Editor’s Note: This is part II of our internet safety for kids series. Part I focuses on younger children and can be read here.
Parents have always been concerned about keeping their kids safe online — especially their tweens and teens. That conversation is even more critical with parents and kids now working and learning at home. But as the days turn into weeks, the line between safe and risky digital behavior may get a little blurry. Maybe we can help by refreshing some basics.
Why is internet safety for kids important?
There’s no way around it. Young and old, over time, we’ve tethered nearly every aspect of our lives to the digital realm. If we want to work, bank, shop, pay bills, or connect with family and friends, we have to plugin. A wired life makes internet safety not just important, but mission-critical for parents.
Kids go online for school, to be entertained, and to connect with friends; only they don’t have the emotional maturity or critical thinking skills to process everything they will encounter on the other side of their screens.
That’s where proactive digital parenting comes in.
If our parenting goal is to raise wise, responsible, caring adults, equipped for real life, that goal must also include helping them safeguard their emotional and physical health from online risk. There’s no such thing as a digital platform or product that is 100% safe. So, our best strategy is to learn and pass on skills that mitigate that risk.
What are the dangers of the internet?
Any danger that exists offline is potentially multiplied when we log online due to the vast access the web affords each one of us. In a few clicks, we can unlock a world of possibilities. The flip side? There’s an ever-present battalion of crooks and bullies out to exploit that access. Online we will encounter the best and the worst of humankind. The daily threats to children include bullying, inappropriate content, predators, and the loss of privacy. Add to that list, digital viruses and malware, phishing scams, sharing regrettable content, and gaming addiction.
How can homebound kids avoid digital risk?
So what can we do to ensure the weeks ahead don’t bring more digital risk into our homes? We start by having consistent, candid conversations with our kids about online safety (even if eye-rolling begins). Truth: Your family’s cybersecurity is as strong as the weakest security link in your family. If one family member is lax about internet safety, your entire family’s security is compromised.
So let’s get started with some internet safety basics to share with your tweens and teens. To read internet safety guidelines for younger children, click here.
11 Internet Safety Basics for Homebound Teens
- Get candid about content. Your tweens and teens have likely come across inappropriate material online. You can minimize further exposure by discussing expectations and family values around acceptable content — both sharing it and receiving it. Reminder: “Vanishing” Snapchats and deleted content can be easily captured in a screenshot — nothing shared online is private. For extra monitoring muscle, consider adding a parental control software to your family’s internet safety plan.
- Keep passwords, software, apps updated. Being homebound gives us all extra time for details. Go through personal and family devices and update all passwords. Keeping device software and apps updated also protects kids from outside risk.
- Balance life and tech. Kids can lose their entire day surfing, scrolling, and watching YouTube or TikTok videos. Establish screen limits help kids grow healthy tech habits. Consider scheduling device breaks, no phone zones (dinner table, movie time, bedtime), and installing software that features time limits.
- Be a leader online. Yoda was on target — with much power comes much responsibility. Many online dangers can be diminished by consistently teaching kids to be upstanders online. Practicing empathy, respect, tolerance, and compassion makes the digital world safer for everyone.
- Address peer pressure. Kids with devices can share unwise, personal photos with friends they trust. When friendships end, however, those photos can be shared or used for bullying or extortion. Discuss digital peer pressure with your child and how to respond.
- Look out for scams. Talk frequently about the many forms scams can take, such as phishing, malware, catfishing, fake news, and clickbait.
- Don’t friend strangers. Sexual predators create fake social media accounts specifically to befriend kids. In turn, kids share personal info, daily plans, location, and may even agree to meet in person with online friends. Discuss these risky scenarios and other manipulation tactics of predators with your child. Be aware of his or her friend circles, and look for chat apps such as WhatsApp or Kik.
- Maximize privacy on social profiles. Help kids maximize privacy settings on social profiles and delete any profile or post information that unintentionally gives away personal data. Consider removing the names of family members, pets, school, hometown, and birthdays. Hackers can piece together this information to crack passwords or create authentic-looking phishing scams.
- Consider a family VPN. Virtual Private Networks are becoming the most popular way to conduct business, shop, and safeguard a family’s online activity from outsiders. VPN encryption can protect a child against several virtual threats.
- Review gaming safety. If your kids spend a lot of time on games like Fortnite and Call of Duty, they can encounter strangers, bullying, and scams that target gamers. Teen gamers should use a firewall to help block would-be attackers from gaining access to their PC and home networks and as well as a comprehensive security solution to protect devices from malware and other threats.
- Monitor devices. Consider spot-checking all devices routinely. Review privacy settings on social networks (kids change them), look for new apps, review browsing history, chats, and texts. Need to go a step farther? Keep your child’s phone for a few hours to check notifications that pop up. You may find activity that wasn’t necessarily visible otherwise.
Taming all the moving parts of internet safety isn’t easy, and balancing your relationship with your child and parental monitoring can get turbulent at times. While kids can experience more drama and anxiety by going online, social networks remain critical channels for affirmation, self-expression, and connection. In the weeks to come, take time to listen, learn, and get to know your child’s digital passions and patterns. Identify safety gaps and reinforce those areas. Good luck, parents, you’ve got this!
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Digital news that affects families seems to be dominating the headlines these days. To keep parents in the know, here are some of the stories you may want to give extra family discussion time to this week.
Skull Breaker Challenge Proving Unfunny
Apps — video apps especially — can help kids tap into their creativity and give kids a critical way to connect. Where the fun can take a dangerous turn is in the way kids choose to use their technology. In this case, the poor choice is in the Skull Breaker Challenge (also called the Trip Jump Challenge), a prank resulting in some kids being hospitalized.
The prank, designed to get laughs and accumulate TikTok views, includes two kids tricking a third friend into making a dance video together. Three kids line up side by side for a planned group dance that will be videotaped and posted. As everyone jumps as planned, the two kids on either side swipe the legs out from under the middle person causing him or her to fall backward. According to reports, the prank is surfacing mainly on TikTok but also Youtube.
Safe Family Tip: Consider talking to your child about the dangers of online challenges and the risks already reported in the news. 1) Discuss the physical dangers doctors are warning the public about, including neck strain, concussion, skull fracture, long-term complications, or even death. 2) Using current news stories, explain personal responsibility and what can happen legally if your child hurts another person during a prank.
Snapchat’s Hoop App Being Called ‘Tinder for Teens’
Snapchat users (over 2.5 million in fact) are flocking to a new Tinder-like app called Hoop that interfaces with Snapchat. The developer app allows other Hoop users to swipe through other Hoop users and request to connect via their Snapchat profile name.
While the app asks a user’s age, much like other social sites, there’s no way to prove a user’s age. And, users can change their age at any time after creating an account. This type of app format can be tempting for kids who are naturally curious and seeking to meet new friends outside of their familiar social circle. There’s a potential for common issues such as catfishing, predator behavior, and inappropriate content. Kids as young as 12 can form connections with strangers. While their profile may be harmless, they can’t control the type of content that pops up on their screen from other users. Another red flag: Hoop users are rewarded with “diamonds” for sharing their Snapchat name and getting others to join Hoop, so the incentive to daily share and connect with a wide circle outside of one’s known friend group may prove tough for some kids to resist.
Safe Family Tip: While it’s challenging to stay on top of the constant array of new apps, it’s not impossible. One way to understand where your child spends his or her time online is with comprehensive monitoring software. Another way of monitoring activity is to physically check your child’s phone once a week for new app icons (see right) and take the time to talk about his or her favorite apps. Consider explaining the dangers of connecting with strangers and the real possibility that a new “cute 16-year-old” may be a predator attempting to win your child’s trust (it happens every day). Review and agree on which apps are considered safe and the expectations you have for your family’s online choices.
Another app to keep on your radar is Wink. Nearly identical to Hoop, Wink interfaces with Snapchat and is being promoted as a “new friend finder.” It has a similar “swipe” feature that connects kids to random Wink users and is currently ranked #15 in the app store.
Should phones be banned from schools?
A conversation gaining a quiet but consistent buzz is the merit of prohibiting phones from schools — a law France has enforced for two years that has parents, educators, and legislators talking. Several recent studies reveal that phone bans can lead to higher test scores, higher test grades and attention spans, and increased cognitive capacity. Some schools in the U.S. have independently taken steps to curb and ban phones in hopes of focusing on distracted students.
Proponents of phones in school say a ban would be impossible to enforce and that technology is needed to help parents stay in touch with kids during the school day, especially for emergencies. Others say phones at school are a critical part of learning and raising self-sufficient, tech-savvy students prepared for a digital workforce.
Safe Family Tip: Begin the discussion with your child about the pros and cons of devices at school. Listen closely to his or her perspective. Discuss potential device-related issues that can be amplified during the school day such as cyberbullying, group chat conflicts, sexting, gaming during class, and using devices to cheat. Review expectations such as using phones only before and after school to connect with parents.
Stay tuned in the weeks to come as we take a closer look at other apps such as TikTok and WhatsApp Messenger that — when used unwisely — can lead to some surprising risks for kids. Until then, keep the digital safety conversation humming in your home. You’ve got this, parents!
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