A guide to help parents keep their children safe online

There is no disputing that the internet world affects our children’s lives. With online components to everything from education to entertainment to networking, it’s impossible to avoid an assault on digital platforms.

While maintaining contact with friends and classmates is important for youngsters, the internet world poses a variety of risks. Chats take place across a variety of channels, including instant messaging services, email, social media, and online forums. However, they often expose youngsters to cyberbullying, fraud, predators, and viruses.

Given that it is practically difficult for the majority of children to avoid online interactions completely, parents and children must collaborate to guarantee the safe use of online chat apps. This involves having open conversations about the platforms being utilized, the subjects being addressed, and who is participating.

In this tutorial, we’ll discuss the many ways children communicate online, the primary dangers associated with online chat, and the measures you can take to keep your kid safe.

What platforms do youngsters use to communicate online?

There are practically limitless methods of communication available online, and the majority of them are readily accessible to youngsters. The following are the primary modes of communication:

  • Instant messaging: While texting was formerly popular, instant messaging services were often the preferred conversation vehicle for children and adolescents. While the most famous services like Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and iMessage are available, there are also a plethora of lesser-known apps such as WeChat, Oovoo, and Kik Messenger.
  • Social media: Sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Twitch, and TikTok enable communication in a number of ways, including posts, comments, and direct (private) messaging.
  • Email: While email is less popular among children and adolescents, it is still a viable mode of communication and one that carries significant dangers, including phishing and virus assaults.
  • Chat rooms and message boards: There are many chances for youngsters with similar interests to communicate through chat rooms and message boards. Forums are often devoted to or particularly popular among people who have a common interest; for example, Discord is popular among gamers. Not every forum is self-contained, and some websites may have their own chat rooms or message boards.
  • Video conferencing: While video conferencing is not new, the use of video conferencing systems has increased in recent years. Houseparty and Airtime are two examples of apps that allow groups of people to “hang out” and communicate through VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and video.

Children may use these sites with or without parental consent since there are minimal obstacles to account creation. Even if a platform includes age limits, there is nothing to prevent a kid from misrepresenting their age while creating an account. The majority of these platforms are compatible with desktop and mobile computers, as well as internet-enabled tablets and smartphones.

What are the risks associated with internet chat?

Unfortunately, there are a plethora of hazards associated with online conversation, some of which are more severe than others, but all of which are worth being cautious about. The following are the primary dangers to consider:

General privacy

Many youngsters (and adults) do not consider the information they are giving up when they sign up for and use digital sites. Social networking platforms and other apps collect personal data and monitor user behavior throughout the web, often utilizing the data for commercial benefits, such as targeted advertising. Even private conversations are not secure, with the largest technology firms admitting to reading emails and texts.

Cyberbullying

You do not need to spend much time on any platform (public or private) to come across examples of cyberbullying. As is the case with physical bullying, online bullying may occur for any (or no) cause. Online bullying, on the other hand, may be especially harmful due to several reasons, including accessibility and anonymity. For instance, an adult male may now anonymously cyberbully an adolescent girl on another continent without anybody else knowing.

Cyberbullying may take a variety of forms, including the following:

  • Dissemination of fabricated information with the intent to humiliate or stir hatred towards the victim.
  • Sharing of private messages, pictures, or videos that may cause distress to the subject.
  • Making public information that was meant to remain private.
  • Conducting online polls in a way that causes the victim discomfort.
  • To bully victims, pages or groups are created.
  • Threats of harmful acts, such as bodily damage or sexual assault.

Cyberbullying may have a severe psychological impact. There are far too many instances of online bullying among children, adolescents, and adults that result in despair, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide.

Online predators

Regrettably, a slew of unscrupulous individuals lurk online, waiting to exploit youngsters. Certain predators will simply search online discussion boards for information that they may utilize in future online or offline assaults. For instance, they could learn about a child’s school, their friends, their hobbies, their whereabouts at any given moment, and their appearance. This and other information may be utilized to establish an online or offline connection with the kid and rapidly win their confidence.

Numerous predators may attempt direct contact with minors through chat platforms, often masquerading as classmates or other trustworthy people such as teachers, coaches, police enforcement officers, or celebrities. They may coerce youngsters into sending sexually graphic photos or performing sex activities in front of a camera. They may even arrange a meeting (which often results in instances of physical or sexual abuse, as well as human trafficking) and, in some extreme circumstances, convince a kid to “run away” and live with them.

Identity theft

Perhaps unexpectedly, children are excellent candidates for identity theft. Minors often have a clean credit history, which eliminates the need for hackers to spend time with a low credit score. Furthermore, since youngsters are much less likely to monitor their credit score, fraudulent behavior may go undetected for an extended period of time.

Criminals do not need a great deal of information to commit identity theft. And it’s remarkable how readily youngsters and adolescents provide essential information. For instance, acts such as displaying a school application form that contains a Social Security Number (SSN) or congratulating someone on passing a driving test by sharing a picture of their driver’s license offer a goldmine for thieves. Children, particularly younger children, may be unaware of the risks when asked for personal information such as their complete name and home address.

Malware

Children, like adults, are vulnerable to spyware infiltrating their gadgets. Malware may be acquired in several ways, including via opening pop-ups or advertisements, downloading files, or visiting links in emails and text messages.

Malware comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, including worms, trojans, and adware. Ransomware and malware are of special concern these days. Typically, the former will encrypt data on your device and demand payment of a ransom in exchange for their safe release. Ransomware often uses social engineering to get victims to pay fast, to the point where your kid may attempt to pay the ransom themselves rather than notifying an adult.

Spyware is very hazardous for both children and adults. Certain spyware programs are capable of logging keystrokes to steal information such as account credentials (usernames and passwords), personal information, and financial information. This information may subsequently be utilized to perpetrate cybercrime, such as account takeover fraud.

Certain spyware programs are capable of hacking into webcams, enabling hackers to capture intimate footage of their victims. These recordings may be used to extort money, personal information, or more footage from the victim. They may be shared online or emailed to the victim’s friends and relatives.

Phishing

Phishing is a social engineering technique used by hackers to get information about their victims. It is most often done through email, but it may also be done via text, instant messaging, chat rooms, or over the phone.

A typical phishing email may either explicitly request personal information or include a link to a phishing website. The latter is a spoof website intended to steal the victim’s information.

Account credentials (for example, logins to social media, email, or online bank accounts), personal information such as complete name, address, and Social Security number, or financial information such as credit card data may be sought by attackers.

Children under the age of five are especially susceptible to these kinds of assaults. They often lack the critical thinking skills necessary to identify even the most apparent phishing attempts.

Dark web

While the debate has so far focused on communication that occurs through open online platforms, it’s important to note that the dark web exists as well. The open or clear web is a portion of the internet that is search engine-indexed and readily available to everyone. However, the web is much more than that, including an often dangerous section known as the dark web.

While the majority of youngsters who visit the black web do so out of curiosity, just accessing it may be dangerous, and staying and participating in conversations can result in some very unpleasant situations. While not everything on the dark web is malicious, it is a hub for illegal activities, including black markets, virus sellers, and hacker forums. Because the dark web is often accessible via the Tor browser, it’s important to listen to your child’s mention of this tool.

How can I assist my kid in being safe online?

Many of the dangers listed above may be frightening for parents. Fortunately, there are methods to assist your kid in avoiding many risks and dealing with those that do occur safely.

Here are our top recommendations for enhancing your child’s online safety:

  1. Maintain an open conversation and guidelines discussion
  2. Assist them in creating online accounts
  3. Customize your privacy settings
  4. Never divulge private information online
  5. Avoid sharing photographs
  6. Utilize parental control mechanisms
  7. Maintain up-to-date software and use antivirus
  8. Utilize a VPN

Consider them in more depth.

1. Maintain an open conversation and guidelines discussion

One of the most beneficial things you can do to assist your kid in navigating the internet world is to maintain an open and honest discussion about the subject. This involves teaching children about the dangers, establishing rules for which platforms to use and how to use them, and establishing restrictions on where, when, and with whom they may communicate online.

The subjects and rules you address with your child may vary significantly based on their age and maturity level, as well as the platforms they use. Examples include establishing guidelines about the use of public chat rooms and avoiding private forums, as well as seeking parental approval before accepting a friend request.

With a large number of youngsters, it’s critical to establish guidelines about when and where they may use their devices to communicate. If you believe you must maintain a close watch on the screen, choose a location where you can readily see it, such as a desktop computer in a family room. Take note that child predators will make a concerted effort to get youngsters to take their devices to their bedroom or bathroom, where they will be safe from inquisitive eyes.

Additionally, your kid must understand that they may come to you if they are uncomfortable with a circumstance they find themselves in. Some of the worst situations occur when youngsters feel helpless and fearful of judgment or punishment.

2. Assist them in creating online accounts

While you may prefer that your kid not have any online accounts, the most secure method for children to use the internet is under your supervision. If you help them with setting up their accounts, you will be aware of the risks they face. You may collaborate on studies to determine the safety of particular applications. For instance, doing a basic search for app evaluations (such as those accessible on Common Sense Media) should reveal any significant safety issues. Additionally, you may learn more about who uses the app in terms of age, hobbies, and purpose.

The majority of platforms apply age limits on their services, often as a result of government laws. For instance, the majority of social media sites have an age limit of 13 years or older. This is because platforms aimed at children aged 13 and under are subject to a separate set of privacy regulations. However, there is nothing to prevent an underage kid from creating an account by lying about their age.

Other platforms are specifically designed for smaller children. While they are often seen as safer by parents, there is nothing to prevent an adult masquerading as a kid from creating an account and targeting children. While many of these sites use detection techniques to identify patterns of child grooming, this does not guarantee their safety.

3. Customize your privacy settings

When assisting your kid with creating an account, the first step should be a thorough examination of the privacy settings. These vary significantly depending on the platform you’re using, but often refer to the kind of information that may be made public and who can see and comment on your posts, send you friend requests, and privately contact you.

Discuss each setting and its consequences with your kid, since they will eventually be responsible for changing them.

Additionally, ensure that your kid understands how to block other users if they ever feel unsafe, and urge them to notify you promptly in such instances

4. Never divulge private information online

This is something that should be instilled in youngsters from the minute they get any sort of internet independence. Just as we would not want our children to disclose our home address or security code with strangers at the grocery store, we must be very cautious about the information they give online. And it’s not just personal information. They also need to understand that sharing private information about others is not acceptable.

To begin with, there is self-evident personal information such as full name, birth date, address, phone number, and email address. Parents should urge youngsters to use pseudonyms or, at the very least, variants of their given names wherever feasible. When creating accounts, just the bare minimum of information should be given, and settings should be changed such that personal information such as email and phone number (if needed for account creation) is never made public. Naturally, children must also be taught not to include any of this information in the body of communications, especially those that are made public, such as those on message boards or in chat rooms.

Additionally, youngsters must be taught about more subtle forms of information sharing. For instance, mentioning which school they attend, which groups they belong to, their appearance, and where they will be at a particular time may all be hazardous in the wrong hands. It’s possible to disclose some of this information unintentionally by using “check-in” capabilities on social networking applications or by sharing geotagged pictures that include metadata about the date, time, and location of the image’s capture.

5. Avoid sharing photographs

This is a difficult question to answer since many social media sites are built on picture and video sharing. If you decide to allow photos to be posted, have a discussion with your kid about the kinds of images that are appropriate. Ideally, your child should refrain from sharing identifiable photos or videos of themselves. Additionally, they should use caution while photographing any identifiable characteristics such as a home number, street name, or school name.

It is critical to explain the consequences of publishing or transmitting sensitive pictures or videos online. While no parent wishes for their child to act in this manner, it’s amazing how convincing peers and predators can be. Your kid must understand that once these pictures or videos are shared, it is almost impossible to “reclaim” them. Even if they think they are sending it to a trustworthy individual in a private forum, sharing information is much too simple.

Apart from the possibility of psychological harm, there are further consequences of transmitting or publishing sensitive information. In many countries, sharing graphic pictures or films of a juvenile (even if they are of oneself) constitutes child pornography and is punishable by law.

Bear in mind that these discussions must take place in a way that allows room for error. Of course, children make mistakes even after coaching, and they need to understand that it is OK to come to you with every issue they face.

6. Utilize parental control mechanisms

Certain child-targeted applications have parental controls that allow you to filter what your child sees, manage how they use the app, and see usage statistics. For instance, Facebook’s Messenger Kids app enables parents to see current contacts, conversation history, picture logs, and the history of reported and banned friends. However, if your kid is using an app designed for older children and adults, you will likely have only a limited amount of access to such information.

Fortunately, there are many parental control applications available for monitoring and controlling device and app usage in the house. For instance, the Mobicip Parental Control app is compatible with a variety of devices and enables you to restrict and monitor internet use.

7. Maintain up-to-date software and use antivirus

As stated before, there are many ways to keep harmful software from accessing or damaging your child’s device. To begin with, children should be instructed not to click on links or attachments included in emails or texts unless they are confident they are secure. Errors may occur. After all, many people often click on phishing sites and files. As such, it is prudent to implement extra safety precautions.

Updating operating systems and apps is often neglected, yet critical. Updates often address security flaws, making your computer or mobile device less vulnerable to malware that exploits such flaws.

Additionally, using effective antivirus software is critical in the battle against malware. An antivirus program can detect and prevent the installation of known viruses on your device. If malware does manage to make its way onto your device, your antivirus software may be able to identify and delete it.

8. Utilize a VPN

Another essential security tool is the Virtual Private Network (VPN). This will encrypt all communication between your device and the Internet, rendering it unreadable to snoopers, including hackers.

This is particularly critical if your kid is often connected to public WiFi. These networks are seldom secure and provide an avenue for thieves to acquire sensitive data such as passwords and credit card information. While it is recommended that you avoid logging into accounts or making transactions while connected to public networks, if this is unavoidable, a VPN may safeguard your data.

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