As children increasingly rely on the internet for their education, it is important for parents to know how to protect their children from dangers online. Aside from using the internet for school, social networking sites, chat rooms and virtual worlds have also become the new norms for children to stay connected with their friends, and the current pandemic has further increased the tendency for them to seek connection online.
Unfortunately, lurking behind the screen, online predators actively keep a lookout for easy targets to exploit when browsing the various platforms. As such, parents have the responsibility to assist their children in navigating these spaces safely. Here are 5 practices you may consider adopting to help protect your child online:
- Educate your child
The first step to protecting your child from online predators is to educate them about their presence. When explaining the concept of cybercrime, you can use real life examples from news articles to show your child how online deception can take many forms. Inform them to exercise caution when interacting with people online as the people whom they befriend may not be who they claim to be. It is not uncommon for online predators to make use of touching stories to gain their victims’ trust before executing elaborate plans to deceive the latter of their money and/or feelings.
2. Establish boundaries
To ensure that your child’s privacy is not invaded, you can choose to lay down some strict ground rules. These may include:
- Forbidding your child to disclose any personal information (including their real name, date of birth, phone number, address and school) in the form of text or media.
- Forbidding your child to meet up with any online friends without the company of a trusted adult.
- Establishing common rooms in the home where your child can access the internet to avoid any surreptitious online activities.
- Restricting the sites your child is allowed to visit.
- Scheduling a fixed timeslot for your child to access the internet.
You should also warn your child against uploading any inappropriate images of themselves. A good gauge would be to ask them whether they would want anyone who isn’t the intended recipient to see that photo. If the answer is a “no”, it suggests that that particular photo should not be posted on social media.
3. Be aware of red flags
Highlight to your child some warning signs that they should look out for when using the internet. Given that online predators tend to “stalk” their victims, make sure that your child knows to inform you should they detect any unusual activities such as someone liking or commenting on most or all of their online posts. The same applies upon receiving many foreign phone calls from the same number. Most importantly, ensure that your child knows to report to you if they feel uncomfortable with a particular interaction.
Children are curious and hence may choose to seek out online “friends” with whom they can freely discuss certain topics. This puts them at risk of encountering online predators, or they may already be in contact with one. Below are some warning signs that your child may exhibit, such as when they:
- Become secretive about their online activities.
- Spend a lot of time online/make frequent phone calls to numbers you do not recognise.
- Show signs of internet addiction.
- Hastily change screens or close webpages when an adult enters the room.
Communicate with your child and let them know that their actions are causing you concern. Encourage them to share the reasons behind their behaviours with you.
4. Speak with your child
Take the initiative to speak to your child about subjects that they are curious about, that may be taboo. Let your child know that while it’s normal for children their age to be curious about some things, discussing these topics online with strangers can be dangerous. Encourage your child to instead direct their questions to you and assure them that you will answer their questions to the best of your abilities. Alternatively, you can consider introducing your child to the relevant books and magazines to find out more.
5. Build trust between you and your child
Online predators often prey on children who seem vulnerable —based on the children’s posts on social media. As such, children who engage in attention-seeking behaviour in hopes of finding connections with others in the virtual world often fall prey to these predators. More often than not, these children are less likely to have a concerned adult they can turn to, resulting in them seeking solace in other forms of attention online. Thus, it is important that you establish good rapport with your child.
Rather than just being an authoritative figure, be a friend who is willing to lend a listening ear. Allow for opportunities for your child to share the problems they face without fear of punishment or judgement. Help them to understand that they will not be faulted should they report any uncomfortable encounters. By building an open and trusting relationship with your child, they are more likely to feel safe and compelled in sharing these situations with you, thereby protecting themselves from online predators.
All in all, online predators pose as a serious security risk for children and protecting your child from online predators is no easy feat. However, with both healthy communication and restrictions imposed, we believe that parents, together with their children, can stand against the odds and navigate through the murky waters of the internet.