Us South Africans are an incredibly security conscious bunch. We tend to focus a lot of attention around security in our homes and in our vehicles, especially when it comes to protecting our children. But what about the virtual realm? Are we doing enough to ensure their safety when it comes to things like the Internet, social networking, and mobile devices?
The Internet is a veritable treasure trove of information on any conceivable topic. In the past, we had to go to a library to research a project or to find out more about a particular subject. Today, thanks to faster and more affordable Internet access, we are connected around the clock. Irrespective of whether we are using a tablet, smartphone, laptop, or a good old-fashioned desktop computer, access is taken for granted.
As parents, we have a responsibility to balance the benefits the digital world brings with the risks that are out there. Children need to be protected against contact with undesirable people, inappropriate or harmful content, and malicious software or attacks.
Social networking and online gaming have made it easy for our children (and ourselves) to interact with people from all over the world. Sadly, this has also made it incredibly easy for cyberbullies, paedophiles, and other nefarious people to get in touch with children. Growing up in a digital environment has resulted in teenagers and younger children having quite different notions of privacy than what we had.
It was easy not to talk to strangers before the Internet. Now, you do not even know who a stranger is, as identify theft is common and malicious users can gleam much from even the basic information people share online. In fact, tricking children into sharing personal information is one of the easiest ways that they can be exploited.
As mentioned, accessing content on a variety of topics has become as easy as typing a query into a search engine and viewing the results. From links to Web pages, images, and videos, there is nothing that cannot be found quickly and easily online. Sadly, this also means that it is not that difficult to find sexually explicit content or download music and video files illegally.
Often, these searches start off with the best of intentions. Your child might be searching for photographs for a project or even video clips on how something is made. A few clicks later, and that benign search suddenly transforms into explicit images.
Understandably, it is not always easy for parents to talk to children about online safety when they themselves are unsure of how the technology works and what it could be used for. Kaspersky Lab has created a list of easy to remember ‘rules’ for children that parents can discuss with them. These should be seen as almost as important as road safety rules that are there to keep them safe and out of harm.
- Do not give out your name, school, or home address to anyone over the Internet. Even if you think you have made a friend online – if anyone asks for these details – you never give them out. In fact, please tell your parents or an adult immediately, so they can check this out for you.
- If someone tries to ‘friend’ you on the Internet, be careful. Be sure, you know who you are talking to online, and if you do not know this person, do not give them any details and rather report this to someone you trust.
- Be careful about what photos you place online or what videos you upload. While it is such fun to share our photos and videos with friends and family – make sure that photos and videos do not give away any clues about your location or where you may live.
- If you have an older sibling or even your parents that use a smartphone – make a note to tell them not to use the function of ‘geo-tagging’ on social media sites like Facebook. This is a function which tells everybody on Facebook where you are – like at a restaurant or at the movies. But by doing this, it can be unsafe as it gives away your location.
From a parenting perspective, here are a few steps you can take to reduce the chances of your children being exposed to any such risks:
- Talk to your children about the potential dangers that they may face online.
- If possible, make use of 1 family computer and place it in a central ‘family room’ in the house.
- Try to make the computer a shared family experience.
- Encourage your children to talk to you about anything they experience online that upsets them or makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Restrict the content that can be accessed via the computer using an effective Internet security solution.
You can also provide clear guidelines that let your child know what they are allowed and are not allowed to do on the Internet. For example, your guidelines could tell your child whether they are permitted to:
- Register with social networking or other Web sites.
- Make online purchases.
- Download music, video, or programme files.
- Use instant messaging programmes.
- Visit Internet chat rooms.
- If your child is allowed to use instant messaging or visit chat rooms, it is worth explaining to them that it is dangerous to chat with or send messages to anyone that they do not know and trust.
In addition to these steps, you can also install a rigorous Internet security solution (like that of Kaspersky Internet Security – multi-device 2016) that is capable of defending the computer against malicious programmes and hackers. Many security software products combine anti-virus capabilities and advanced parental control features that make it easier to protect your children when they are online.
Despite the risks, you should not avoid going online. There are numerous benefits to the digital world. Just remain informed and educate your children on the dangers that are out there.