The Internet has considerably changed the way we connect with one another, as well as how much information is readily accessible about us as individuals. Social media, online shopping and the use of a whole host of other websites and platforms enables us to do things online that we could never do in the past. However, it also means that, as more of ourselves is made public online, we must be careful about security and privacy.
This is especially true for families with young and adolescent children. Kids and teens are increasingly exposed to online technology, whether for entertainment and personal pursuits or through school and education. As the younger generation uses online portals at an increasing rate, it's critical that parents and guardians understand the best steps to take to protect their children and teens.
Here, we'll take a look at several best practices for protecting kids on the Internet, and how, as a parent or guardian, you can do your part to help safeguard young users' online activities.
Keep the computer in a high-traffic area
While laptops and other mobile computing devices are becoming more common, it's important to keep these or the desktop computer in a high traffic area of the home. Using this strategy to protect kids online is recommended by many experts, including Trend Micro vice president of security research Rik Ferguson. This way, children are always supervised during their online pursuits.
In addition, Ferguson recommended using security software and parental controls protected by authentication credentials. These configurations can differ depending on the software used, but they help ensure that children don't stray to websites that could be dangerous or inappropriate. Individual websites including social media platforms like Facebook also have their own security settings. Before allowing children to use these sites, it's important that parents and guardians help their children set up a profile that uses the highest level security settings possible. On Facebook, for example, these settings prevent any information from being shared with those outside the child's friends.
Limit access to the computer
Parents should help young users create their own individual profiles and authentication credentials for the computer itself as well as on the websites they use. Adults should also help their kids create strong passwords for each of these profiles, and make sure they understand that the only people that should have access to these details are the child and their parents or guardians.
Ferguson also advises adjusting the computer's settings through the admin account to prevent the creation of new user accounts. This will help prevent more tech-savvy kids and teens from sidestepping the parental controls set up on the machine. Parents and guardians should also ensure that their adult computing devices and accounts are password protected. For instance, if the household has a family desktop, as well as a laptop a parent uses for work, it's essential that this other device is safeguarded.
It can also be beneficial to limit the amount of time kids can utilize the computer.
"[T]his includes both the times when they can use their personal devices and how long they can use them each day or week," Trend Micro's Richard Medugno wrote in a blog post.
This way, parents can ensure that kids are not using the computer while unsupervised.
Spend time using the computer together
The National Children's Advocacy Center recommended helping children and teens better understand technology by spending time on the computer together. This way, parents or guardians can explain different functions, guiding their kids' online activities in such a way that they don't damage the computer or put their own safety or privacy at risk.
NetSmartz also noted that allowing kids to show their parents and guardians what they like to do online can be helpful. This way, children are supervised, and it is less intrusive.
Ferguson also advised explaining to children the reasons behind blocking access to certain sites.
"Explain why you care and what consequences they could face if they don't follow family rules, which you'll enforce with parental controls," Medugno wrote.
The value of privacy and the impact of sharing
It's also important to make sure kids understand that certain sensitive, personal information should not be shared online in order to protect their privacy. The FBI noted that young users should never share their name, home address, school name, telephone number of other personal information. Kids should also be careful when sharing pictures – parents and guardians should examine photos before allowing their children to post or send them to others online.
Explain the danger of meeting others in person
Many experts also advise making sure children understand that they should never meet with someone that they initially met online. It's also essential that kids know that some individuals may not actually be who they claim to be online.
"Someone who says that 'she' is a '12-year-old girl' could really be an older man," the FBI pointed out.
Posing as someone younger or a person of a different gender is a tactic commonly used by predators and other dangerous people online. The strategy is meant to inspire trust in young users, encouraging them to drop their guard. It's important that kids understand that these type of individuals are out there, and they should be cautious with their interactions with other users on social media and other public forums.
Dealing with cyberbullying
Unfortunately, over the past few years, cyberbullying has become increasingly common. Parents and guardians should address this with their children, and make sure they know how to deal with a bully online.
The FBI and National Children's Advocacy Center both noted that children shouldn't respond to mean or unwanted messages, and that these should be deleted. In the same vein, parents should also ensure that their children observe online etiquette as well.
"If you wouldn't say something to another person's face, don't text it or post it online," the National Children's Advocacy Center stated.
Having the right security in place
It's also essential that parents deploy a security solution that can help protect online activities as well as the health of their machine. Trend Micro's Internet Security 10 provides the level of protection parents need to safeguard their kids' online activities. Contact Trend Micro to find out more.