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Parenting, as we know it, is evolving in this modern, digital age.
Mothers and fathers have traditionally warned their sons and daughters of the physical dangers they face, be that pickpockets on the street or strangers in the park. Today, however, parents are facing an altogether different challenge – keeping their children safe on the world wide web.
Children of all ages now use the internet on a daily basis, for everything from Facebook and Instagram to shopping, gaming and streaming the latest TV shows. As a result, these youngsters are just as likely to suffer from cyberbullying as bullying, or from digital fraud as a pickpocket on the street.
However, despite this – and the never-ending news on cybercriminals, data breaches and cyber extortion – parents are still getting used to the internet and its hidden dangers.
Are parents doing enough to keep their children safe?
A recent NSPCC survey of more than 2,000 parents of children between eight and 13, carried out by YouGov, found that parents are avoiding conversations with their children about the need to stay safe online.
The poll reported that while 91 percent of eight-year-olds use the internet at least once a week, parents, on average, think that nine is a suitable age for children to be informed of the issues around online safety.
Even then, many are reluctant to take on this responsibility. For example, nearly a third (31 percent) of all surveyed parents admitted they would refer their child to another adult or sibling if they asked them questions about an issue they had experienced online.
Additionally, one in six (16 percent) said they were more confident giving advice to their child about staying safe in “real life” than staying safe online.
Online education is more important than ever before
Child welfare experts have warned that children are potentially missing out on vital online advice and support at a crucial time in their development, and have encouraged parents to speak up.
In the NSPCC’s study, of the 1,000 children surveyed whose parents had spoken to them about online safety, near two-thirds (60 percent) said that they had modified their online behavior as a result.
Without this kind of engagement from their parents, children may find themselves more at risk of online dangers – they simply do not have the skills or knowledge needed.
“Sadly we know that children up and down the country (UK) are struggling because of difficult experiences online,” Peter Wanless, CEO of the charity, commented at the time.
“Thousands of young people contact us about issues such as online grooming, cyberbullying and after viewing sites which encourage eating disorders, self-harm and suicide.
“We want to help parents recognize that for their children there is often no distinction between the online and offline world.”
Parents feel as though they are out of their depth
There is clearly a disconnect between parents and their children on internet safety, as another survey has demonstrated.
ESET reported that while 88 percent of parents were worried about what their children can access online, only a few had taken steps to safeguard their child’s online experience through the use of security software and parental controls on mobile devices.
The study, which was of 2,000 parents across the US and UK, found that 37 percent of children did not have security software on their mobile or tablet, with only 34 percent of parents having installed a parental control app.
When asked “What specifically concerns you when your child accesses the internet on a smartphone or tablet?” security concerns came out on top.
81 percent cited their child visiting inappropriate web pages as being the most troubling; 71 percent said it was their children forwarding personal details to strangers; while 61 percent highlighted excessive amounts of times spent on devices as being alarming.
There is a lot parents can do with little effort or difficulty
In spite of many mums and dads feeling ill-equipped or uneasy about explaining online safety, there really isn’t any need to be. Parents can in fact do a lot to help their children understand the risks, and fortunately a lot of this is straightforward.
For example, parents should encourage their children to use strong passwords and/or a password manager and to avoid clicking on suspicious links sent on social media or via email.
Youngsters should also be advised to be wary of imputing sensitive information on unknown websites, which could be fake pages set up with cybercriminals.
Further, parents should explain the disadvantages of posting “too much” personal information on social networking sites (as this can be used by attackers for targeted phishing email campaigns).
Children that are the victim of cyberbullying should hold onto the abusive messages they’ve received in order to share these with their family, school and – if necessary – child support groups and the police. They should also use the ‘block user’ and ‘report user’ options on Facebook and Twitter.
If parents want to take things a step further, they could ensure their child’s computer has an up-to-date security solution, runs the latest software (reducing the likelihood of attackers exploiting software vulnerabilities) and backs up personal files to a hard disk drive or secure cloud service provider.
Towards a safer and more future
All of the above is just the tip of the iceberg and when it comes to educating children on online safety – there is so much more parents can do. Some intrepid mums and dads have their children using VPNs (virtual private networks), while others have urged their youngsters to use HTTPS websites for an encrypted web communication.
And, who knows, through the dialogue that parents have with their children, they may find that their advice strikes a “security chord”. Not only do they discover that there is an interest in this area, but a talent too. Luckily, there are plenty of ways of nurturing this flair.
But to get there, parents need to be active in broaching online safety with their children. Starting the conversation is the hardest part; but after breaking down this barrier, everything else is an opportunity.
Author Editor, ESET