Every parent’s worst nightmare is her child losing his / her way in the online world given the widespread exposure that today’s children have to a proliferation of smart devices such as laptops, iPads or Smart Phones. Each of these brings with it its own set of challenges for the parent while exposing the innocent child to a world where technology could end up leading the child to the bad guys.
Children across all age groups are vulnerable as the internet. Therefore, it is imperative for parents to find ways to control and balance what their child is getting exposed to along with the huge advantages that are on offer.
What kind of risks & threats do children face online?
- Inappropriate content
- There are sites after sites showcasing adult content which is either sexually explicit or contains extremely violent imagery with abusive language, something that children should not be exposed to especially in their formative years. And much of this kind of content is just a link or an ad away.
- It is not just the websites anymore but such adult content also finds its way into the Free Apps / iBook store and appears in the form of new apps or books etc available as free downloads.
- Risky Interactions
- Older children who are tech savvy constantly interact with friends via Social Media like Facebook and through messaging apps like ‘whats app’, Google Chat etc. In their excitement to befriend and outdo one another, they end up befriending total strangers. They are too young to realize the implications – often ending up becoming victims of cyber-stalking, cyber-bullying and other dangerous & criminal elements on the internet.
- Sharing sensitive information
- As a parent, you take so much care to keep you children and your family safe in the physical world by taking multiple measures – which includes not publicising a lot of information about yourself. The means to do so in the physical world is limited. However, it is very easy to ‘broadcast’ sensitive info in the cyber world – especially via sites like Facebook etc. And children often do not realise that they are giving out info that they are not supposed to – nor do they realise its implications.
- Clicking on malicious links or attachments can expose your laptop and other devices to unwanted viruses and malware which in turn can wreak havoc on your digital lives by wiping off precious data, crashing your applications, sending out unwanted mails, installing Trojans and spyware on your devices and get your laptop into cyber-crime botnets. Children tend to be unaware of such dangers and can inadvertently end up compromising your device.
What can you as a parent do?
- TALK to your child and create awareness: As a first step, we need to TALK as much as possible to our children and educate them on the dos & don’ts and also let them know that there are dangers lurking in the online world as much as in the physical one. It is important to create the awareness about what’s good, bad and the no go areas. For example a simple thing like sharing sensitive information such as exact house address on social networking sites maybe an absolute no.
- Hear and listen to what the child has to say: We as parents also need to up our antennae and listen to the children especially when they mention their friends or any untoward interaction that they have recently experienced. Amidst all the din and chaos around parenting and our daily lives, it’s important to stay alert to pick up such information shared by them and alert them to any possible danger.
- Monitor and supervise internet access: We should also impose controls on the child’s internet usage. It may just be a good idea to cap the usage and also allow internet access under Parental supervision only. This helps you control what the child is exposed to.
- Implement Parental Controls on your device & applications: Quite a few applications that we use on a daily basis such as Google Search, home Operating System, Web browsers- Firefox Mozilla, Google Chrome & Internet Explorer, iPad Safari, YouTube, among others come with parental control options. We need to quickly identify and turn on these safety options available.
Some hands-on tips using readily available options in all apps and devices for a SAFER INTERNET EXPERIENCE
- Passwords are good: A good way to prevent your children from accessing applications, data etc on shared devices like ipads, home PCs, smart phones etc is by setting passwords for them all. This way even if they stumble upon some application not meant for them they will not be able to do access it.
- Use SafeSearch options: Search is possibly the easiest source from where the children are likely to end up accessing adult content. Thus sanitising the search results and ads etc is imperative. Search tools such as Google, Yahoo, Bing and even YouTube all come with their parental control options, for example with Google you can implement the Safe Search option and it is a good way to allow only child-friendly stuff to be thrown up and make it your default setting.
- Internet monitoring applications: There are software applications also available which give details about time spent on the internet, sites visited and applications used with internet filtering capabilities, and also with the ability to send out alerts when certain inappropriate sites are visited. It might be a good idea to have one of these installed on your devices.
- Anti-Virus is a must: Installing good antivirus software on the PC / Laptop etc is a must in case some malicious links get accidently clicked on and the virus or malware get downloaded in your PC then it can be blocked real time.
- Trusted sources only: Downloading software, music, reading material etc should be through trusted sources only. At the same time disallowing file sharing programs to run on the PC would be an appropriate move. Also teach children that it is important to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources of information.
- Use Privacy settings: Social networking sites like Facebook, Google + have their security / privacy settings and they have a minimum age limit to have profiles FB and Google. While that is great, ensuring simple things like allowing only Profile information to be visible to a select few only and making use of privacy settings of pictures uploaded comments and status updates shared go a long way in keeping you and your child safe.
Ensuring Safe internet for children is now a crucial part of parenting with talking, supervising and monitoring being the key ingredients. This is also a continuous process as technologies change so does the threat landscape. We as parents need to be aware and proactive in meeting these emerging challenges for our children in the online world.
– by Rupa Parekh. Rupa, our guest blogger, is an independent consultant with wide experience in the domain of Information Risk & Business. As she grapples with the challenges of keeping her energetic, gadget-savvy young son safe online, she has been doing her bit to spread the message and create awareness amongst other parents in a similar situation.