In my professional life, I worry about the security of the company. When I go home, I worry about my children. My nine-year-old is beginning to want to use the internet more and I am increasingly alarmed by the stories of online abuse and cyber bullying. I worry about the widespread social engineering and the vulnerability of children such as mine to it.
Children are far more trusting than older generations. We envy and adore their youthful naivety and open-mindedness, yet it is a cause for concern when they are online; they are far more likely to take things at face value. It doesn’t help that kids today have an easy familiarity with technology. The void of fear leaves too much space for trust in what they see and read online, leaving them vulnerable to manipulation.
That said, I wouldn’t advise making your children cynics before they have to be. Parents can play a role in helping to keep their youngsters safe online by becoming the cynics on their behalf. By understanding and considering the risks ourselves, we can then give our kids some careful guidance can help children make the right choices when online. We must also consider the security of their online activity and act on their behalf to keep them secure. (Check out our quiz to check if your own online behaviours are up to scratch!)
But where to start? For many parents, digital parenting is a minefield and knowing how to begin is the biggest challenge. Here are ten top tips for guiding your kids to a safe online experience and maintaining the security of the networks and systems they explore:
1. Setting the boundaries – we set restrictions and rules in the real world, such as not playing out of sight or being back before dark. Consider setting them for the online world and agree them with your child. These can be as simple as a time restriction (only 1 hour each day) or location-based rules (only use the tablet in the family areas).
2. Incident management – All good rules need penalties, so decide what happens if your child breaks the rules. Are they banished to the naughty step? Is the device confiscated for a period of time? Agree these penalties together and then make sure you enforce them; kids can be slippery!
3. Stranger danger – children are good at understanding the risk presented by strangers in real life, but they can sometimes be too trusting of unknown people they interact with online. Reinforce the ‘stranger danger’ message and try to restrict online interactions to people they already know, whether through school or clubs, or family members.
4. Cyber bullying – encourage your kids to discuss any incidents of cyberbullying with you and support them to understand and respond to unpleasant behaviour online. The same rules apply in the real world when it comes to bullying; don’t tolerate it.
5. Sharing – try to review any images your children may be sharing online and explain to them the permanency of anything that is posted onto the web. Would they want to see it when they are 18 and trying to find a job?
6. Be a contact – try and become a contact or friend of your child on social media sites, or join an online game they play. Not only will this allow you to bond with them in their medium, it also allows you to keep an eye on what they are sharing and who they interact with.
7. Parental controls – there are plenty of downloadable parental controls that you can use to restrict your child’s online activity. Also, most ISPs provide customers with free controls which are easily activated; make sure you do.
8. Network security – check that you have a fairly new home router (replace it every 4-5 years) and keep it updated with the latest security settings. The credentials should be reset if there are generic default ones that came when you received it. You can input your own passwords to keep the network secure.
9. Managing user privileges – Create different users for the tablet or laptop your kids use, and protect each account with pin codes. Encouraging kids to get used to security early in life is a good thing! Don’t give them passwords for the account used to buy apps and be wary when typing it in so that they always need your express permission to buy new apps.
10. User education – As with all things, kids develop critical thinking skills faster if you explain why they can’t do something or why certain things are risky. Providing them with knowledge and fostering understanding will help to develop their resilience – and reassure you that they can keep themselves safe.
It’s always regretful to puncture a child’s innocent belief in the good of the world around them, but the online world can be as dangerous, if not more so, than the real one. But as Stephen Fry astutely pointed out, the internet “is a new city, it’s a virtual city and there will parts of it of course that they dislike, but you don’t pull down London because it’s got a red-light district”.
As parents, we can help them safely navigate this virtual city and support them to recognise the ramifications of their activities online. These digital safety skills are paramount for the younger generation; they will grow into a world in which digital technology is ubiquitous. On Safer Internet Day, it’s an opportune moment to get involved in directing our youngsters on a safe and secure path of online growth.
By Cath Goulding, Head of Information Security