It’s a digital age, and children are more exposed to online environments- including learning environments than ever before. Did you know that almost half of the UK’s children are using public social media profiles, and almost the same number of kids report they have no parental rules about social media behaviour? It’s no longer enough to just hope for the best. Instead, parents must proactively teach their children how to stay safe online as they play, learn, and socialise.
Unlike any generation before them, today’s youngsters will grow up connected. Over 87% of teenagers, and 44% of 8-11-year-olds, use social media platforms daily. They have to access the internet for school as well as relaxation. And many have their own devices. While parental controls can be helpful tools to help with staying safe online, blanket bans on internet use are no longer enough- or even feasible. Instead, you must teach your child safe online habits and how to avoid threats.
Communication is Key
Trying to keep a child off the internet entirely may sound ‘safe,’ but it promotes anything but safe behavior. Instead, it’s critical to establish a safe, non-judgmental environment with open communication so they feel they can bring issues to you instead of trying to hide them in secret. This especially applies to cyberbullying and grooming behavior, but it will help students and their parents develop safer, better browsing and social media habits. If students feel unsafe discussing problems with adults, they will try to deal with the issues alone.
The cornerstone of this communication needs to be an age-appropriate understanding of online privacy and why it matters. This includes:
- Secure Accounts: Using a strong password and two-factor authentication is a basic must for all online activity. Additionally, students should be encouraged to lock down their accounts from public profiles and use the on-platform privacy and safety features to limit the data people can access around them.
- Malware Avoidance: Students should know what malware, ransomware, and malicious software are and how unsafe browsing habits and unauthorised apps expose them to greater risk. In particular, they should be encouraged not to install questionable software from unverified sources and to avoid jailbreaking mobile devices.
- Update Importance: Regular device and software updates help close loopholes and backdoors in software that hackers can exploit. Young students may need parental help with updates, while older students should be made aware of why these must be done timeously. Cybercriminals will often use ‘slow updaters’ as a mining source when software vulnerabilities come to light.
- Safe Browsing: With the proliferation of public wifi, hackers have the perfect vector to gain access to data sent over insecure connections. Students should be encouraged to use private wifi whenever possible, and parents can help them select a safe and verified VPN partner- and educate them on why they need to use it on public connections, too. Encryption settings for data can also be found natively on many devices and should be used to their fullest.
- Location Tracking: Whether to turn on location tracking is a sticky question. Yes, it can help parents monitor their children- but that same data is hardly secure, and other parties can use it too.
Lastly, but possibly most importantly, students should understand that ‘stranger danger’ applies to the internet too. Many people are not who they say they are online. Students need to understand why they can’t pass photos and personal information, including financial data and account logins, to people online, even if they have come to ‘trust’ them. The grooming of children in digital spaces is becoming a genuine threat, and this is something even younger students can be taught.
Keeping students online safely needn’t be hard, provided the adults around them learn to work with them on their learning journey and help them build safe, secure online habits that will last them a digital lifetime.