Discussing these scenarios will also create an environment of openness that might help your child approach you if they are in any way facing any issues as opposed to hiding it from you.
- Implement monthly to-dos
Another great way to instil good habits online is to create an activities calendar that can help your child do key things like checking their security and privacy settings, changing their passwords, understanding who has access to their photos and more. For younger children, this can even be treated as a fun activity. According to the same Choosi survey mentioned above, only 56.2% of Australians regularly change their passwords or indulge in similar maintenance ii. This exercise might even become an incentive for you to maintain better online security habits!
- Help your children spot signs of danger
A great way to ensure that children are safe when using the internet is through enabling them to see scams and suspicious people as soon as they encounter them. Teach children how they can verify a person’s identity, how they can access commonly found repositories that list out scams and make it a habit for them to approach any adults about any suspicious behaviour they encounter as soon as they happen.
Online safety tips will change as technology evolves and cyber offenders find new ways to infiltrate our homes but starting the education early will help your child engage in safe practices as they grow older.
i – Study on the effects of New Information Technologies on the Abuse and Exploitation of Children – United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2015, p. 17 – http://www.unodc.org/documents/organized-crime/cybercrime/Study_on_the_Effects.pdf
ii – Choosi Modern Choices Report, 2017, p. 27 – https://www.choosi.com.au/ChoosiSite/media/ChoosiAssets/Documents/modern-choices-report.pdf?mboxSession=238fd51971a343a584c73f89949c75cd