Family first – keeping kids safe online during COVID-19 & beyond

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As the pandemic leads more children to online learning, cybersecurity remains crucial. With COVID-19 forcing young students to learn online, opening up more time on Internet-connected devices, the need to understand how to keep kids safe online is paramount.

As you know, the Internet has become an integral part of life. It is hard to conduct daily activities without it. As such, Parents must understand the risks and benefits of their child’s digital life and take the right precautions and safety measures when using mobile devices.

Normally, you worry about your kids playing, gaming and watching videos. But now, it seems like it’s more important because we’re not just worried about them online playing games, we’re worried about them online during class for educational reasons. You want to make sure they’re getting the right resources and appropriate access, but you also want to make sure they’re safe!

While parents are busy working online elsewhere in the house during COVID-19, more and more children are spending more down time online using social media apps such as Instagram, Snapchat and Kik, alone in their bedrooms.

Putting the Problem in Context – According to Children’s Internet Usage Study conducted by The Centre for Cyber Safety & Education in the USA, we now know that:

  • 40 percent children connected or chatted online with a stranger
  • 53 percent revealed their phone number to a stranger
  • 21 percent spoke by phone with a stranger
  • 15 percent tried to meet a stranger
  • 30 percent texted a stranger

Cyberbullying and cyberstalking 

Cyberbullying or cyber harassment is a form of bullying or harassment using electronic means. Cyberbullying and cyber harassment are also known as online bullying. It has become increasingly common, especially among teenagers, as the digital sphere has expanded, and technology has advanced.

Cyberbullying is when someone, typically a teenager, bullies or harasses others on the internet and in other digital spaces, particularly on social media sites. Harmful bullying behaviour can include posting rumours, threats, sexual remarks, a victims’ personal information, or pejorative labels (i.e. hate speech). Bullying or harassment can be identified by repeated behaviour and an intent to harm.

Victims of cyberbullying may experience lower self-esteem, increased suicidal ideation, and a variety of negative emotional responses including being scared, frustrated, angry, or depressed. Cyberstalking is another form of bullying or harassment that uses electronic communications to stalk a victim; this may pose a credible threat to the victim.

Whatever way it happens, cyberbullying is never okay. If you become the target of a cyberbully, DON’T respond to the person. If you can, DO try to save the messages by taking screenshots of them or printing them, in order to report any bullying that occurs electronically.

Online sexual predators

Online predators are individuals who commit child sexual abuse that begins or takes place on the Internet.   Internet-facilitated sex crimes against minors involve deceit and begin with adults communicating with children over the Internet with the goal of coercing them into illegal sexual activity. Sometimes the sexual abuse happens face to face.

However, Internet chat rooms, instant messaging, Internet forums, social networking sites, cell phones, and even video game consoles have issues with online predations. These online areas attract predators because they allow them to have access to make contact with victims without drawing attention.

Webcam snooping spying

The idea of someone hacking your laptop camera, spying on you and your children in your own home is all very real and it is one of the possible ways sexual predators prey on our children.  Cover your webcam, or disable it if you don’t use it – it’s been reported that even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and former FBI director James Comey put tape over theirs.

Warning signs your child may be unsafe online

Is your child unsafe online? here’s signs you need to look out for….

  • Your child spends large amounts of time online, especially at night, and doesn’t want to tell you who s/he is talking to or what s/he is doing.
  • You find pornography on your child’s computer.
  • Your child receives phone calls from adults you don’t know or is making calls, sometimes long distance, to numbers you don’t recognize.
  • Your child asks for a web camera or moves the web camera to a more private location.
  • Your child receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone you don’t know.
  • Your child turns the computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen when you come into the room.
  • Your child becomes withdrawn from the family.
  • Your child is using an online account belonging to someone else.

How parents can help?

You don’t have to be a cyber pro to protect your child. Many new devices, computers, and Wi-Fi routers come with built-in parental controls that are easy to use but are often overlooked during the initial setup. These controls allow you to set access times, monitor internet activity and block website categories. As a parent, we must use them to protect our family:

Cyberbullying can be a challenging problem for parents to deal with because they often do not possess the technical skills or knowhow to keep up with everything their children are doing online. However, schools are increasingly educating and training their employees in how to recognize and address cyberbullying instances, but it is still critical for parents to know the signs of cyberbullying, and how to respond to them.

The first step to help your child is to inform them of what cyberbullying is, and how to recognize it. Parents should set age-appropriate technology-use guidelines for their children to follow when using electronics. Parents should also teach their children basic strategies to deal with potential cyberbullying situations before they become more serious, such as blocking the bully, protecting personal information, and ignoring or reporting inappropriate messages.

It is also important to create a safe, open environment, in which your child feels comfortable coming to you if they are being cyberbullied. Many children who are targets of cyberbullying, do not report it to their parents for fear of losing internet or cell phone privileges.

If you discover that your child is being cyberbullied, it is important to offer them your reassurance and support. You should make sure that your child knows that being a victim of bullying is not their fault, and that a bullying incident says more about the bully than the target.  Tell your child that they did the right thing by coming to you and assure them that they will not be punished. Tell them that together you will figure out the right course of action to take.

In addition to this, you should take steps to prevent future bullying incidents through a few common-sense measures such as:

  • Report the cyberbullying incident to the authorities
  • Block the bully
  • Give your child online safety tips
  • Limit technology time

In Conclusion

Although technology is the catalyst that allows children online attacks to take place, new trends in its detection and prevention for schools involves the use of technology, such as IT management platforms to set alerts for administrators when students use a school device for cyberbullying.

However effective approaches to dealing with children online attacks must involve education, prevention, detection, and remediation; and requires involvement from parents, teachers, school administrators, children, and law enforcement agencies. Parents need to speak with their kids about the potential dangers of social media and the need for them to be wary of electronic interactions with strangers.

Experts suggest parents might want to allow computer and phone usage only during certain times and only in open areas within the house such as the kitchen or living room. Obviously, that has challenges in this day and age with the ubiquity of smart phones and tablets. In the final analysis, experts believe that honest communication between parents and children is crucial to slowing predators down.

>>>The author is the Managing Partner, Delta3 International. He is an Enterprise Architect and Information Security Consultant. Del Aden is an industry-recognized security expert with over 20 years of hands-on experience in consulting, training, public speaking, and expert witness testimony. As the Managing Partner for Delta3 International, Del now focuses on helping customers prevent security breaches, detect network intrusions, and respond to advanced threats. An astitute speaker and trainer, Del is on the cutting edge of cybersecurity research and development. For comments, contact author: [email protected]co  Mobile: +233 202621350 (GH) or +44 7973 623 624 (UK). Website: www.delta3.co    Contact us: [email protected]ta3.co

 

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