With time and experience, most adults develop a list of do’s and don’ts for their online activities. But the fact is that most of us have learned this the hard way. There may have been an incident, an uncomfortable experience, or even worse, a cyber-security intervention which may have made us realize about the importance of keeping our online privacy intact at all times. However, it’s not just the adult population that uses the internet. Pew Internet & American Life Project, estimated in 2012 that from all the children aged between 12 and 14 in the US, 59% of them use the internet. The numbers for the following age group, which is 15-17 were surprisingly high, suggesting that as many as 83% of them use the internet. It’s alarming to observe that not only have these percentages increased over the years, but also new age groups have been added. Now most estimates that project the number of online users in each age bracket consider toddlers and youngsters as well, aged between 3 and 11.
It’s unrealistic to expect children to know about what is safe online and what is not. Leaving it up to your kids to figure it out themselves may prove to be an ineffective way, if not dangerous, to protect themselves against cyber threats. Therefore, it is highly recommended that all parents discuss internet safety with their children at least once every six months. Such discussions are a great way to understand how aware your child is about the dangers of internet if not used with caution. It can also help establish ground rules as to what children can do online, and what measures can be taken to protect them from cyber-stalkers and pedophiles.
Some parents are smart; they would know what questions to ask their child to better understand his or her online code of conduct. For others, who may not be as tech savvy, we have compiled a basic code of conduct that your child can follow online to remain safe from people with evil intentions.
Rule 1: Never share any personal information online
Make your children understand the importance of keeping personal information to themselves. Personal information can include, but is not limited to, contact details, address, email address, and social profiles. Emphasize on the dire consequences that can follow in events when personal information gets shared. Use stories and real life examples to create a better understanding for your children. If a website or an individual does require personal information, a parent should always be consulted to look into the matter and decide if information should be shared or not.
Rule 2: If something seems disturbing, inform parents right away.
There is a lot of content online which can be extremely inappropriate for children. With so many websites displaying explicit ads, it is likely that a kid may click on those ads and land on a page which contains inappropriate content. Although it is impossible to ensure that your kids don’t click on such ads, providing proper knowledge and awareness about which content is “disturbing” and how it should be avoided, can really help the cause.
Parents should specify that children shouldn’t click on ads or any other irrelevant content, no matter how tempting it may seem. If a child repeatedly experiences disturbing content of similar nature, they should speak to their parents in detail so that a software or program, such as an ad blocker, can be installed on the device to overcome this problem.
Rule 3: Never Meet With Someone You Met Online
It doesn’t matter how long your child has known a friend that he has met online. While your child might believe that they know and understand their friend very well, they should categorically agree never to meet anyone alone who they have only known as an online friend. While most parents believe that this rule applies to young girls to help them remain safe from different forms of cyber harassment and online bullying, it is equally relevant to ensure that young boys also abide by this rule.
One can never be sure about the real identity of a person that they have just met online. As alarming as it may sound, there were more than 83 million fake Facebook profiles as stated by the social media company’s own chief security officer, Joe Sullivan. It is very convenient for anyone to create fake profiles on different social platforms and establish a false reputation of a non-existing individual. But in reality, such profiles often conceal vicious people behind them who can harm your child.
Rule 4: Never respond to messages that are abusive, insulting or harassing
One in every five young girls said yes, when they were asked if they had received any message online which had made them feel uncomfortable and insecure. For boys, its one in every 10, who receives insulting or bullying content in messages. Children due to their innocence are often tempted to respond to such messages. While it seems like a logical rebuttal, it can lead to consequences such as bullying and trolling, which can adversely affect a child’s mental health. The best a child can do for such a case is to just ignore those messages. If the messages are too many, or too sensitive for the child to handle, they should discuss the matter with their parents.
Rule 5: Passwords are meant to remain a secret
No matter what the circumstance may be, a password should not be shared with anyone else, except for the parents if they think it’s important. Giving out a password can seriously endanger your child’s security. It can reveal personal information, such as contact details, communication details, and even location. Moreover, for every online account that you create for your child or for yourself, ensure to create a unique password. Having the same password for all accounts can be very dangerous, as it highly increases the chances of all accounts getting hacked simultaneously.
Rule 6: Seek permission to install or download any app or software
The internet contains millions of pieces of software and apps built to achieve malicious purposes. These include adware, malware, ransomware, virus, Trojans, worms… and the list goes on. Furthermore, these programs are crafted in such an attractive way that kids often get enticed to install them, without knowing that it jeopardizes their family’s privacy.
Malicious programs, as listed above, can broadcast an individual’s movements, communication, passwords, contact details, and banking details. In worse cases, the camera of the gadget can get hacked, and provide live video feed of all your child’s activities without their knowledge. If you are worried that your child may wander off to websites that might be inappropriate for him, get a VPN. Against to many cyber threats that are crafted on purpose to exploit a child’s innocence, a VPN can keep them safe from many dangers.
Rule 7: Never do anything online that can hurt someone
The online community is too diverse. It comprises of people from all corners of the globe, belonging to different religions and races, adhering to different norms and cultures. It is crucial to understand this: what may seem normal to you or your child may hurt someone else from a different background. While communicating with online friends, strict caution should be observed to remain polite and kind.
Osama Khan is a tech reporter and internet privacy and security enthusiast, who regularly shares his knowledge and ideas through this writings in an effort to make the internet a safe and secure place for all. Looking to connect? Send an email: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @osamakhangt