How to protect children from cyber bullying and online criminals

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Talk to your child about cyber bullying. GRAPHIC/vpnMENTOR

By TECH CORRESPONDENT

Cyber bullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass or target another person. However, studies show that while parents have allowed children to access the Internet at an early age most of them have not put any controls in place to protect them from cyber bullying.

As a result, children are now being targeted by pedophiles, recruitment by criminal gangs and terrorists and Satanists recruiting them into devil worshipping organizations.

Mr Ariel Hochstadt formerly Gmail Marketing Manager globally for Google, is now web entrepreneur and co-founder of vpnMentor an online privacy advocacy platform spells out measures parents need to take to protect children from cyber bullying.

“For a lot of children, the online world is more real than the real world. It is crucial to our children’s wellbeing that we understand what they see online, what is out there, both good and bad, and how it impacts their physical and emotional wellbeing,” Mr Hochstadt says in a posting on hvpnMentor.

He says that the problem, as many parents would eagerly admit, is that they feel they don’t really understand the online world.

“Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter are bewildering enough, without even mentioning 4chan and TOR. Furthermore, we don’t feel that we have the technical skills to navigate this complex landscape,” he adds.

Mr Hochstadt notes that the good news is that it’s not that difficult to put certain technical controls in place to protect children online.

“Far more importantly, the best thing you can do to protect your children is to talk to them; set clear boundaries for what and when they access online, but also to be there for your children when they make a mistake, or when they have gone too far,” he emphasis adding that is what parenting fundamentally comes down to.

In a comprehensive guide, he outlined eight areas that a parent should pay attention to as they help their children to navigate this complex online world. Below are key highlights.

Mobile phones and apps

According to consumer research by Influence Central, the average age that children get their first smartphone is 10 years old. Giving your child a smartphone comes with numerous benefits.

A phone is an excellent safety tool; your child can use it to let you know they safely reached their destination, call you for a ride, or call in case of an emergency. You can also use the GPS on their phone to track their location. Knowing that you can always reach your child is a tremendous peace of mind for a parent.

Smartphones, however, can also be misused, and in some situations can make children vulnerable. Because smartphones are personal devices, we don’t often know what our children do on them, or how they use them.

If you’re considering giving your child a smartphone, it helps to have some clearly outlined guidelines in place beforehand, so everyone is on the same page. If your child already has a smartphone, it’s not too late to review the family rules. Demonstrate to them that having a smartphone is a big responsibility.

Implement smartphone rules with your child. Making sure your kids involve you on their phone activities with help keep them safe. There are many precautions you can take to implement phone safety:

Implement smartphone rules with your child. Making sure your kids involve you on their phone activities with help keep them safe. GRAPHIC/vpnMENTOR

  • Print out a list of cell phone rules and stick it in a public place in your home.
  • Download parental controls. Parental control apps for younger children enable you to limit your child’s usage, determine their location, and monitor their calls and messages. Apps also allow you to shut off certain functions at different times. For example, disabling text messaging while driving.
  • You can also install an app to monitor your child’s activity. Keepersis one type of app that alerts parents about harmful, abusive, or suspicious messages, and it includes a tracking device to show your kid’s location in real time.

Streaming content and smart TVs

We like to think back to a time when the whole family gathered around the TV to watch something wholesome together. However, streaming content has shot up in popularity, and there are more TV shows and movies available at our fingertips than ever before, much of it not particularly appropriate for kids.

Most of the big streaming content providers have parental controls, some more robust than others. Netflix allows you to set up separate profiles for you and for your children. Using these tools, you can ensure that your kids only have access to age-appropriate content.

All of these tools, however, do not replace having frequent conversations with your children about what they watch.

Gaming consoles and online games

Many children around the world aged two to 17 play video games. Gaming consoles have long been a focus of fear and concern for many parents. With so many games featuring violent or sexual content, it is important to be careful about the kinds of games your children play.

Encourage your children to discuss the games they play. Make sure your child profile is set to private. Consider keeping the gaming console in a shared, social space. Study the age rating of the games. Use parental controls to set up profiles. Limit the type of people your child can speak to online.

Social media

Enforce a safe environment. Do not let your kids on social media until they’re old enough. Keep the computer in a public location. Limit the amount of time spent on social media. Block location access to all apps. Adjust the privacy settings. Monitor your child’s online activity. GRAPHIC/vpnMENTOR

While parents have worried about their kids’ TV shows and video games for years, social media, on the other hand, is a new worry to add to their plate. Children nowadays also spend an enormous amount of time on social media.

A survey by the non-profit group Common Sense Media showed that 8 to 12 year-olds were online six hours per day, much of it on social platforms, and 13 to 18 year-olds a whopping nine hours!

According to a recent Harvard study, even though most social media platforms require users to be 13 years of age to sign up, 68 percent of parents surveyed had helped younger children set up an account. Social media can be particularly addictive for tweens and teens.

It also opens the door to a variety of different issues, like cyber bullying, inappropriate sharing, and talking to strangers. Access to social media is also central to teens’ developing social identity. It’s the way that they connect to their friends, and it can be a healthy way to hang out. The key is to figure out some boundaries so that it remains a positive experience.

Cyber bullying

Children’s lives have moved online. Unfortunately, their bullies have moved online too. Cyber bullying is frequently in the news, with reports of teen suicides due to online harassment.

Cyber bullying occurs across all of the platforms we have outlined above, and it comes in many forms: spreading rumors and sending threatening messages via social media, texting, or email, pretending to be another child and posting embarrassing material under their name.

Others include forwarding private photos without consent, and generally posting online about another child with the intent to humiliate or degrade them. Cyber bullying is particularly harmful because it is so public.

The best way to prevent cyber bullying or to stop it in its tracks is to be aware of your child’s behavior. A child who is bullied may shut down their social media account and open a new one. He or she may begin to avoid social situations, even if they enjoyed being social in the past. They may become emotionally distressed or withdrawn.

Privacy and information security

Children are susceptible to information security threats that can cause financial harm. These are the exact same threats that adults face: malware and viruses, phishing scams, and identity theft.

To kids, sharing their personal details, like their full name or where they live, may not seem like such a big deal. They may even be tricked by a malicious third party into sharing their parents’ credit card details.

Encourage your children to discuss the games they play. Make sure your child profile is set to private. Consider keeping the gaming console in a shared, social space. Study the age rating of the games. Use parental controls to set up profiles. Limit the type of people your child can speak to online. GRAPHIC/vpnMENTOR

There are a number of ways that hackers and thieves can get information out of children. Free downloadable games, movies, or even ringtones that market themselves to children can place viruses onto your computer and steal your information.

Viewing inappropriate content online

Because the internet is so open and public, it is also a place where kids can stumble upon content intended for adults, content which they may find upsetting, confusing or distressing.

“Inappropriate content” can mean many things to many different people, from swearing to violence to sexual nature.

It’s not easy, but eventually, you will need to have a conversation with your children about what they might see online.

There are also a number of steps you can take to try to prevent your kids from being exposed to content they’re not ready for, like setting up parental controls on your internet connection.  Install an ad blocker to prevent viruses that might have inappropriate content.

Monitor TV time by limiting the number of hours they watch per day, incorporating parental settings, talking to your child about the content they watch, and spending TV time as a family. GRAPHIC/vpnMENTOR

Online predators

According to the US Department of Justice, 13 percent of young people with internet access have been the victims of unwanted sexual advances, and one in 25 children have been solicited for offline contact.

Predators engage in a practice called “grooming”. In other words, they attempt to form a relationship with a child with the intention of latter abusing them.

The internet has made life a lot easier for child predators. Predators target their victims through any and all online mediums: social media, email, text messages, and more. By far the most common method, however, is via an online chat room: 76 percent of online encounters with sexual predators begin in a chat room.

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