We are living in the Digital Age, which means your kids need to learn how to use devices, especially internet-connected devices, from a young age. Throughout their education and beyond, your children will rely heavily on various computer programs, mobile apps and the internet, and gaining proficiency with computers and other devices while they are young will ensure they feel comfortable with tech as they age.
Unfortunately, connected tech isn’t always beneficial — in fact, it isn’t always safe. You need to be aware of the dangers lurking on the web, so you can intervene and protect your children from serious risks to their mental, physical and technological health.
Malware is a portmanteau for the words “malicious” and “software;” essentially, malware is a program designed to do something mean and destructive to your devices or data. Malware has become exceedingly profitable, capable of generating millions of dollars for successful operators. There is a knowable amount of malware floating around the web, skulking in links, in email attachments, in images and especially in downloads. Even adults struggle to avoid malware, so unless you adequately protect your devices before your kids log on, it is almost certain that your little ones will cause rampant infections.
You should teach your child cyber hygiene, which is understanding what malware is and where it lurks, but perhaps more importantly, you should take action to keep your devices and home network safe. Every device — smartphones, laptops, desktops, tablets — should have antivirus software, and you should have network security solutions, too, especially if your home is filled with smart gadgets. Then, you have multiple lines of defense against malware should your child stumble onto something dangerous.
Phishing and Scams
Parents — dads, in particular — have fun misleading their kids, telling them falsehoods about why the wind blows or how babies are made. Kids don’t know anything, so they tend to believe anything they hear or read, even if it comes from strangers on the internet.
Phishing and scamming are two of the oldest tricks for getting internet users to give up sensitive information or money. Phishing is the practice of sending emails or other messages that seem to be from legitimate companies or people but are in fact from cyber attackers. There are various other forms of internet scams, but all of them include lying about one’s intentions or misleading users about outcomes. The key to keeping your kid away from these threats is the rule of Stranger Danger: Even if
someone seems to know details about your child, like their email address or their friends’ names, your child shouldn’t talk to them. Instead, they should come straight to you.
Cyberbullying and Cyber Predators
Unfortunately, cybercriminals after data and cash aren’t the only people using the web to get access to your kids. There are also people online who want to cause your child emotional or physical harm.
Cyberbullying is the practice of teasing or taunting over the web. It can happen to anyone of any age — just look at comments on Instagram or YouTube — but most adults have the maturity to handle or ignore mean messages. In contrast, cyberbullying can have the same effects as traditional bullying on children’s mental and emotional state: loneliness, anxiety, decreased academic achievement, health problems, etc. Sometimes, cyberbullying will come from children your little one knows, and sometimes it will come from cruel and nasty strangers.
For adults, the idea of cyber predators is perhaps the most distressing of all. Converse to cyberbullies, cyber predators try to lure children in with kind words, the promise of gifts and other attractive behaviors. Thus, your kid might not automatically sense danger, and you might not know about an online predator until something serious happens. Sometimes predators want messages or pictures from your kid; however, the relationship can escalate quickly, with children running away to be with their manipulator.
In both cases — cyberbullying and cyber predators — communication with your child is key. Your kid shouldn’t feel the need to keep secrets from you, especially with regards to their online activity, so you should make it a habit to chat about what they did online and whom they talked to. If you suspect nefarious behavior, you might install a monitoring tool, so you can review what your child is doing during screen time and keep them safe from these kinds of threats.
The internet is a magical and dangerous place, especially for a child. Teaching your child how to use devices and the web is wise, but you also need to instill in them a healthy fear of the digital threats that lie in wait. With the right tools and training, your child should be able to navigate the internet in no time — and stay free from attack like an adult.