Advice on children's use of the Internet

Advice on children's use of the Internet

During the last twenty years, Internet has grown exponentially. It is used by all generations, especially children. Children begin to use tablets at an early age. For example, according to a Médiamétrie study, the average age of phone access is 9.9 years old. The Internet represents a significant step forward in the daily lives of its users. However, it is not free of dangers. Dangers that directly target children. This vast universe welcomes all forms of criminality, including pedocriminality, harassment, identity theft, hacking, etc. As of today, it is almost impossible to forbidden access to the Internet.

I am publishing this post for all the parents out there who either are not aware of the risks of leaving their children alone on the internet or have no idea how to protect them from it.

First, let us be clear about the dangers. You wouldn't leave your child 6,8,10,12 or even 14 years old alone on the road talking to people and exchanging thoughts and stuff with complete strangers would you? It is worse leaving your child on the internet alone, worse because you are not just leaving him on the road, you are leaving him in the middle of the night with all the thieves and murderers...

After this long introduction let us get straight to the point. What are the top 3 threats on the internet for your child?

1 - Strangers: strangers include sexual predators, sextortion specialists, fraud thieves, gamblers...

2 - Friends: friends include friends that do pranks on your child, cyberbullying, ex boyfriends/girlfriends, swearing, and inappropriate content your children can get in contact with shared by their friends...

3 - Children themselves: what they share and what they can download on the internet is astonishing...

What you should know:

1 - Did you know that in a recent study in the USA, 20% of middle school students think of suicide because of cyberbullying*

Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles. 

2 - Did you know that a big percentage of ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend use the internet to post personal pictures of their ex to get back at them. There are specific websites that help you do this also...

3 - Did you know that pedophiles are using the internet and specifically social networking sites such as Facebook to lure children and teenagers on internet a 45-year-old guy can pretend to be a very cool teenager and lure his victims. A good informative movie about the topic would be Trust: A teenage girl is targeted by an online sexual predator.

Moreover, Pedophiles make it their business to know the very latest games, messaging services, and virtual worlds of interest to children and will seek out their victims in every possible online forum, using a variety of tools ranging from Xboxes to iPads

Keeping our children safe on the internet

There’s absolutely no way possible for me to cover every aspect of online protection for children in the confines of this article without writing a book.  Face facts; it is extremely difficult even for someone with an extensive cyber security background to touch on every subject, however, this article will attempt to present the most important steps any parent can take to keep a child protected from online dangers.

Internet Safety for Kids in 10 Simple Steps

1. Make sure to always have access to your child’s computer.

Now, this doesn't mean that you need to verify every day what happens on the computer. For most families once in a few weeks is fine if you notice that your children are visiting only safe websites.  If you notice during these auditing sessions websites that just don’t seem appropriate for the age of the child, you might need to make your device review a weekly occurrence.  

You can begin your audit by taking a look at what websites have been accessed or what kind of content has been downloaded on the system. If you have the possibility, monitor for chat rooms, any instant messenger applications, and both inboxes and sent folders of their email account(s).  

I want to emphasize to readers that online sex-offenders usually meet their victims by accessing chat rooms.  As soon as communication has been established with a child, the relationship usually continues by a long time exchange of e-mails which may include sending photos or videos.

Now, if in the unfortunate case you discover your child could be a target or victim of a sexual offender, there are two actions you can take. First, talk to your child and clarify the situation. Second, if you discover actual proof of more than sexual innuendo taking place in their conversations, then you really need to do something about it and contact the local authorities and file an official police report.  You may also want to reach out to your ISP provider and ask for further assistance with blocking communications and certain websites access.

Many ISP providers work with police authorities to investigate certain internet activity, but each police jurisdiction is different, so check.

2. Teach your children about online dangers.

Learning is not a destination, it is a process. In a changing environment, we need to establish fast the limits of our liberty to access unfiltered content and the potential dangerous phishing attempts that could pose a threat to our families.

 And this is actually the best step you should follow. Teach yourself about malicious software and techniques cyber-criminals utilize for getting your personal information before you perform any interaction on the Internet.  Familiarize yourself with the authentic websites of your online bank account, Credit Card Company, email services, and e-commerce sites like EBay and Amazon.

The following questions could prove useful for you and your family:

  • How much do you know about safe browsing?
  • Do you know how to secure an online e-mail account?
  • How do users stay safe on Facebook?
  • What security myths should you begin to forget?
  • What security blogs should you access to improve our learning?
  • How do you stay safe from online scams?
  • How do I know my computer is infected?
  • How do you maximize our financial data protection?

 These are just a few topics you and your family should address. To find answers to the questions above, simply access the corresponding links.

3. Let them teach you. Or simply listen to them.

Staying online is a risky business and we cannot really predict where a discussion or comment will take us or what type of people we may encounter on a social media platform.

You may check their computers, their Smartphones, or any other devices they might use to connect to the World Wide Web. You can find out who they know and whom they listen to.

But how much do we actually know about our children?

In just a few words…not very much, because there will always be ways and methods to evade our attention. So, this time you need to listen and let them teach you about the social media platforms they use or the latest viral on YouTube.

Believe it or not, this is by far the easiest way to obtain information on your children’s online habits, rather than losing time playing I-Spy on their computers and trying to understand their browsing history.  Not to mention, many older children have learned how to manually delete their browsing history in a matter of a few mouse clicks.

So heed my advice and just listen to them.  Pretend that you don’t know too much about this Internet thing and let them start talking.  There’s nothing more exciting for children than pretending to be teachers for a little time.  Not to mention the trust they gain in themselves and finally, in you their parents.

4. Online actions have real consequences.

So let’s take a look at some things, it is extremely difficult for a young child to understand that the Internet is a dangerous location.  How could anyone explain to a child what a sexual offender or predator is, when they haven’t even start their sexual education?

So how should society work to solve these online problems facing both children and even some adults?  What happened to the task of teaching children starting at a very young age to avoid talking to strangers?  Many parents claim to teach their children but in the age of the online world many parents are so disconnected from their child’s development that they forget to mention those words more often.  So how can as a civilized society help children improve their intuition on security risks?  Various choices and decisions can be made to increase our family’s security strategy, but we need to establish what it is that we are afraid of.

“The limits that we impose may increase our online security strategy, but at the same time, we risk to block the natural development process that drives our children forward.” 

To what level is tolerated and to what level can actually be controlled is a different topic that we need to answer, before we can create a security framework for our family.  For the moment, children need to acknowledge that online actions lead to real consequences. Not paying attention to what we choose to access may lead to serious malware infections.  Children are now using their parent’s credit cards (whether known or secretively) on many websites which may lead to losing additional money if those sites are rogue or unethical businesses looking to prey on children’s innocence and lack of knowledge of what is right or wrong.  So while we’re mentioning things like this, I need to say it:  

Cyber-bullying should not be accepted by any parent.

5. Install a good antivirus product on the computer.

So let me ask you parents a very important question now. Do your children use a separate computer or tablet from your computer or tablet device?  Well, in some cyber security experts minds it doesn’t really matter, but to this particular expert it does.  On your child’s devices you’re not storing financial data but on your laptop or desktop computer you might be. 

The bottom line though is:

Security is security and each computer should be protected from online threats and malicious software.

Since children are naturally attracted by new things and have less experience, they follow easily dangerous links and untrusted websites. Not to mention the tendency to download and install video games from unknown web locations, content which could easily infect the entire operating system.

Therefore, as their parent and adult guardian you need to have a good antivirus product from a reliable company and this solution must include a real-time scanning engine, a firewall and automatic update.  To help you determine what the best solution is for you and your family, you could access the test results provided by companies in the online industry. 

6. Use parental control software to monitor your child’s online behavior.

There are many professional software companies who have already considered many of the possible issues that could appear from kids’ unrestricted access to online content. For this reason, you’ll find many parental control solutions that address and try to limit this problem.

So should you use such software or not?  Well that all depends on how much you trust your child’s intuition to be safe when they’re using the Internet and avoid dangerous websites? Also how likely will your child get involved in performing unsafe activities that could compromise the operating system or your financial situation?

Since parental control solutions have been in use for quite some time now, you may find it useful to have specific monitoring software that acts like an online guardian.  These solutions can help monitor the Internet usage, keep track of visited websites control the Internet connection time, block malicious or pornographic websites block specific FPS/violent games and report any unusual online activities.

7. Keep your child’s device software up-to-date.

If your child is using a conventional laptop of desktop computer begin by making sure the Windows or Macintosh operating system has all the latest security patches installed.  These updates are important because they contain stability and security fixes that shield the system against cyber-criminal attempts. 

If the device of choice is an Apple iPad, Samsung or other Android OS-based tablet, or a Windows Surface OS tablet make sure that you have installed the latest OS update and security patches directly from the manufacturer.

It has been proven that hackers usually gain access to operating systems by using security holes in software, like Adobe Flash, Java or popular browsers like Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. 

That’s why you need to check the PC used by your children and make sure they have the necessary security patches. 

8. Don’t let them go online without anti-spyware protection.

Spyware and anti-malware software should be used in conjunction with an anti-virus application.  Together these specialized applications will work to block intrusive software from accidentally being installed or executed on the devices. 

Anti-spyware is a software program that monitors your private Internet connections and associated applications like Adobe Flash.  There are many signs or alarms that could indicate such an infection on the system.  The spyware application looks for specific bits of software code that has been determined as being suspect, if the suspect code is discovered the anti-spyware application will terminate the processes and remove the offending code, therefore, protecting the system from further damage.

So, if you hear your child complaining about slow-down issues, pop-ups all over the screen, new toolbars, a different default engine, or random error messages, this could mean a spyware issue that you need to address. 

To stay safe from such a problem, talk to your child and teach him a few basic things to keep things clear:

  • don’t click suspicious links or pop-up windows
  • don’t answer to unexpected questions
  • don’t involve in chat sessions with strangers
  • be careful to drive-by downloads in free applications, most of the time they are simply a Trojan Horse for malware applications, so use popular anti-spyware products available online, like Malwarebytesor Spybot Search and Destroy.

9. Secure your Home Wireless network.

The home Wi-Fi network is usually accessed only by members of the same household, but that doesn't mean that dangers don’t exist and additional steps should not be followed to increase the home network security level. 

Follow a few simple, but vital steps like imposing a password for the network and another one for the network administrator, or using a good firewall to block hackers from accessing the network computers.

It is important to protect your home network and the computers or connected devices that are part of it.  A security breach on one computer, tablet or Smartphone could compromise the entire network. And this is something parents should be aware of. 

10. Pay attention to Wi-Fi networks outside your home.

Your children may be safe at home, but with so many Wi-Fi public networks they connect to, how can we be sure they will remain safe?  The free public Wi-Fi networks are everybody’s favorite places to stay up-to-date and check their social media accounts. And it’s not just children, we all do it.

We go everywhere and enjoy a coffee at Starbucks, without even thinking about the online dangers or hackers that could wait for our connection to start.  Even if we can’t be anywhere, there are still a few things we can do to greatly improve their online security.

First, make sure the laptop they use has some sort of protection, like anti-spyware or antivirus protection and an update solution to keep the software sealed against exploits and security breaches. 

Second and more important, information is the secret for your kids’ online safety, no matter where they are.

Conclusion

We cannot deny the fact that the Internet opens a world of possibilities for children and brings together different cultures and people from various corners of the world.

Therefore, online connection services or social media networks are great means for improving our communication speed, but they still serve as the best tools for disturbed individuals to reach your kid’s sphere of interest.

And it’s difficult to fight these dangers when we have an online medium in an ever-shifting and unpredictable world. In the end, our problem is twofold. 

We need to teach children that dangerous people exist in the online and they might pose a threat for their development. But we also need to “preach” online protection from malware threats and phishing attempts that usually target unaware or uneducated minds.

How do you keep your kid safe from online threats? What methods are you using? 

Let me know… until next time… enjoy the Internet, but be careful!

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