How can I protect my child online? How can I teach my child to use Internet safely? Can I monitor my child behavior on his/her mobile device? I am really worried as I cannot understand what my child is really doing online! As a cyber security expert, these are among very common questions and comments that I am receiving daily from worried parents. Children are learning through exploration and natural curiosity and they see Internet as a magical entity that may answer all their questions while it is full of fun and new adventures! However, children are naturally more trusting than adults, they learn new technologies very quickly, and they have very little awareness of the darker side of Internet! As parents we do give lots of care on physical safety of our child but what about protecting them in the cyber world? How much time do we spend on educating our children of Internet dangers? How much are we aware of cyber risks ourselves? In UK one in six adults has fallen victim to cyber-crime, how are they going to protect their children online safety?

The top dangers that children are faced online in order of importance are:

  1. Themselves: Merging today’s world social networking technologies with all mediums for capturing and recording videos, sound, images, etc. made your children their own worst enemies! It is very important for parents to discuss about online safety with their children at an early age definitely before they become 5. It is important to describe for them that if there is anything that they are not doing face-to-face they should not do it online as well! Moreover, explain to them that whatever they post or write online would be captured forever and may come back to haunt them later! Educate your child about cyber dangers early and often!
  2. Parents: It is a surprising and sad fact that uneducated parents are among top dangers to their own child cyber safety! I have seen many parents publicly posting videos and photos of their children online with detailed geographical information and how was their feeling at that time! Many pedophiles are finding their victims and what they like to do and where they like to go on their parents posts! Ask your children to describe and show you what they can do online. Ask them to help you in doing your online things and talk with them about your cyber activities. This way, you would first get a clear view about your children cyber capabilities while you can teach them online safety protection practices. Moreover, you are telling them that they can come back and talk to you about any cyber issues that they are facing. Try to ask questions based on what they have posted online to help them understanding how the information they have shared can be misused while treating their mistake as an experience, let them to learn instead of facing disciplinary actions. Finally, always keep yourself educated on essential cyber security techniques and whenever you are suspected of any issues, do not hesitate even for a second to contact an expert and ask for help! Better to be safe than sorry!  
  3. Friends: these are people your children already know and are mainly other kids at school. Friends can pose serious threats in terms of cyber bullying as well as hijacking child’s online identity. Cyber bullies can post harassing messages, private photos, or even bad exam results of the child online where it will be recorded forever! Make sure that you are well aware of your children online friends and always install monitoring tools on all digital devices used by your children. It is important for your child to be aware that a responsible adult may monitor all their cyber activities whether it is simple commenting on Facebook or writing private emails. Should you find your child involved in any cyber bullying activities, talk to them and ask them to remove their comments and apologize for their bad behavior. It is important for your children to feel the same sense of responsibility in the cyber world that they have in the physical world. Don’t forget that we are all in the same boat in a stormy sea!  
  4. Strangers: this is the most common threat that the parents are think of. These strangers are usually adults (who pretend to be children) and try to establish relation with children to abuse them. Most of the time these strangers are setting their action plan based on publicly available information of their victims. So limiting the amount of available digital data of your child would help a lot in protecting them. Trust your children and ask them to tell you immediately when approached by a stranger online but don’t forget to keep monitoring their online activities anyway. It is better to have remorse than regrets! Should you found those misbehaving strangers, blocking them only would be of very little help! Unlike physical world, it is not difficult for criminals in the cyber world to create a new identity and contact your child again! Immediately report them to cyber crime investigation agencies or ask for cyber security professionals assistance should you not want to involve law enforcement agencies for privacy reasons. Your report may not only save your child but helps in protecting hundreds of other children.

 

I do believe there is not enough attention and support from cyber security expert community to children online safety and there are not sufficient educational videos and community events in promoting children and parents cyber awareness. It is partly because of lack of sufficient incentives and partly because of lack of enough number of educated cyber security professionals! It is important for charities and schools to regularly run child online safety events and promotes awareness about this issue while it is important for cyber security experts to keep tracking online child abusers and make Internet a hostile environment for them!

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