Children are vulnerable to many issues in real life. They require guidance, good parenting, and supervision of parents. Nowadays, children might be familiar with the technology more than parents, but what makes them differ with the parents is the risk exposure in life.
For instance, you pop-up your child’s browser history and you discover something shocking. Or maybe, you find your kid’s computer vulnerable to viruses or malware. Sometimes, you find your kid is being manipulated to mature practices such as smoking, drinking, etc. Moreover, children face online bullying and privacy intrusion which affects their mental health.
The Internet is another world for kids, where adults require good parenting and supervision there. There are plenty of steps taken by the government and tech companies in ensuring children’s safety online, but due to the nature of the Internet, they have been little effective.
If your child is affected by these issues, it is time for you to step up and work for children’s safety and privacy on the internet.
Common problems faced by children online
These are the mainstream problems of the digital era which children’s are facing. Some of them are serious as they create a negative impact on the character.
The Internet has vast content available for every age-audience. Much of the content is unwanted and inappropriate for children, which generally include adult websites, gambling sites, forums or sites with harsh language, and sites which instill vandalism, self-harm, criminal activities and discriminatory behavior in children.
Having said, it is not like children are immune to these websites. Either through their friends, strangers or anyone else, they can access these websites prior to parent’s consent. A search engine without restricted mode or any social media application can introduce children to these inappropriate websites.
According to stopbullying.gov statistics, cyberbullying has accounted for affecting up to 15 percent of children of grades 9-12 and 9 percent of students in grades 6-12 have experienced cyberbullying in their life. Furthermore, 55.2 percent of those from minority group like LGBTQ have experienced cyberbullying.
Children affected by cyberbullying have experienced mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, loss of confidence, and drug abuse. Sources of cyberbullying have been occurring through social media websites, Instant Messaging platforms, and Emails, where children receive threats or harsh language from their friends or strangers.
One of the prevalent issue children face over the web is the privacy intrusion, where they are threatened by strangers, identity thieves, and sexual predators. These criminals befriend children on social networks or through surveys, pretend to share similar interests as them to try winning confidence from the child.
Once they have achieved their goal, they ask for naked photos or other disgusting activities from the children. Denying offers from them will result in threats or leaking pictures or evidence to social networks. While this may not be completely blamed on the offenders’ side, as the children, today, are involved in sharing exposed photos to others for relationship purpose.
Scams and frauds
Children are mostly attracted to free things or heavily discounted things offered on the internet, such as free 1000 V-Bucks for Fortnite or a free AAA-video game. While they are unaware of the ramifications of phishing unlike their parents, they usually open the link or attachment sent through emails or fake websites.
These links or attachments contain malware or viruses that infect your child’s computer. This malware also leaks personal data stored on the computer or damage the computer which can result in heavy losses.
Children, mostly teenagers (8 – 12 years old) and teenagers spend around an average of six to nine hours on their device, according to Common Sense Media. A large sum of them watches videos, media networks, gaming, and social networks.
It might be irritating for the parents to see their child fully indulged on the internet and not paying a heed to them. Most of the children don’t even share any information or talk about an issue with their parents, which make them even more vulnerable to problems ahead.
How to protect your children online?
There are some measures required to protect your children’s privacy online and prevent them from falling into deep trouble.
Set or Limit Privacy settings on social media
The first thing required to protect your children’s privacy is to adjust their privacy settings on social media accounts. Every social media has privacy settings either hidden or found on the settings panel of the account.
The basic requirements for tweaking the privacy settings would be to limit the public availability of the child’s account in social media search and friend requests should be limited too. Another thing would be to remove crucial personal information in social media, such as cell number, home address, email address, link to other social media networks, and other sensitive information that you deem not safe.
To control privacy settings on social media networks, here are some useful tips regarding popular social media networks among teenagers;
As Facebook has the most information stored of an individual, here are some tips to boost up the security;
- To prevent strangers from prying on your profile, go to Help > Privacy Shortcuts > “See more privacy settings” under Privacy tab > “Who can see your future posts” > Choose “Friends”.
- For limiting friend requests, Help > Privacy Shortcuts >“See more privacy settings” under Privacy tab > “Who can send you friend requests” > Select “Friends of Friends”.
- To limit search engines from showing the profile, head to Help > Privacy Shortcuts > “See more privacy settings” under Privacy tab > “Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile?” > Select to “No”.
- Additionally, to prevent strangers from looking up to your profile via email or phone number, follow the same techniques to Privacy Settings and select it to either “Friends of Friends” or “Friends”.
- You can also enable “Login Approvals” from Security tab to buff up your security. Login Approvals is same as Two-Factor Authentication, as it sends a text message on your phone for logging in on a new device.
Instagram is one of the popular social media networks among teens as a media sharing platform. Unfortunately, it is among that medium where inappropriate content is shared and children are targeted. Here are some things to curb identity thieves and sexual predators from targeting your profile.
- Activate Private Account for your children from Options. This mode allows the user’s photos and videos to be shared with certain approved people.
- Avoid your children to geo-tag frequently. This helps to avoid strangers or predators from targeting or stalking your minor through pictures or videos posted.
Snapchat boomed to one of the most popular teen applications in the world, due to its funky filters, ‘exploding’ messages and stories, and geo-location features. While these may sound fun, Snapchat can easily be targeted by the strangers and offenders. To counter these threats;
- Tap on Snapchat Ghost icon and then the Settings icon.
- From there, go to the “Who Can…” subheading. There will be four options available,
- “Contact Me”
- “View My Story”
- “See My Location”, and
- “See Me in Quick Add”.
- Frist Change “Contact Me” to “My Friends “so that only your friends can chat or send snaps to your kid.
- Change “View My Story” to either “My Friends” or “Custom” where the latter allows certain selectable friends to watch your child’s story.
- Change “See My Location” to your Friends or “Only Me” to block strangers from viewing your kids’ geo-location.
- Toggle “See Me in Quick Add” to off to avoid your kid’s profile in appearing to other friends who share mutual friends or connection.
Restrict Mode for YouTube or YouTube Kids
Youtube is the biggest platform for teenagers and kids. It has billions of videos available for the users and all of them might not be suitable for your child. Some of the categories include Violence, Hate speeches, Adult content, criminal activities, and abusive content is still available on the YouTube.
For these issues, YouTube is thoroughly working on them and introduced “Restricted Mode” option for safe browsing. This can be found in the Settings > General on the mobile apps and the website. Other than that, YouTube introduced “YouTube Kids” application for the mobile devices and website that is entirely catered for the children-friendly videos.
Kid-friendly search engines and browsers
Applying for kid-friendly web search engines and browsers in your children’s device is another safe option. Kid-friendly search engines filter out explicit search results when web-searching on the Internet and restrict children from accessing websites that are deemed unsafe. Some examples of safe search engines for kids include:
Additionally, children-friendly browsers are also available. They allow parents to supervise their child browsing, block certain websites, and limit time spent on a website. These browsers are available on multiple platforms, such as Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. These include:
Chrome Browser can also be configured for kids by managing different profiles. It can permit you to block websites and avoid unwanted search results on the browser.
Enable Parental controls on Windows, iOS, Android, MacOS.
Parental controls are available on major platforms such as Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android through either preloaded software or third-party support. Enabling Parental controls on these platforms will allow you to manage and control your children’s device. These tools mostly allow a parent to block explicit content on the web, forbid certain websites, and limit profile sharing.
On Windows 8, 8.1, and 10, Microsoft introduced Family and Children settings. This can be found on Settings > Accounts > Family and Other Users. A menu will pop up, asking for adding either a child or an adult. Email address is required to control child profile, considering you are creating an account for your child.
Once this action is performed, you can filter out websites for your children and manage their profile activities. Furthermore, you can set screen time limits, block games, and receive activity reports from the profile.
Similar to Windows, MacOS also offers you to enable parental controls on child’s device. Simply, go to Apple Menu > System Preferences > Parental Controls. From there, add a user for which parental controls will be applied on. Be sure to check Accounts preferences in System Preferences to verify which account has what level of access (Admin, etc).
For setting restrictions for the child, the tabs at Parental Controls allow you to choose which App, Web, and People to limit. Apps limit can allow you to access certain applications for children, Web limit can restrict specific websites unsafe for children, and People restriction can limit child’s contact with others in iMessage, Game Centre apps and Mail. The time limit is self-explanatory, as it limits the usage of a child with the device.
iOS also offers stricter parental controls for its devices. This can be found in Settings > General > Restrictions. To activate parental controls, a PIN or passcode will be required to prevent changes from your child.
Once Restrictions are activated, you can disallow your kid to access applications such as Safari, FaceTime, iTunes, deleting and installing apps, and most importantly, In-App purchases. Third-party support is also available for more buffed-up parental controls, such as Netsanity and Kidslox for the time limit and other features.
Unlike iOS, Android has limited parental control features for the children. Only creating a separate user profile for children is allowed, which can limit calls, messages, and application accessibility. It can be accessed from Settings > Users.
Through third-party applications such as Norton Family, Net Nanny, and MM Guardian, stricter Parental controls can be offered. ScreenTime is one of those applications available on major platforms like Android, iOS, and FireOS that offers screen limiting and viewing a child’s web activity. Some of these apps are paid, while free options are available and can be found in the Google Play Store.
Monitor online behavior by ‘friending’ them on social sites
Adding your children on social media websites such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. can be beneficial for parents to monitor their activities. According to the Pew Research Center, 83% of parents have added their teenager children on Facebook, while 33% have followed them on Twitter.
‘Friending’ them on social sites can improve child’s safety. Parents can see whether the child is posting appropriate content for his age and interfere before risk escalates. Be sure that your child isn’t hiding social media posts from you, though.
Educate them about strangers and potential harms
Sitting with your child and explaining to them about possible harms from the internet is the best thing to do. With strangers, sexual predators, cyber-criminals, and hackers lurking in the shadows, it might not be possible for parents to explain the abyss of the internet world.
In a basic common sense, children can be educated about not contacting strangers who ask for personal information or employ trick methods in luring children to do inappropriate things. It is best to teach children of informing parents before proceeding or interacting further to them. Make sure to know their friends on social media and check their IMs and emails on their allowance to maintain trust.
Prevent them from geotagging on social media frequently, as it involves sexual predators and strangers taking advantage of open privacy and proceeding to threats and assaults on the minor. Monitor their search history and internet activity, and prevent them from accessing age-restricted websites or suspicious websites with malware. Educating about these risks will help child and parent develop mutual understanding and sense.
Use a VPN
Sometimes, these children-friendly search engine services aren’t encrypted with HTTPS. This can be seen in the search bar of your browser, where a green lock or ‘Secured’ text is shown if the website supports HTTPS. Omitting out HTTPS can be dangerous, as the hackers can bypass the search history and attack on the system.
A VPN can offer a solution for this, with its ironclad security. Offering military-grade encryption tunnel along with industry’s best security protocols such as OpenVPN, it ensures best possible protection on the net and impossible to penetrate security wall (which could take billions of years).
VPN routes your traffic through deep heavily-clad security layer which prevents data snoopers and hackers from accessing user data. Moreover, they can allow your child to surf the internet without any hacking fears. ExpressVPN and NordVPN are best user choices available, with optimal speed and excellent security features. PIAVPN is recommended if you are under a tight budget.
It is okay for children to be vulnerable, as they are not exposed much to life as their parents. With malevolent strangers, sexual offenders, fake friends, and hackers looming around the web, it is the responsibility of the parent and also, child to cooperate in combating against them. Children can easily be lured into scams such as free gifts or lotteries, so they should be educated about it too.
The Internet is addicting for almost everyone, so it is a responsibility for parents to set an example for their children i.e. limiting social media and internet use. Compared to the fragile minds of children, parents should be aware of the issues prevailing over the Internet and protect their children’s privacy online.