Life without the internet is rather difficult to fathom, and particularly for children, the online world holds a magical allure. While many parents are becoming increasingly aware of the potentially negative effects of too much screen time, the undeniable truth is that there’s a host of opportunities to explore on the internet.
However, it’s also important to consider that not all that’s free on the internet is necessarily safe. Aside from potential copyright issues, the free movie, game or music album that your child downloads may be bundled with malware, adware or another software nasty. This could occur, for example, when kids visit a dodgy website and are bombarded with giant download buttons and flashing ads, finding it hard to not make the click.
Many grown-ups are wising up to the risks of clicking and downloading anything from shady sites or shared by strangers, but children may be less cautious. The consequences can come in the form of frustrating ads and popups, but can also be much more sinister and involve having personal details stolen or losing access to your important data.
And aside from downloading ‘stuff’ from dodgy websites, kids can be tempted to buy from legitimate sites and rack up nasty credit card bills for their parents. Indeed, one mother recently announced she was ‘cancelling Christmas’ after her son racked up a hefty bill buying Xbox add-ons.
So, what can parents do to protect their children, their personal data, and their bank balances?
- Everything should start with an open dialogue on the dangers lurking on the internet. Put simply, children should be taught to approach everything on the internet with critical thinking. This includes risks that have to do with downloading materials for entertainment or homework from suspicious websites, including those hosting pirated content. Kids should be equally wary of links and attachments sent via email or social platforms and promising, for example, a free game feature.
- Also, when children want to download new software, they should know that they need to visit the websites of the original software developer, or the official store, where the chances of accidentally downloading any unwanted ‘extras’ are much, much lower.
- Parents should also ensure that kids use a reliable internet security solution that includes multiple layers of protection and downloads the latest updates automatically, as crooks constantly come up with new threats. Indeed, make sure to keep the operating systems and applications on all of your family’s devices updated with the latest security patches.
- At the end of the day, it’s important to have an understanding of what kids are up to online. Using a parental control solution helps to keep an eye on children’s activities, including the sites they’re visiting and what they’re downloading. In addition, such a tool can also allow parents to block potentially risky and age-inappropriate websites, as well as prevent children from making accidental online purchases from legitimate websites.
Just like we encourage kids to stop at a road crossing to gauge their circumstances and the cars passing by, we need to teach our children to stop and think before clicking on download buttons. With careful guidance and ensuring that the message of ‘stop and think’ is consistently reiterated, children will soon learn that – while it is exciting to play on the internet – it comes with risks just like many things in life. No child wants an extra game feature at the expense of Christmas being cancelled, so chances are good they’ll take the message on board.
To learn more about more dangers faced by children online as well as about how not only technology can help, head over to https://saferkidsonline.eset.com.