Guarding your children’s online safety starts at home

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One of the key themes NCASM is championing this year is the message that protecting the internet is “Our Shared Responsibility”. The internet is too big a place for it to be left to the experts, and we all need to play a role in protecting ourselves online. As part of this, parents and educators have a particularly important role when it comes to guarding children’s online safety, and teaching them the skills and knowledge they need to protect themselves. We instinctively teach our children road safely or stranger danger, but it’s important to remember the same applies online.

Just a few short years ago parents could assume that once a child was home and under the same roof as their family, they were out of harm’s way. It’s also often hard for parents to keep up with ever-changing nature of the online world and, with children being three steps ahead of their parents in the latest tech and software, to keep tabs on their kid’s activities. However the digital generation’s online prowess doesn’t mean they’re hidden from the potential dangers of the world once behind closed doors.

The threats children can face online vary hugely, from cyberbullying to phishing emails and online scams. Sexual predators can target sites that appeal to children, such as games sites and social media, and it’s easy for children to be naive about how much a cybercriminal can do with the little information they might have shared. What may seem like small details could actually allow a criminal to piece together a picture of a child’s life, and how best to target them.

While seemingly less insidious, phishing emails and online scams may also target children and have large consequences. Criminals can once again target sites popular with children, and gather key information such as email addresses and names of friends. These can be used to fool children into believing a phishing email has come from a friend, and be likelier to fall for it. While most adults may have now wised up to emails from African princes offering cash prizes, children are more easily fooled. They may be tempted by simpler tricks such as the offer of free access to their favourite online games. In all of these situations, young people are more easily targeted because of their innocence and naivety.

How can parents begin to protect their children against these dangers? The most important step is quite simple - an open and frank conversation about the potential threats children could face. This doesn’t have to be an intimidating conversation for children, but it has to make them aware that when they enter the online world they are going ‘outside’. As part of this, parents should also teach children practical advice including avoiding clicking on emails or texts from strangers.

While education is key and sets a strong foundation for a child’s responsible internet use, technology can also lend a hand in ensuring safety. Antivirus software helps protect a child's computer against downloading malware from online sites, and parental control allows parents to set a secure framework for their children's online activities. For example, ESET Parental Control allows parents to protect their family in a diversity of ways, including the ability to show a child’s mobile device location at any time. The content filter allows parents to block access to inappropriate sites and web categories, and parents can also view what their children are accessing and intervene if necessary to limit or block access entirely. For parents, ESET’s Safer Kids Online site also provides tips, advice, knowledge and tools to help keep children safe online.

As our lives and our homes move increasingly online, families need to see the online world as one more area of education for their children. The rise of the smart home means children are likely to become even more exposed to the online world and a good foundation in how to navigate the internet safety will become even more necessary. For example, Mozilla has predicted that as many as 30 billion devices will come online by 2020. Many of these will be home devices used by families, including baby monitors, webcams and other everyday objects.  It’s a big job but parents need to play an important role in their children’s online lives from the outset. Learning good practices when they’re young can help set a strong foundation for children throughout their lives, which are more and more likely to be lived online.