Ensuring children use the internet and social media safely is not a new topic. These very platforms regularly highlight the pitfalls and dangers and parents have been advised to help protect their children from falling prey to cyberbullying, stalking, identity theft or scams.
Charnel Hattingh, National Marketing and Communications Manager at Fidelity ADT, says in a year which has seen an unprecedented rise in the use of digital communication, due to the Covid-19 lockdown in most countries, Youth Month in South Africa is an important time to again raise the issue of online security for children.
She says the internet can be a dangerous space for anyone, but children are particularly vulnerable.
Parental guidance is the best defence for children in the online world
“Being a responsible online citizen goes hand in hand with being a responsible community citizen. In real life – in the neighbourhoods we live in, the schools we go to and the places we visit – there are rules and warning signs to help us navigate our way through life safely.
“The online world is not that well signposted to warn us there is danger ahead. It is up to the individual user to learn the risks and watch out for them. This is why it is so important to know what your child is consuming online and to be able to talk to them openly and often about the digital world,” Hattingh says.
Cyberbullying is just one example of what can go wrong for children online.
Other risk factors include:
Scams: Adults get conned online every day, even by the most ludicrous of emails, like those which state you have been left a fortune by a long-lost relative overseas.
Children are not likely to fall for these types of scams, but they could be tempted by free online music or games. Criminals usually ask for credit card information in order for the child to redeem their “special offer”. Teach your children that offer which seem too good to be true usually are.
Cyber predators: Children can be stalked by someone pretending to be their age and even lured into a dangerous personal encounter. These types of predators are prevalent on social media and gaming platforms.
Downloading malware: Cybercriminals can lure children into downloading something enticing like a free game for example, which is actually harmful software (malware). Once downloaded, criminals could access personal information from the computer the child is using to steal from their parents’ bank accounts or perform other actions which could put the entire family in jeopardy.
Making private stuff public: Innocently, children could make information or photos which reveal where they live or go to school public. Personal information should stay just that – personal, for only authorized friends and family to see.
What is done is done: Children need to learn that what is put online, stays online. It is nearly impossible to erase something from the internet. A seemingly innocent Instagram post or a comment made on a friend’s status at the age of 15 could be damaging when they are applying for a job years later.
Encourage them to stay out of topics and conversations they are not comfortable with, even if “everyone” is commenting and to never engage in online behaviour which can be harmful, hurtful or criminal (such as hate speech).
Hattingh concludes that communication between parents and children is paramount to ensuring the online world brings only positive interactions and experiences to your child.