5 ways to protect your young child online
Tips to help parents support their young children to stay safe online
Today’s children are growing up in an increasingly digital world.
Whether it’s to learn, play games or watch their favourite show, more and more young children in the region are spending their time online.
As a parent or caregiver, we know that your child’s safety is a top priority – in both the real world and online!
With technology evolving rapidly, it can be challenging to stay on top of the latest technology trends, online threats and safety tips.
That’s why our information technology and child protection experts have put together simple tips to help you better support your child in staying safe, aware and protected while using digital devices – be it a smartphone, computer, tablet or gaming console.
Here are 5 ways to keep your young child safe online:
1. Be aware of potential online risks
The first step to protecting your family online is knowing about the potential risks your child may encounter online. Here are some risks to be aware of:
- Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying is when someone uses online spaces like social media, messaging and gaming platforms to repeatedly humiliate, anger or shame someone else. Online bullying can severely impact your child’s confidence, mental health and well-being. Even though young children may not have their own social media accounts, they may be chatting with other people on gaming forums or chat rooms and could be at risk of being bullied.
- Online exploitation and extortion: Predators often use online platforms to target and exploit vulnerable children and youth, coercing them through blackmail, sexual extortion, grooming and abuse. They often lurk in kid chat rooms or gaming forums pretending to be children themselves. A child might see the perpetrator as a friend because of the manipulative tactics they use. It’s important to remember that predators are not always strangers. Online abuse can happen by someone the child knows.
- Harmful and inappropriate content: Whether watching videos, scrolling through social media or browsing websites, children are at risk of seeing content that is not appropriate for their age. This harmful content can include violent, dangerous, scary and sexually explicit videos or imagery. There are ways you can proactively filter what your child sees online (find tips in the next section).
- Misinformation, disinformation and fake news: Mis/disinformation is false or altered information that can spread quickly and have a negative impact both in the real world and online. Fake news – false information that appears real – is also a growing concern that threatens to discredit legitimate information and can cause serious harm. Young children are vulnerable to mis/disinformation and fake news because they do not yet have the skills to judge whether something is true or not.
- Scams, malware and ransomware: Our devices are increasingly at risk of new and sophisticated online threats. With only a few clicks, your child can easily – though unintentionally – install dangerous software (malware) on a computer or device. For example, they might be lured into downloading a game or clicking on an advertisement flashing a new toy. Instead, it is an invasive software in disguise, capable of covertly attacking or gaining access to your device’s camera or photo gallery, or even hacking and taking control of your social media accounts. If you suspect or experience a cybercrime or scam, report it.
Reporting a cyber security incident in South Asia:
- Bangladesh: Police Cyber Support for Women and Children page and helplines: 13219 (teen helpline), 01999109333, 01320000888
- Bhutan: Royal Bhutan Police (dial: 113)
- India: National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal website and helpline: 1930
- Maldives: Online Crime Reporting website and helpline: 119
- Nepal: Cyber Bureau email and helplines: 977 9851286770, 009 77 1 5319044
- Pakistan: Pakistan Telecommunication Authority Complaint Management System website
- Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka CERT | CC website, phone (+94 11 269 1692) and email.
If you notice a change in your child’s behaviour or think your child is experiencing negative or unwanted contact online, talk to them. Ask them what’s been going on in their online world, how they are feeling and just listen. If they don’t feel comfortable talking to you, encourage them to speak to another trusted adult such as another family member, family friend or teacher. Let them know that they can also anonymously call your national child helpline and talk to a trusted counsellor.
2. Set up safeguards to protect your child’s digital experience
It’s a good idea to become familiar with your and your child’s devices. This includes the device’s inbuilt privacy and security settings.
When in doubt, ask for help from an Information Technology (IT) expert. It could be your relative, the store you bought the device from, your internet service provider or an IT security expert you may know of. You can also look for tips from trusted and verified accounts on social media.
Create strong passwords
- Create passwords for your devices and accounts that aren’t easy to guess, like an everyday word or something related to you. Use a mix of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers. This will also prevent your child from using your device without your permission.
- Set up a secondary password or 2-step verification to add an extra layer of security to your accounts to prevent your account from getting hacked, or if your password is stolen.
Turn on privacy and safety settings
- Turn on SafeSearch settings. Most search engines like Google offer a ‘SafeSearch’ setting that helps to hide inappropriate results. You can turn on this feature by going to the ‘Preferences’ or ‘Account’ settings.
- Make your accounts private. For any account your child is using, change the privacy settings to protect your personal information and who can see your profile, photos and videos.
- Use parental controls. Many apps and software offer parental controls. These settings are useful to monitor how your child spends their time online. Using these tools can allow you to set limits on screen time, filter inappropriate content, block them from using certain apps and websites, and from making in-app purchases.
- Turn off location services in all apps. Many apps and websites can identify your location – a feature that can potentially be used to reveal your child’s location to strangers online.
Use child-friendly platforms
- Use child-friendly sites and search engines like KidzSearch, YouTube Kids, etc. to help filter and hide explicit content.
- Set up a kid’s profile. Streaming platforms like Netflix, YouTube and others allow you to set up a separate account for your child. This helps to filter and restrict what TV shows and movies they see based on age ratings aimed at children ages 12 and under.
- Choose age-appropriate apps and games. You can help to filter inappropriate content by choosing games and applications that are right for your child’s age. Before downloading the application, check the age ratings and reviews online. Try to choose applications that do not have advertisements or in-app purchases.
Protect your devices
- Keep your systems up to date. Make sure your devices are updated with the latest software and operating system updates to help protect them with new security features and to fix potential bugs.
- Install antivirus software. It’s important to continuously protect all your devices against the threat of hackers and viruses. Antivirus software can help detect and remove viruses from your devices.
- Keep webcams and cameras covered when not in use. Cover your camera with a sticker or cover when you’re not using it to increase your privacy and protect against potential webcam hackers.
3. Supervise and spend time with your child online
Screen time shouldn’t mean alone time, especially for young children.
Watch your young child while they’re using your phone, tablet or computer. Consider setting rules like ‘no devices in the bedroom’ so you can easily keep an eye on what they are doing online.
Make spending time online together a part of your family routine. Play games together and ask them about their favourite apps or the latest video they’ve watched. This will also help them feel comfortable talking about their online experiences.
4. Foster open conversations
Open, honest and direct communication with your child is important.
Encourage them to regularly talk about their online experiences with you. Actively listen to what they are saying without letting your thoughts or judgement guide the conversation.
Talk with your child about online safety
Use simple and basic language to explain some of the bad things that can happen online and why it’s important to be careful while on our devices.
Help them to understand what’s okay to share online, what’s not, and who it’s okay to share things with. Personal information like their name, phone number, school or home address and photos, should never be shared online.
Create a safe space for them to share if something doesn’t feel right
Let them know they can always come to you with anything that’s worrying them, without feeling ashamed or getting in trouble. Your child might fear that you will take away the device or limit their screen time if they confide in you.
If your child has seen or experienced something that made them uncomfortable on social media, a chat room or a website, report it. Most social media platforms let you ‘block’ a person so that you don’t see their content and they cannot contact or send you messages. Make sure that your child knows how to ‘block and report’ an offensive account.
Report a safety concern on social media:
5. Teach them to be kind online
It’s never too early to teach your child about treating others with kindness, including online.
Encourage them to be mindful about what they do and say online. Explain that they leave a digital footprint - a permanent trail of information - when they use the internet. This can include the pictures they post and the comments they make. For instance, encourage them to think ‘Would I say this in real life?’. If the answer is no, then they shouldn’t be saying it online either.
Let your child know they can be a supportive friend online by sending positive messages and choosing not to take part in hurtful behaviour.
We all have a role to play in making the internet a safer and better place for everyone.