Now more than ever before, children are utilizing the internet for both education and entertainment. With children ages 8-12 in the U.S. spending an average of 4-6 hours/day on a screen, and teens spending up to 9 hours/day – our children are exposed to countless online threats.
Did you know, online crime is the fastest growing crime in the U.S.? Millions of hackers and hijackers, patrolling the internet to uncover personal information like credit/debit card numbers, addresses, social security numbers and more.
Here are the top 5 threats your children should be aware of online, and how you can protect them from each one:
1. Personal Information Phishing
Phishing is the fraudulent act of attempting to obtain sensitive information by disguising oneself as a trustworthy individual through electronic communication. Hackers can use this information to access accounts, steal one’s identity, and more.
At a minimum, your child should understand the types of information that should never be shared online, including:
- Full name. This information can allow stalkers to address your child as if they are their friend.
- Phone number. Not only does this open a door for unwanted phone calls, some hackers can use cell phone numbers to log into sites.
- Address. This is a dangerous piece of information that can expose where your child is located and it should never be shared online.
- Financial information. Pin codes, routing/accounting numbers, credit card numbers; hackers can gain access to your accounts using this information.
- School name and/or Mascot. Again, this reveals a location your child frequents and can give criminals a motivation behind pretending to be their friend.
- Social Security Number. Exploited social security numbers can lead to identity theft and financial accounts being opened in your child’s name.
Phishing presents itself in many different forms, whether that be through email, social media or chat. Ensure your child knows to never disclose this information online, no matter who it is that is contacting them.
2. Malware Downloads
Malware is any software intentionally designed to cause damage to a computer, server or network. A wide variety of malware types exist, including computer viruses, worms, ransomware, adware – the list goes on.
Typically, users download Malware onto their devices because they think they are downloading something else. Your child may think they’re downloading a game, when in reality, they’re downloading a nasty virus. Malware can automatically download itself onto your computer just by visiting malicious sites in general.
Set boundaries around how your child can surf the web. Do not allow them to download anything without your permission. You may consider setting up a computer space in your home where you are able to actively supervise.
3. Inappropriate Content
The internet has provided a means of sharing content with a wider audience. However, some of that content may be illegal, inappropriate, offensive or unsuitable for some age groups.
While you can do your best to monitor how your child is browsing the internet, sometimes that just isn’t enough to stop them from uncovering inappropriate content. We recommend utilizing parental controls on all devices to block your child from seeing unwanted content.
Most Internet Service Providers, including Xfinity, Cox, and Charter/Spectrum, offer free parental controls to make the internet a safer place for young family members. Typically, you can select a predetermined filter for your child’s age that will decrease the likelihood your child stumbles upon inappropriate content.
4. Privacy Settings
Many apps can expose your child’s photos, social media updates, and pinpoint location to strangers.
Always double check the privacy settings on your child’s device to ensure their information is only being shared with people online that they already know in real life. Be weary of location features and make sure it is only being shared with a present group of friends and/or parents.
Share the dangers of meeting an online friend in-person. If allowed, these meetings should require parental consent in addition to a chaperone.
Children can be the victim of, or the culprit behind, online bullying. Children who suffer excessive bullying may be in serious distress or danger; cyberbullying should be taken very seriously.
Teach your child not to send mean text messages, avoid posting embarrassing photos of others, or to spread hurtful rumors electronically. Encourage them to immediately report any cyberbullying they witness, whether to themselves or others.
Also take some time to learn the warning signs of bullying, so you can recognize if your child becomes a victim.
The internet can be a very useful tool and a great resource for discovery. With the right rules and controls in place, you can feel safe knowing your child is shielded from online threats.