How to keep your child safe on the internet: Cybersecurity for children

Whether through a tablet, a parent’s phone, or their own devices, children worldwide start gaining access to the internet at a tender age. What does this mean for their online safety?


Rida Jaleel

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Published: Tue 25 Apr 2023, 11:52 AM

Last updated: Fri 3 Nov 2023, 4:35 PM

If you have a child, chances are that they have access to the internet. While the internet might open up worlds for children from a young age and change what infotainment means, have you ever wondered how safe your little one is online? Did you know that 72% of children worldwide are exposed to cyber threats, including cyberbullying and hacking? As children tend to be naive and unaware, those aged between8 to 12 are most targeted for such crimes by attackers.

How can you ensure that kids remain safe on the internet?

Here are a few tips to follow in your household to increase online safety for your children:

Establish basic internet ground rules

At a recent tech conference presided by the world’s leading cyber security provider Palo Alto Networks, the Head of Cybersecurity of the UAE Government, Dr Mohamed Hamad Al Kuwaiti, said: “You need to teach this culture of cybersecurity and safe digital transformation to our children so that they remain safe on the internet.”

Whether we like it or not, the world and technology are changing, and we can’t always control that growth. What we can control is how our children interact with the internet. Establish some ground rules from the beginning to govern their internet usage. A few example prompts are below:

•I will not use my device for more than 30 minutes after lunch.

•I will not use the internet without adult supervision.

•I will not own or operate social media accounts (until I’ve reached of age).

•I will consult an adult if I have doubts regarding the internet.

•I will not use my device during mealtimes or while doing schoolwork.

•I will never purchase anything or share my parents’ financial information online.

•I will share all my passwords with my parents for my safety.

•I will not use any other app besides those I’m allowed.

Monitor your child’s Internet usage and engagement

While you can’t always spy on your child’s every move, several device tools can help you track and monitor your child’s internet usage. Both iOS and Android have built-in parental controls, Screen Time and Family Link, respectively. You can switch on SafeSearch for applications like YouTube and block inappropriate websites on your web browsers. An added step that is not always necessary would be to use third-party applications or software like Net Nanny, Family Time, etc., to block certain websites and contain your child’s internet exploration. Periodically go through the search histories of your child to ensure that they’re not misusing the internet.

Create an open, safe environment

One of the best ways to keep your child safe on the internet is by fostering a warm, reassuring atmosphere at home. Have honest, insightful conversations about the internet with your preteen/teen and encourage them to come to you with their doubts and anxieties. Oftentimes, children seek refuge in unsafe quarters and conceal their negative experiences on the internet, like being cyberbullied, for fear of being rebuked or ‘getting into trouble’. Make sure that you are the first person they come to for whatever internet-related trouble.

Keep a check on what YOU post

When asked about how to keep children safe on the internet, Wendi Whitmore, the Senior Vice President (Unit 42) of Palo Alto Networks, said, “A lot of parents have started (social media) accounts to record their children’s lives and that’s great from a documentation point-of-view. But parents need to be aware that their child then gets a huge online footprint even as a baby, especially in terms of their online identity.”

Today, plenty of online influencers and ‘mommy bloggers’ posit their entire online identity as parents. But this mass level of ‘sharenting’ could lead to very adverse effects for the child as they grow up. Not only are you exposing your child to Digital Kidnapping – a kind of online identity theft, but it can also invite cyberbullies and other exploiters. Children are too young to realise and understand the deep, long-lasting effects of the internet. An online presence is a deeply personal matter, and your child might choose against it. The best thing to do would be to wait until your children are old enough to give their consent before you start publicly sharing their every day with your online following.

If used well, the internet is a life-changing tool for children. Not only is it immensely educative, but it also improves your children’s communication and social skills. But the internet can also be a host of exploitation, scams, and online predators. This is where your role as a parent comes in; to introduce ‘the culture of cybersecurity’ to ensure that your child remains safe on the internet even without you around.

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