Internet safety during remote learning
Parenting comes with a host of challenges and responsibilities that your youthful, childless brain couldn’t have even begun to imagine. Making sure your child is safe online is one of them. What dangers await online and what can you do to educate and protect your child? Let’s get to it.
Before Getting Your Child Involved
How much do you really know about cybersecurity? It’s like one of those mythical monsters. You think you’ve chopped one head off, then quickly see three more emerging in its place. While we’ll try to give you a concise overview, it’s worth doing a bit of research on your own. Knowing the topic well will allow you to figure out the best way to address it in your own family.
The Dangers That Lurk Online
Online dangers, though they come in many different flavors, fall roughly into three distinct categories.
1. Cyberbullying. This is the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature, says the Oxford Dictionary. Though schools are deeply dedicated to putting an end to bullying, cyberbullying is far more insidious. For one thing, it’s much more difficult to spot. It can also be persistent -- when a child is bullied at school, at least they get some respite from it at home. When the abuse is happening online, there is no rest and nowhere to hide, making the problem that much worse. Finally, due to the permanence of everything we post online, cyberbullying can leave a permanent mark on the reputations of all those involved, whether they’re a bully or victim.
2. Cybercrime and privacy concerns. Kids might have a different concept of what “private” entails than an adult would, making them a target for identity theft, various scams, and predators, as well as cyberbullying (e.g., another kid uses their password to post embarrassing content to their social media). Though it might seem counterintuitive, a child’s identity is very valuable -- they’ve never borrowed any money so their credit scores are perfect.
3. Exposure to inappropriate content. You -- a wise, worldly, slightly jaded adult -- might have stumbled upon some things online that made you want to bleach your eyeballs. It’s not difficult to imagine the dread most parents feel about their sweet, innocent children running into this sort of content. If you’re experiencing a strong urge to ban your kids from using the internet until they’re at least 21 (online school be damned!), know that you’re not alone. There are, however, steps you can take to make sure your child is as safe online as can be. While none of these tips are foolproof, they will drastically lower the chances of online mishaps.
Tips to Reduce Risk
Keep software & apps up-to-date. Updates often fix security issues discovered in previous versions
Have a good password-management strategy. It needs to be said -- 1234 is not exactly a secure password. Luckily, there are a number of password management systems available which help you create and store secure passwords. There are even online tools you can use to check how strong your passwords are!
Careful where you click. Teach children how to recognize links that might lead to dangerous sites or download malicious software. For example, coach them to ask before clicking. Even though someone they know may send a message with the subject LOL and a link, it’s important to reach out and ask them what it is first. They might not have really been the one to have sent it.
Careful what you download. The same rule applies here. Again, teach them to consider: Are you downloading from a credible site? Older children can usually get the hang of this, however it might be best to teach younger kids to ask you before downloading anything on their own.
Install parental controls. There are a lot of parental control apps available with a variety of different options. These tools allow you to block your child’s access to certain sites, and some even allow you to limit their screen time. It’s important to note, however, that parental controls are not a replacement for talking to your children about online safety. (If they were, that would definitely have some perks.)
Talk, talk, talk. On second thought, that deserves to be a larger heading.
Talk, talk, talk
The biggest antidote to online risks is critical thinking. Helping your child master this skill will help them stay safe even when you’re not available to monitor every digital step they take.
Talk about cyberbullying. This will help your child avoid becoming a victim of it (or allow them to seek help) and avoid bullying other kids. If you’re thinking “Bully someone? Not my precious angel,” think again. The anonymity of the internet has a strange effect on people. Even decent ones. Even adults. So make sure you draw a clear line between having some good-natured fun and having fun at someone’s expense.
strong>Discuss privacy and (not) interacting with strangers. What information do they consider to be private? Should that list be extended in an online context? How will they handle strangers trying to interact with them?
Have a conversation about inappropriate content. Ugh. This is a tough one. But outsourcing it entirely to parental controls might not be as effective as we wish it would be. For starters, their friends might have looser (or no) parental controls on their devices. In addition, the act of blocking particular content might inadvertently give it forbidden fruit status. The chances of your child encountering some sort of inappropriate content online at least once are, overall, pretty high. That’s why it’s important to have an open and honest discussion about it, to make sure they can correctly interpret what they saw, instead of leaving it open to their (and their friends’) imagination.
Ultimately, It’s up to You
Online resources can be a valuable source of information, but they can’t decide what’s right for your family. You have your child’s best interests at heart and you know them best. Read, listen and learn what you need to, and then adjust it to your family’s needs.
We believe in you, Internet Safety Officer!