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Help your children stay safe online with open conversations

In today’s digital age, the internet plays a major role in young people’s lives, influencing how they further grow and develop into fully-fledged adults venturing out into the real world: From educational resources to social connections, discovering the latest viral dance trends, or watching how-to videos on how to cook pasta, the online world offers endless possibilities and resources.

Gone are the days of being bored when you have a ticket to a world of entertainment in the palm of your hand. And, with around 20 zettabytes of data generated every year (one zettabyte is the equivalent of 100 billion gigabytes, and a gigabyte is around the amount of data in a feature film on TV), there’s no risk of ever running out of new things to explore.

Now, children and teenagers have access to more content than ever before. And don’t they know it – with the average teen’s screen time over a whopping 7 hours a day. However, while this ever-evolving digital landscape can support learning and connection, it also comes with its fair share of risks and challenges.

Cyberbullying, sexual predators, privacy invasions, malware, as well as phishing and other scams – all at least partly caused by ineffective or non-existent privacy and cybersecurity awareness and precautions – can detrimentally impact not only young people’s online safety, but their offline well-being too. In these crucial years of development and growth, parents, guardians, and teachers need to help children and teens navigate the online world safely, and with confidence.

What are the risks to look out for?

It seems like every day there’s a new social media platform to get to grips with, or a new app to play around on. With these new features come new risks, and we should all be vigilant in navigating the latest additions safely. What might seem like an innocent new messaging app may provide plenty of opportunity for scammers, hackers and other internet users to take advantage of well-meaning and unaware youngsters.

1. Cyberbullying

When bullying may have previously ended when the school bell rings, constant connectivity means younger people are now vulnerable to harassment, intimidation, and social exclusion wherever they go. With no space to feel safe, this can be extremely damaging to their self-esteem and mental health.

2. Misuse of shared information

Social media has gained popularity, with the number of Instagram users expected to hit over 1.4 billion in 2024 while TikTok, which is all the rage particularly among teens, is foreseen to reach 900 million users this year. But the risk of younger people encountering malicious users and/or sharing explicit material comes hand-in-hand. Whether it’s a stranger from the internet, or someone they know, once content is shared online, control is taken away from the sender and sensitive material can be misused.

Have a look at ESET UK’s Think Twice campaign to spread awareness of the risks of online intimacy

3. Scams

any websites and apps require the input of personal information to ‘sign up’ or ‘download’ content. If this personal information gets into the wrong hands, it can have negative consequences such as identity theft, financial exploitation, privacy invasion, and blackmail. Additionally, with the rise in phishing emails and fake websites, malicious actors have even more avenues to attack.

4. Explicit content exposure

Research shows that the average age a child is exposed to pornography is 13. This early exposure to graphic and sensitive content can create unrealistic expectations and unhealthy behaviors.

5. Internet addiction

Nomophobia – the fear of being without online connectivity – impacts a huge 90% of device owners! The dangers of nomophobia include lack of quality sleep, social isolation, and a reduced attention span – not what younger people need when trying to perform at school, and maintain a happy home life while staying mentally and physically healthy.

6. Misinformation

Younger people are shown to be more trusting of what they view online and may be more receptive to false or misleading information. This can potentially influence their beliefs and perspectives in a way that negatively impacts their relationships, values, and day-to-day lives.

What can parents and guardians do?

It’s key to remember that it’s not all doom and gloom. The online space offers a world of opportunity, and parents and guardians just need the tools and confidence to chat openly with their children about their online experiences.

children-online-parental-guidance

While it can be difficult to decide when to give children access to their own digital devices, studies show that the average age at which children get their first smartphone is 11 years old. At this age, youngsters are still discovering who they are and their place in the world, so it’s even more important for a parent or guardian to have open discussions about online safety. Here’s why:

1. Empower young people with knowledge

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to navigating the complexities of the online world. It’s a great idea to make sure children are familiar with the apps and features available on these devices before they get hold of their own.

For example, when your children see you using your phone after dinner, maybe talk them through what you’re doing and why. Show them the different apps you have, what they do, and how you use them. If you’re open with them about what you’re doing, they’ll be more likely to be open with you about their own online habits.

Any age-sensitive apps on there you don’t want them to see? It’s worth remembering to pop them in a ‘hidden app’ folder or ‘secure folder’, which you can only enter with a password.

2. Support them in navigating digital pitfalls

The internet can be a minefield of inappropriate content, cyberbullying, scams, and identity theft – and it’s not always obvious about what’s safe and what’s not.

Engage in open conversations to educate your children about the potential risks and equip them with strategies for navigating them safely:

  • Teach kids how to critically evaluate online information and make conscious decisions on whether it’s real or fake
  • Show them how to recognize and report cyberbullying
  • Go through the tools they can use to protect their personal information such as two-factor authentication and a password manager and, if needed, help them set those up properly

Chances are, younger children might be most interested in the games they can play on their devices. If that’s the case, you could show them some of the most popular ones and be clear on what’s safe and what’s a malicious pop-up that might accidentally end up charging you a small fortune (no, you don’t need to pay $60 for more coins on Forest Island).

3. Encourage healthy online habits

Just as we teach children the importance of healthy eating and exercising, it’s crucial to instill healthy online habits from a young age.

Before you go straight into letting your children have full freedom in the digital space, take an opportunity to establish boundaries around screen time, set guidelines for responsible social media use, and encourage digital detoxes to maintain a healthy balance between online and offline activities. By modeling healthy digital behavior yourself and discussing its importance, you can help your children develop lifelong habits that promote well-being in the digital age.

To help maintain these habits, parental control features available on devices and internet browsers enable you to filter content, monitor your child’s online activity, and set restrictions as needed.

4. Stay ahead of emerging risks

The digital landscape is constantly evolving, with new apps, trends, and online threats emerging regularly. Talk to children about the latest online fads and risks to keep them aware that not every app, web user, or social platform is exactly what it seems. Create a safe space for them to ask questions about their own online lives and make sure they feel heard. That way, they will feel reassured and encouraged to come to you if they’re upset by something they’ve come across online.

So, crack open the chocolate cupboard and pop the kettle on – make it a fun and interesting conversation where everyone can learn about what’s going on in each other’s lives online, encouraging safety online whilst strengthening your bond offline.


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