As schools across the country have closed again in response to the pandemic, thousands and thousands of children and teens are having to adapt to online learning once more.
While it may feel like they are safer at home than anywhere else right now, the internet, unfortunately, presents its own risks and dangers.
With that in mind, we caught up with Tom Gaffney, Principal Consultant at cybersecurity company F-Secure and got him to shares his top tips for busy parents and carers to help keep kids safe online.
Set secure passwords
From Google Classroom and Zoom, to Twinkl and Reading Eggs, there are a whole host of websites, apps and tools to help with homeschooling, most of them requiring usernames and passwords. This in itself can also provide a great opportunity for children to learn. It’s crucial to teach children early on about the importance of creating strong passwords as this will help protect them from getting hacked and having their private information released on the internet.
Many of us are lazy when it comes to password management. A recent F-Secure survey found that many online users aren’t adequately protecting themselves against data breaches – 41% of respondents use the same password on multiple accounts, with 56% using the same password on multiple accounts with slight variation. Educating children about how to set a secure password and why it needs to be kept private is vital when it comes to keeping them safe online.
Keep up-to-date with the latest social media apps
Most parents and carers are well acquainted with the legacy social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but there are plenty of new apps that young people use to communicate that they may not be familiar with, such as Triller. Keep up-to-date by asking your children for their advice on what the latest apps are.
Show an interest and get them to give you a demo of how to use them. This will help you to identify any risk factors, such as anonymous chat facilities or harmful advertising.
Offer clear advice on what they should do if they find something negative
Owing to children’s natural curiosity and the vastness of the internet, it’s inevitable that they will encounter negative content from time-to-time; the trick is how to deal with it. If you punish them for viewing such content, they are less likely to confide in you in future, which will be detrimental in the long run. Instead, praise them for coming to you and make it clear they should always inform you if they see anything that scares or upsets them. Some good advice to follow in these instances is:
- Close the app or browser
- Talk to a trusted adult such as a parent or teacher
- Do not share any personal information such as where you live, the school/clubs you attend, email addresses etc. to anyone online that you do not know in person
Use an internet security suite to set parental controls
It’s impossible to supervise children every time they use the internet, especially when you have other kids or are working from home, and there has to be a degree of privacy and trust. However, using an internet security suite with parental controls, such as F-Secure SAFE, enables you to set boundaries for online usage, block harmful content while also offering anti-virus, ransomware and malware protection. F-Secure SAFE can easily be controlled using the app on your phone so you can customise screen time limits and more.
Encourage children to talk about bullying online
Sadly, online bullying is already rife among school children, particularly in teenagers, but with lockdowns and school closures, it’s on the increase.
Encourage children to confide any negative comments they receive online from friends, fellow pupils and strangers. Keep a record (such as screenshots) of the comments as evidence. Bullying can have such a profound effect on young people’s mental health and it is important that those on the receiving end don’t feel isolated. Similarly, if they witness bullying online, it is equally important for them to talk as the victim may not feel they have someone to talk to. You can find more information here on what to do if you experience bullying online.
The most important thing with internet usage is teaching children how to do so safely and healthily, and the best way for them to learn is by using it. By encouraging open discussion about the things they come across, you’re more likely to keep them safe and learn more yourself.