Children’s online privacy is a crucial element of child safety. Understanding and supervising children’s online behavior is just as important as understanding and supervising their real-world behavior.
This article will explore how to:
- Understand the threats kids face online
- Communicate about online child safety and cybersecurity among family members
- Use parental control software to restrict or monitor kids’ internet use
Understanding the Biggest Online Threats to Kids
The internet can be a dangerous place — and still a relatively new technology. We may look back on the early 21st Century as the World-Wide Web’s “Wild West” era.
It’s crucial to understand the threats children face online in order to ensure their cyber safety.
Kids today live in a world where videos of the most extreme sexual acts are readily available on a device they carry around with them all the time.
This is a world away from the typical childhood of a few decades ago, where most kids’ experience of pornography was a flick through an adult magazine that someone had found in their dad’s dresser.
A 2016 UK study revealed that 94 percent of children questioned had viewed pornography by age 14. Seeing pornography at such a young age has significant implications for young people’s development, relationships, and their understanding of consent.
Parents can reduce their risk of their children inadvertently viewing pornographic content by using parental controls.
So-called “phishing” scams involve a person being tricked into voluntarily given up their personal information to a malicious person.
A common phishing scam is known as “domain spoofing.” Cybercriminals set up websites that look just like the genuine website of a bank or retailer in order to carry out identity theft.
Domain spoofing is very common. The number of fake retail websites online could even be higher than the number of authentic websites. And players of the popular video game Fortnite have been tricked into buying fake in-game currency from counterfeit websites.
Parents whose children have fallen victim to an online scam should contact law enforcement. It’s also important to report online scams to the relevant government agency, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States.
The internet makes it a lot easier for child abusers to make contact with vulnerable children. For example, online predators can set up fake profiles or screen names on social networking platforms to appear younger than they really are.
Statistics from the Department of Justice reveal that more than one in ten young people has received unwelcome sexual contact online. And around 4 percent of children have received online messages asking them to meet up in the “real world.”
Parents who suspect their child (or any child) has been subject to online grooming or inappropriate contact should contact law enforcement. Abuse prevention charity The Code publishes a list of national agencies by region.
Many people were bullied as kids and will be familiar with how it feels. Waking up, dreading going to school and spending the whole day being humiliated.
Spending 6 or 7 hours in the company of bullies for 5 days a week, 36 weeks per year was hard enough. Now imagine how hard bullying victims have it today — now their tormentors can contact them 24/7, 365 days a year, via social media and smartphones.
Cyberbullying presents totally new challenges to parents and teachers. For example, in a 2017 study, 70 percent of young people surveyed said that someone had spread malicious rumors about them online.
Whether it’s degrading comments on an Instagram photo, humiliating replies to a Facebook status, or abusive texting — cyberbullying can be just as harmful as bullying that occurs in “real life.”
Society is struggling to deal with the issue of cyberbullying. This is clear from the statistics — rates of cyberbullying doubled between 2007 and 2019, according to the Cyberbullying Research Centre.
It’s not just predatory adults who seek out sexual contact with children online. Social media brings a whole range of new ways for young people to explore their sexuality — sometimes in unhealthy or abusive ways.
Teenagers have often struggled to establish or respect proper boundaries when entering into their first relationships. However, the internet adds a new dimension to inappropriate sexual behavior among young people that parents can’t ignore.
For example, a 2017 study into sexual abuse among minors suggests that around 1 in 10 teens (13-17) had been pressured into sending nude images by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the previous year — and nearly a quarter had received unwanted sexual images.
Communicating About Online Safety
Understanding the threats kids face online is important. As is taking practical steps to protect them. But perhaps most important of all is open, honest communication.
Communication With Kids
Open communication with children, in all areas of life, helps establish proper boundaries and expectations. When it comes to communication about online safety, it also helps parents better understand the technology that’s so central to their kids’ lives.
Conversations about internet safety should begin at a young age. Many schools teach internet safety to kids as such as eight years old.
It’s tempting to be squeamish when communicating about issues such as internet pornography or grooming in chat rooms. But if parents can show they’re familiar with such content, children will be more likely to approach them if they see something scary or confusing online.
Remember, it’s not a question of whether children will encounter inappropriate material — it’s a question of when they’ll encounter it. If they can recognize what they’re seeing, they’ll be better placed to respond appropriately.
Communication is just as important with older children. For example, if parents are considering installing parental control software on a child’s device, this is less likely to lead to resentment or trust issues if it has been discussed first.
Communication Between Parents
Parents must work together to set rules and boundaries around their children’s online activity.
For example, one of the most important questions for parents of young children is becoming: When should we buy our child their first smartphone?
Studies reveal that most parents feel 11 is the ideal age for a child to get their first cell phone. However, around 25 percent of children have are only 6 years old when they get their first mobile device.
There are several reasons that parents might want to hold off for as long as possible before buying their kid a smartphone. In addition to all the dangerous online activities identified above, excessive phone use has been shown to be harmful to young minds.
However, some parents might also feel that having a mobile device makes their kid safer — after all, it enables them to keep in contact if ever they get lost, or when they start making their first trips outside alone. In this case, consider using parental control software.
Using Parental Control Software
Controlling the behavior of teenagers has never been easy. However, there was a time when parents could rest easy when they knew their kids were at home.
Nowadays, things are more complicated. Kids are online for many hours each day — with or without their parents’ permission. However, there is a range of parental control software available to let parents monitor and restrict their kids’ internet activity.
Turning Off Mobile Internet
Some parents, particularly of younger children, may wish their child to have a phone for safety reasons, but might not wish them to engage in unsupervised online activity.
It’s possible to prevent a child from viewing inappropriate content by turning off internet access. This can be achieved via the basic first-party parental control software available on iPhone or Android via Google Play.
Turning off mobile data will allow a child to make calls and send or receive text messages, but shield them from the distressing online experiences identified above.
Limiting or Restricting Online Activity
Some parental control software allows parents to restrict the types of websites their kids can access or the times of day at which they can use the internet. This type of control might be appropriate for parents of teenagers.
Some internet security brands offer parental control software that allows control of all computers on a home network, plus any kids’ devices on which it’s installed.
For example, Kaspersky Safe Kids lets parents:
- Restrict adult content, by blocking search engine results (“safe search”)
- Limit time spent on certain apps or websites.
- Monitor public social media activity.
Parental control apps usually allow parents to monitor their children’s real-world location via GPS.
Monitoring Online Activity
Parents who are worried about what their children do online may wish to take parental control one step further, by using software that allows them to actively monitor their child’s online activity.
Kidlogger lets parents view their children’s activity on Windows or mobile devices, including the apps that the child has used, the people with whom they have communicated. The software even includes a keylogger that can be used to log the child’s keystrokes.
Although such software can log device activity, it can’t transmit the actual content of messages sent or received on certain platforms, such as WhatsApp, that use end-to-end encryption.
A word of caution — parents should think carefully before they install the more intrusive types of parental control software on their children’s devices. A child who discovers that their activity is being monitored without their knowledge may suffer some serious trust issues.