To mark Safer Internet Day, Claire Fry, Director Functional Integration, offers her tips on how to keep children safe online.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become more important than ever to connect with our loved ones through social media and the internet. Not only that, it has helped us with food shopping, work and, of course, homeschooling!
Since many children have swapped the physical classroom for virtual learning via a laptop and are spending more time in front of their devices than ever before, it's really important that we make sure that they are using the internet safely. Both of my children (one primary and one secondary) have been homeschooling, and I've been seriously impressed with how they've taken to using technology.
It's great to see – they're adept with tech and getting on with schoolwork – their Microsoft Teams ninja skills have put me to shame! But I also notice that they are so at home with technology, and much more willing to experiment, which can lead to getting into hot water. I am pleased they're tech savvy, but they need to have the awareness to go with it! For the 18th World Safer Internet Day (celebrated globally each year to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology for children), I wanted to offer some of my own top tips for keeping children safe online:
- Talk to them!
Spark a conversation with them about their internet use. It doesn't have to be a telling-off or a lecture, just have an informal, positive chat about what they're doing, who they are speaking to, and any concerns they may have. Make sure they know they can come to you for help and advice. My son came into my office whilst I was homeworking to show me a text he received from HSBC: "you have set up a new payee on your account – click this link if its incorrect". Luckily he did realise the text wasn't genuine (he doesn't have a HSBC account for a start), but it was a good opportunity for me to explain how to spot phishing messages. I explained that he should always ask an adult about any text he isn't expecting.
- Lead by example
If a child sees you adopt safe practices when you’re online, it makes it more likely that they will follow suit. I keep an eye on how much time my children have online and on tech, as well as keeping an eye on myself! I try to make sure they get outside and do other things, not just for their physical health but for their mental health too.
- Check their privacy settings
Despite attempts by social media platforms to prevent underage usage, methods like date-of-birth confirmations can be easily bypassed. These age limits are there for a reason and we should discourage children from trying to get around them, but if your child is old enough for social media, make sure you check their privacy settings! A simple way you can protect them is by making sure their posts can only be viewed by people that they know and talk to them about never putting personal information online.
- Parental controls
Parental controls are the most direct way to keep an eye on your child's social media activity. They can range from filtering what content your child is seeing, to restricting what time of day they can use social media, to controlling app purchases. I have monitoring software, so I know what my children are doing online, searches made, how much time they've spent online. I don't make a big deal about it with them (they are aware I can check what they have been doing) but it gives me peace of mind. Apps such as NetNanny and FamiSafe are good to use for this.
- Contact others in the same situation
It's important for parents to keep up to speed with latest trends and cyber issues, and talking to other parents is a great way to do this! This gives you the opportunity to voice your concerns and discuss ideas with people who are in the same boat.
As I mentioned previously, it is important for us to act in a cyber-secure way to lead by example for our children.
The first step to this is actually understanding what information is out there about us online, otherwise known as our digital footprint. This is all the data that is left behind by our online activities such as shopping, gaming, banking and, of course, social media.
Given the limitless uses of the internet and social media, our digital footprint is growing by the day, and that's pretty unavoidable. However, if that information falls into the wrong hands it could leave you vulnerable to cyber attack. It's our responsibility to be vigilant to make sure that we shape our digital footprint in a way that doesn’t put us at risk.
The answer isn't to completely withdraw from social media or the internet, instead, use it smartly. Here are a few top tips:
- Consider who can see your posts on social media
Control who can see your posts by updating your privacy settings to make sure that only people that you know can view your social media activity.
- Don't overshare! Remember, what you say online, stays online
When posting on social media always think, "is it necessary to post this information?" If you are unsure, don't post it! The more personal information that you share, the easier it is for cyber criminals to launch personalised cyber attacks. This extends to photos and posts you are tagged in; make sure you have the option to review what others tag you in before you're tagged.
- Keep your location private
Avoid sharing your whereabouts on social media, this includes 'checking in' at certain locations. Update your location services to ensure that your location cannot be accessed when you're not using the app and delete any applications that you no longer use. These may be using your location without your knowledge.
- Keep your browsers updated
You can add an extra layer of defence to your information by using updated browsers. Instead of older browsers like Internet Explorer, opt for newer alternatives like Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Mozilla Firefox with more sophisticated security features equipped to keep you and your information safe.
- Use multi-factor authentication
Where possible, try to use multi-factor authentication. This involves providing alternative information (such as a phone number or using an authenticator app), to add an extra step to the log in process. This means that even if someone has your password, they can't access your account.
By staying mindful of the potential risks on the internet and social media, we can make sure that our families act in a cyber confident manner so that we are staying both physically safe and cyber safe throughout the pandemic.
You can find more advice about how to keep your child safe whilst using social media and other online platforms at www.nspcc.org.uk. There are also lots of great guides on how to set up parental controls, including setting time limits on different apps, safe searches and how to enable privacy settings on internetmatters.org.uk, and swgfl.org.uk is another great site to find helpful advice and checklists for safety on many of the apps that our children may be routinely using.
Remember, the cyber front line is you.