Internet safety for kids: how to be cautious
Many parents treat the internet as an around-the-clock nanny, passively watching over their children. The impact of media use on kids is an ongoing dilemma, with specialists urging parents to limit the exposure. Besides the evident health issues related, the internet is not always a child-proof environment. Cyberbullying, phishing scams, obscene content, and predators are threats that parents cannot control. So, foreshadowing and informing children of the potential dangers is the responsibility every parent has. Let’s run through all the intimidation, dishonesty, and inappropriate dealings that can compromise your child’s well-being.
Why is the online world dangerous to children?
Hackers and con artists are not afraid or shy to target innocent children. They have no moral code, nor do they care about the psychological impact on young minds. In some cases, children can be central community crooks selected as their prey. In this case, the idiom of “like taking candy from a baby” turns more sinister. Instead of sweets, children could be the shortcut leading to the home PC or parents’ credit cards. In other cases, malicious forms of behavior against kid’s apps could aim at revenue. There seem to be two angles with the latter goal.
First, hackers could distribute fake versions of well-known games to stimulate higher incomes for ads: a strategy exploited already. An even more wicked technique is to retrieve children’s private information or footage of them and sell it. While kids’ data has not been prominent on the dark web, selling it becomes a trend. The first impression would be simple: what misery can hackers bring with an infant’s private data? Sadly, fraudulent tax returns and synthetic identities are just a few scenarios to fear. So, before you let children wander in the digital world, provide them with guidelines for a safe experience.
Notable threats to kids’ physical and mental states
Parents should not live in a bubble or turn a blind eye to the most prominent dangers online. Knowledge and resistance are the key weapons in defeating both predators and hackers.
Harassment via electronic means is an aggressive issue that exposes children to ridicule, hate comments, threats, and humiliation. According to statistics, only 38% of victims feel confident to share their experiences with their parents. Cyberbullying also has lasting effects, with victims suffering from mental health issues later in life. Sadly, cyberbullying is one of the primary triggers of suicidal thoughts or self-harm as a form of escapism.
While traditional bullying requires face-to-face interactions, its cyber counterpart hides under the perks of anonymity and seamless communication. It only takes a couple of minutes to insult someone online. Offenders can post rude and offensive comments from anonymous accounts and avoid detection. A similar approach could isolate victims by excluding them from the inner circle or spreading vicious rumors. Since everything happens online, information travels at a swift pace. Knowing that only 34% of parents monitor children’s social media use, many alarming signals go unnoticed.
Obscene imagery and information
Multitasking and sleep-deprived parents are no strangers to the calming effects of YouTube. While it has a lot of child-friendly content, YouTube is not an innocent and quality-controlled environment by nature. Supervision of the content presented to children is non-existent, opening windows to indecent exploitation. Also, ads that automatically appear during videos do not consider the little one’s interests. If parents show cartoons from their personal YouTube accounts, their video-viewing history will impact the ads. Of course, YouTube has drastically improved its algorithms and ad-policies on kid-focused videos. Hence, many parents choose to use YouTube Kids: a strictly-monitored app, curating the children’s content. Sadly, it has also been a subject of many debacles, like allowing indecent cartoons to reach kids.
Social media, in general, is a minefield for any child. For instance, Facebook and Instagram require users to be at least 13 years old. TikTok follows the same policy, but younger kids can use it with permission from parents or guardians. However, as there are no effective verification processes, children can easily lie about their age. After that, they receive streams of entertaining videos, but sometimes, it is no longer funny. At one time, a coordinated attack against TikTok users transmitted a graphic suicide video. Such raids on social media platforms are nothing new, and children could stumble upon similar content daily.
Con artists and predators
Children are easy prey for cybercriminals since they are usually more gullible and naive then adults. In today’s digital era, predators can abuse kids without ever leaving their house. Recently, experts reported a disturbing increase in online child sex abuse through TikTok. Vile parties use a relatively simple pattern. They befriend children on TikTok, starting a back-and-forth video-sharing communication.
As time goes on, the predator will demand more revealing images and threaten the child if they refuse. In more unfortunate scenarios, pedophiles convince children to meet them in person. Usually, the vicious person pretends to be a teenager or a college student of a similar age. One such incident occurred when a 51-year old tricked a primary school student into meeting him. Therefore, parents ought to keep a tighter grip on the people their children communicate with daily.
Children-targeting malware and scams
As a parent, you wish technology to assist in your child’s development. You might notice that internet-connected toys and devices are the future. Or so they seem. Who could think that a Wi-Fi-connected Barbie Doll could be a spying tool for crooks? Transforming children’s toys into a microphone is every parent’s worst nightmare. However, you cannot foresee such issues, and advertising does its deed splendidly. Sadly, looking for backdoors is not the only way malware can affect children. It can travel through seemingly-harmless files, websites, or emails. Phishing and scams are especially relevant if your child plays online games. Fortnite, the addictive game for teenagers, is an inspiration hackers use to make children spend money on counterfeit shops.
What can you do as a parent?
- Educate children about privacy and safety. Young minds are like fresh clay: parents need to help mold it. Discussing threats in the digital age might resemble the birds and bees discussion. However, you should not feel ashamed when warning your kids about the potential dangers. Before you are confident that a child will understand these risks, limit their access to the internet. Early exposure to the digital arena might lead to unwanted repercussions.
- Install parental control tools. As we established, the digital world can be a scary place, especially to a minor. Parental control applications help parents monitor their children while also preserving some of their privacy. Such tools can detect inappropriate language, imagery, mental health concerns, contact with strangers, etc. Of course, choose software that is reputable and comes from reliable vendors.
- Parents should learn how to detect odd behavior. Noticing that children spend most of their time glued to their smartphones is a red flag. Be approachable: be the person that a kid can trust to share their activities. In addition to this, do not be afraid to visit their social media pages and look for cyberbullying signs. However, do not panic if it turns out that your child is the bully. Denial is the fastest response, but let this emotion pass. Most bullies are insecure, lonely, and depressed. So, you need to figure out the reason behind nasty behaviors towards others.
- Protect your home from malware and privacy intrusions. Remember the vulnerable internet-connected toys? You can solve such issues rather effectively. First of all, choose only industry-standard vendors. Secondly, secure your home Wi-Fi. Children use Wi-Fi for the majority of their activities online. However, predators willing to stalk or abuse might retrieve children’s approximate locations via IP addresses. Secure all communications that traverse through your Wi-Fi by installing Atlas VPN on all compatible devices. This action will guarantee anonymity and will prevent offenders’ attempts to steal information or commence stalking.
Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. Interested in cybercrime, online security, and privacy-related topics.