By Zaid Shaikh
Let’s discuss the kids and the new world they are facing because of the COVID-19 situation. Almost every kid has access to the internet for guidance from teachers and interacting with friends. I say it’s a technological wonderland for children. Although there are benefits of having online learning, still sadly, the internet is a dangerous place for children.
Online child abuse is getting bigger and dirtier. There are hackers, bullies, scammers, and predators who can take advantage of young curious kids in the technological wonderland. As a cybersecurity expert, I tried to explain in easy terms the threats kids face and skills that parents should be equipped with.
- Types of Internet Threats
- What Parents Can Do
- Identifying Issues or Threats
- Technical Help
We focus on strangers but the biggest threat to a child is themselves and then friends or people they know. When your child is harmed online, it’s very difficult to know and it can be worse. Now if the child is exploited it is all over the internet and this is very damaging emotionally. We need to be aware of people our child is interacting with online. How they are interacting with friends, teachers, family members, etc.
It is not protecting data or information, it is protecting kids and their future. The current generation of kids is exposed to the technologies that their parents didn’t have when they were growing up. It is very hard to understand what they are going through because we might have not faced such challenges. There are different types of threats a child faces on the internet like cyberbullying, online grooming, posting private information and they are an easy target of phishing attacks. Let’s discuss them in little detail.
Types of Internet Threats
- Online Grooming
- Posting Private Information
Cyberbullying is online harassment targeted towards an individual. This can happen anywhere on social websites, chatrooms, gaming platforms, or learning platforms. An example includes posting hateful messages and images, posting humiliating comments, and rumors about an individual.
There are cases where youngsters create fake identities to malign the image with improper pics and comments. Cyberbullies need attention and are intimidating. They seek popularity and entertainment while damaging other kids emotionally. It can lead to anxiety, depression, lack of confidence, and even suicide.
2. Online Grooming
It is very easy to have fake profiles/identities on the internet and kids are immature to identify this. They end up becoming friends with the person who is faking the identity or whose real identity they don’t know. They try and gain the trust of kids and have an emotional connection with them with the intension of meeting in person, harming them, having sexual conversations, and sharing naked pics and videos.
This is the biggest threat and has very little awareness. The majority of children are unaware that strangers may try to find out their information and would like to connect with them as their friend. In the race to gain more followers or friends on social media they connect with people they should not be contacting.
3. Posting Private Information
Kids themselves are the biggest threat here. They can send private information like an address, phone numbers, and school details and timings. Often they get lured for subscribing for games, followers, etc.
This threat is not limited to kids. Phishing is the biggest source of exploitation of cyber resources. Unknowingly, kids tend to click on click baits which have malicious payload behind the attracting looking links. Phishing attacks can harm them, their devices, and can steal private information. Kids are the usual target of attracting looking email from gamers with free code. Unfortunately, even the smartest kids can get fooled, just like their parents.
What Parents Can Do
The best weapon against all this is education. Talking to kids, about how to interact, setting expectations, teaching them on setting boundaries, what they can or can’t share with anyone is the key. Ultimately this dialogue between you and your children will save them from harm.
As the best parenting technique, you need to start this earlier when your kids are almost 6 years old. Ask them what they are doing. Communication should be both ways and your kid should be comfortable sharing information with you.
Technology changes and kids adapt very quickly. Ask them what they are doing online, about the apps they are using and who they are talking to online. Parents have to realize that there is no product like a firewall you can install on your kids to project them and think we have removed all the risk factors.
Education and interaction with your kids is the only tool which will make things easier for you and your kid. Educate your children to ignore bullies and if the situation becomes threatening then know how to take the help of the local authorities.
Of course, you can use the technology for monitoring and filtering the device, but it is ineffective if you are not communicating and setting clear policies and agreements with your child. For example, keep devices away during sleeping time and away from their reach. Set timings and limits on usage. Monitor their online activities that include e-learning assignments, messages from friends, and teachers. Monitor the kind of applications kids are using and if they are sharing pics on those applications or private chat rooms. Again, most importantly, discuss the dangers of the internet with them in detail.
Identifying Issues or Threats
Understanding when your child needs help is very critical. Usually, they won’t come up to you with the troubles, it’s the parent who needs to be alert and monitor their behaviors. Issues with your child can be identified from behavior change.
For example, if they are bullied at school, they will not be themselves, evidenced by a sudden change in behavior. They will become secretive and will not be comfortable sharing the device with you, they will act like they are scared and they will try and hide the device when you are around. This might impact their eating and sleeping habits, so when you are close to your child and have communication with them you will be easily able to identify that they are going through something unusual and rather concerning.
Apart from parental guidance, below is the listing of technical steps that will help to keep the kids safe.
- Install firewalls and have parental control on the web access on their devices.
- Have external monitoring software to track device usage.
- Check with your ISP if they have parental controls.
- Set up parental control on the device, this setting is available for all kind of devices available in the market.
While any kind of safety does not give you 100% surety but still this will give you confidence that you are doing every possible effort in keeping your kids safe.
Do you know any other tips on cybersafety for kids? Let us know in the comment section.
Cybersecurity management professional, having 14+ years of experience in Cybersecurity and Information service roles. Strong understanding of various information technology assurance frameworks like COBIT, ITIL, NIST, and ISO 27001. Expertise in Risk, Audit, Compliance, and Governance. Voluntary worked as a career consultant for students.
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