Help Keep Your Children Safe Online

By Brian Wrozek ·

The Children’s Internet Usage Study conducted by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education discovered that 30 percent of children ages 8-14 use the internet in a way they know their parents would not approve. That’s alarming. Luckily, October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, which is an ideal opportunity for parents to set aside time to teach their children good digital habits to keep them safe online. 

Today’s children have grown up with the internet. However, many parents lack the technical confidence to address cyber topics or underestimate the level of danger in today’s digital world. The below tips offer a good starting point to help parents protect their children online.

kids-safe-online

What’s Happening Online?

The first step to help keeping your kids safe online is to understand what is available for them to access. Following are some of the top activities that many kids are doing online, perhaps without your knowledge. 

Social Media and Web Apps

Starting with what likely is the most well-known category to many parents, social media and web applications are extremely popular with children. Here is a small sampling of the big ones in use today:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Vine
  • Snapchat
  • Tumblr

While the above list is just a small number of the top applications children know and use. There many more obscure ones, and new ones are popping up daily.

SAFETY TIP: It’s important for parents to be familiar with what applications are out there and actually understand how to use them. Do your own research, talk with other parents about what their kids are using and create your own accounts. “Follow” or “friend” all your children’s online accounts. If they don’t include you in their circle, make it clear to them they don’t get to use that application. This allows you to monitor the type of content they post online, and maybe more importantly, with whom they are interacting.

Chatrooms

In addition to applications, chatrooms are as popular as ever with kids. With names like these, they are easy to find:

  • Anicechat
  • Chatforfree
  • Enterchatroom
  • Justchat

Many chatrooms don’t require any type of formal registration. Just enter a name, click a few links and anyone—including your children—can start chatting one-on-one or in a group thread. These chatrooms are rarely moderated and frequently include video webcam functionality. One of the main features that draws people to chatrooms is that they allow participants to be anonymous. Anonymity encourages participants to say whatever they want and pretend to be whoever they wish. 

SAFETY TIP: Parents need to broaden their “stranger-danger” lessons with children to include online strangers. Children should be instructed to never give out personal information like cell phone numbers or home addresses, and NEVER agree to meet a digital friend in person.

Video Games

Today’s video games look nothing like the “old-school” ones many parents might remember. Most adults do not realize that predators and bullies now can target their children through computer games. These games frequently include live chatting and the ability to make in-game purchases regardless if they are played with a computer, mobile device or gaming console system. 

SAFETY TIP: Be aware that teen and adult games can include disturbing subject matter such as graphic violence and nudity. Therefore, become familiar with the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) system used to rate games in much the same way that movies are rated. It is not just the games targeting older audiences that need to be considered. Games designed for children can include chatting functionality and in-game purchases so you need to be vigilant with all of the games being played by your children.

General Online Safety Rules and Tips

  • Set age and maturity appropriate limits. Many applications and websites have age requirements, but the Children’s Internet Usage Study found that 30 percent of children lie about their age in order to use Facebook, for example. Understand the age requirements for each app or site and talk with your children about what they are permitted and not permitted to use.  
  • Put boundaries on times and places spent online. There can be too much of a good thing so limit usage of devices, especially at night and in bedrooms, if possible. Computers should be located in an open area of the home. If they must be used in a home office or bedroom, have the screen face the door, and keep the door open when the computer is in use. Set up a power strip at the end of the kitchen counter, and have kids plug in their devices before going to bed. Then you know they will not be used all night, and they were freshly charged by morning.
  • Cover the webcam when it is not being used. It is possible for hackers to access webcams without your permission and spy on users. You can buy a special cover that slides back and forth, or simply place a piece of tape or a Band-Aid over it. 
  • Use built-in access controls and parental controls. These are found in most devices and applications. Security and privacy features often come turned OFF by default to make the device and applications easier to use. Restrict the ability to download and install new applications, and block the ability to make online and in-game purchases on mobile devices and computer systems. Look on the website of the device manufacturer or application developer for helpful information. YouTube has helpful videos that walk through step-by-step how to implement security and privacy controls. You also can check with your Internet Service Provider to see if they offer both free and fee based privacy, monitoring and other security controls.
  • Talk to your kids about topics like sexting and cyber bullying. If you see warning signs or changes in your child’s behavior, conduct a detailed review of the history of their online activities. Create a home environment where your child feels safe talking to you about disturbing online activity. Social media applications like Twitter have procedures for reporting unwanted behavior and controls to block select users and activities. Don’t be afraid to involve school officials or law enforcement if inappropriate online activities continue or escalate. Save the threatening and offending emails, texts, posts and pictures. Don’t reply to them, and don’t delete them. Above all, don’t ignore the problem and hope it will just go away. Seek help.

Conclusion

Take advantage of the heightened attention during National Cyber Security Awareness Month to learn about digital threats and ways to keep your kids safe online. Research other technical tips around setting strong passwords, installing security software and recognizing social engineering attacks. Encourage your school to hold cyber security awareness events. Security organizations like the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) and International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC2) have chapters across the country with members who are experienced with these topics. Communication is the key to keeping your children safe online. Warn them about the dangers. Stress that anything they share online will stay online forever. Teach them good digital security and privacy habits. Lastly, don’t wait until next October to talk again to your children about cyber security. Make it a regular part of your family life.

Brian Wrozek

Director, Information Security

Brian Wrozek is the director of information security with Optiv’s Office of the CISO. In this role he specializes in enabling CISOs by sharing practical recommendations and confronting the many cybersecurity challenges with a “glass is half-full” attitude.