The internet is a great place for children to learn, interact with friends and start building social capital that will last a lifetime. However, it can also be a dangerous environment for both children and adults. Internet threats can hurt your child’s reputation, endanger their personal safety, and even lay your entire household open to internet fraud.
With so much of our lives now online, teaching children how to use the internet responsibly and safely has become one of the most important tasks a parent faces. But it’s not always one we are well-prepared for. In many cases, parents are still struggling with online privacy and security themselves, and may not be well informed about how these issues can affect their children. Reputation management seems like an adult concern, but unfortunately at Reputation Defender we regularly see clients facing the fallout from mistakes they made during their teenage years. If your child ends up posting embarrassing content, it can appear on an employer’s search even years later.
What could hurt your child online?
Almost every threat you face navigating the internet can also be a problem for your child; in fact, many online criminals actually gear their attacks towards kids who typically lack the wisdom and maturity to see through a scam.
These are 6 of the most common internet threats and how you can help your child avoid them.
- Phishing – this request for information is designed to look legitimate, but really it comes from a scammer trying to gain personal data. Phishing takes place via email, text, or instant message, all of the favourite ways teenagers and children interact with their friends. Adults are more familiar with legitimate requests and therefore more likely to be suspicious. Teach your children to analyse wording and style and to ask questions before they give out any personal information.
- Viruses and malware – similarly, a disguised message could contain a harmful link with the potential to infect the entire computer and allow hackers to steal personal information. If your child clicks on this link, hackers may be able to pull important credentials and financial information off the computer. Up-to-date anti-malware software can help to limit the damage, but there are always new treats which may be able to get past your protections. It’s important to encourage children to ask an adult before clicking on any questionable links.
- Online bullying and harassment – online messages can contain content that is emotionally or physically threatening. This can come from your child’s peers (cyber bullying) or from an adult (cyberstalking). Kids are open to this type of threat through a number of platforms, some of which parents may not even be aware of. Most online games contain a chat feature through which strangers may be able to message your child. Threats can also come from school acquaintances who already have access to your child’s email or social media pages. It’s important to discuss the possibility of seeing hurtful messages, and make sure your child feels comfortable coming to you and talking about these issues. Show children how to unfriend or block certain senders, so that they will be able to protect themselves against unsolicited contact.
- Explicit content – pornography and other explicit content is all over the internet and it’s worryingly easy to stumble across. Using a kid friendly search engine like KidsClick!, KidTopia and KidRex.org can help block explicit sites. Parental controls are also available through most platforms, or via external software like NetNanny. However, some sites may still get through and there is nothing to prevent your child from accessing this content on another computer, especially with teenagers who have more independence. As your child gets older, encouraging voluntarily avoidance may be more effective than a block which can entice exploration of this content elsewhere.
- Exposing too much information – kids like to share every moment with their friends, but this can easily turn into revealing too much personal information, whether it’s a silly picture or a personal post. Exposing addresses or locations can be physically dangerous since it will let anyone know exactly where to find your child. Make sure kids know how to adjust their social media settings so posts are shared privately or just among friends. Discuss the dangers associated with personal information becoming public on the internet. Most of all, children need to understand that people aren’t always who they say they are online. Real world details should never be shared, unless they are absolutely sure they know who they are talking to and the connection is private.
- Sharing copyrighted material – on the same topic, children can also end up accidentally pirating copyrighted material. Copyright laws are different in each country, and in some cases penalties may be easier for underage violations, but there’s still a risk that your child could end up embroiled in legal issues from something as innocent as videotaping a movie and sharing it with their friends. It’s never too early for your child to learn that internet activity really does have real-life consequences.
When and how you choose to introduce your child to the internet will depend on your parenting style and your own technology usage. However, it’s important to think about this issue consciously and plan a strategy for dealing with it. Remember that rules may need to be adjusted as your child ages; blocks and parental controls will be much less affective with adolescents than young children. For more advice about how to keep your child safe online, contact our privacy experts at Reputation Defender.