IT pros spend a good part of their day keeping their employees and their company safe from cyberattacks and inappropriate material on the Internet. But many also have kids at home who also need their guidance in an increasingly dangerous world. When you say goodnight to your millennial, Gen X, and boomer employees and head home, what kids cybersafety practices can you employ to keep your Generation Z kids safe? If you are lucky enough to be spending some extended family-time during the long July 4 holiday weekend in the U.S., this is a perfect opportunity to give the subject some thought.
Gen Z , a wide-ranging generation typically defined as kids as young as 4 to adults of 22, is arguably the first true digital natives. Today’s kids grow up under a tech-saturated environment. They are surrounded by not just the traditional gadgets like desktop computers, laptops, and smartphones but also Internet-enabled microwaves, refrigerators, cookers, HVACs, and cars. Indeed, children are skillfully navigating mobile apps even before they have learned to walk with stability.
Yet in the midst of this digital revolution lies the dark dangers of the web. Sexual solicitation, pornography, violence, suicide triggers, cyberbullying, narcotics introduction, and other harmful, illegal, and inappropriate content. The Internet can be a dangerous place for kids and could traumatize them for life.
Some parents opt to prohibit their young children from accessing the Internet in any way. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of positive helpful stuff on the World Wide Web that renders this kind of nuclear option extreme and perhaps counterproductive. There are ways you can have the best of both worlds — the Internet and kids cybersafety.
Let’s take a look at some useful and practical cybersafety tips you can apply to ensure that cyberspace remains a force for good for your children.
10 kids cybersafety tips
1. Learn more about the Internet and safe use
The Internet is ubiquitous. It is such an integral part of everyday life that we often do not think about its existence. Only when it’s temporarily unavailable do we begin to appreciate the enabling role it plays in multiple facets of daily living. If you are like the average person, you likely have a good working knowledge of the web. Nevertheless, you need to arm yourself with the basics of kids cybersafety and security too. Talk to your Internet service provider and search the web for relevant resources. If you feel some of the content online is too technical, there are a number of books or online sites that will break down the more complex concepts into easier-to-understand explanations.
2. Discuss the risks of kids cybersafety with your child
It’s never too early to discuss with your kids the dangers that lurk in on the web. Sit them down for a candid conversation. Enumerate the harmful stuff on the web and why avoiding such threats is for their own good. Detail the physical, mental, and emotional impact of going to websites, apps, and forums that aren’t good for them. It’s better for your kids to be petrified by this frank chat if that’s what it will take to make them avoid such sites at all costs.
3. Place computers in an open common area
Kids under a certain age shouldn’t have full control of an Internet-connected computer, tablet, or smartphone in the privacy of their room. Whereas every parent hopes that their child will make the right decisions, minors need supervision. You’d be surprised at how effective using the computer in the presence or line of sight of a parent can be in keeping the child in check. Even when you are too far too see what is actually on their screen, the kids will be hesitant to visit websites or engage in conversation they know you’d frown upon. Make sure the computer screen faces the center of the room and not the wall.
4. Browse the web with your kids
There’s no better way to guide children on what to do than through example and practice. It’s all good to lecture them on the dos and don’ts of web browsing and kids cybersafety. But you’ll get much more cooperation and understanding from them if you make web surfing something you regularly do together. Help them with online research for their homework, work together to find fun videos, and point out the telltale signs of a suspect website.
5. Set usage and time limits
Bingeing on anything is never a good idea and the Internet is no exception. You have to define reasonable restrictions on when and what your kids can do on the web. Set time limits that detail when they can use the computer and for how long. You could exclude research homework from these rules. Just make certain that they are in fact using the Internet for their assignments.
6. Emphasize that they shouldn’t talk to strangers — ever
Kids should never engage in conversation with strangers whether offline or online. Chat rooms and social media private messaging are popular channels that pedophiles and sex offenders use to lure their prey. You should not allow kids under 16 years old to use Internet chat rooms and social media platforms. Let your child know that it doesn’t matter how kind, warm, gentle, friendly, generous, helpful, intelligent, or attractive someone they met online may seem to be, they remain a stranger. There’s never any certainty that the individual is who they claim to be.
7. No sharing personal information
Regularly remind your kids that they shouldn’t share personal information like address, phone number, photos, school, favorite mall, favorite snacks, parent’s names, or parent’s work place. Children may not fully grasp why sharing this information with their Internet friend is harmful so you have to take time to break down the kids cyber-safety risks. At work, you know how ubiquitous and dangerous social engineering schemes can be. Online predators also employ sophisticated social engineering schemes to target children. This could either culminate in a physical attack, cyberbullying, or be part of a wider scheme to defraud their parents.
8. No physical meetings
Often, predators will request for personal information as part of their laying the groundwork for a face-to-face meeting. The person could create an anticipation for a meeting by promising to buy the child their favorite snack or toy. They may even pretend to be there for the child during a difficult time and want to meet as a means of comforting them in person. Physical meetings with an online friend should be completely banned with no exceptions as they are threat to the physical well-being of the child.
9. No questionable content from their Internet friend
As part of their attempt at grooming a victim, Internet predators will send questionable content to a child. This could include vulgar jokes, nude photos, and pornographic videos. The idea is to get the child comfortable enough with such content to upload their own nude photos and videos to the predator. This content could then be sold or uploaded to child porn sites. Sharing pornographic material with a minor is a criminal offense. Ergo, once you discover that’s happening, you should immediately notify law enforcement and get in touch with your ISP.
10. Explore technical parental controls
There are technical controls you could use to keep your child’s online activities in check. The ideal would be to tap into those provided by your ISP as they’ll ensure unwanted content is blocked at source. You could also install parental control apps on your computers, tablets, and smart phones. Some apps have in-built parental controls or, like YouTube Kids, have a child-friendly version of their app.
Keep an eye on the warning signs of kids cybersafety problems
As you apply these tips, pay attention to warning signs that your child is not toeing the line, is talking to people they shouldn’t, or is getting cyberbullied. A change in behavior, decreased appetite, increased secrecy, rising paranoia, closing browser windows, or turning off their screen when you are near are all potential indicators of something amiss with your child’s online activities. Actively monitor their Internet use and get them to open up about what is going on. These kids cyber safety tips aren’t foolproof but they’ll certainly make you rest a little easier in the knowledge that you’ve done all within your power to keep your kids safe online.
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