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In our digital age, the internet is part of life. We rely on it for everything from schoolwork and homework to entertainment and social interaction. With connected technology so deeply embedded in our days, fostering cyber safety is crucial for protecting your child’s mental health and physical wellbeing.
As a parent, you might be concerned that your child’s internet use is exposing them to safety risks. You’re not alone. Statistics from Australia’s eSafety Commissioner show 60% of parents believe their child faces dangers from being online, including access to inappropriate content, sharing personal information, being bullied, and contact with strangers.
As a Christian parent, you also have a responsibility to nurture your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Many things our children can experience online are at odds with God’s ways. Christian parents need godly wisdom to help their children be ‘wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ (Matthew 10:16) with regards to their internet use.
Fortunately, it’s possible to equip yourself with the knowledge and tools to protect your family from online threats. Here, we’ll explore various aspects of internet safety, including information security, personal protection, and factors that could compromise your child’s safety online.
Today, most of us need to share personal information (such as our personal details, and banking details) online for various purposes. This frees us to do tasks like shopping and banking quickly and easily from the comfort of our homes. However, it also means these details could be accessed by people with ill intent.
A data leak or loss (Cyber Threat) is any action that could endanger the availability, integrity, or privacy of data. On a personal level, this could result in consequences such as:
- Personally Identifiable information being lost, or abused
- Ransomware, or Malware corrupting or damaging important data (photos etc)
- your identity being stolen.
The internet is teeming with malicious actors seeking to exploit unsuspecting users. Two common threats to be aware of are phishing and ransomware/malware.
What is phishing?
Phishing involves trying to trick people into sharing sensitive information such as passwords or financial details, often through deceptive emails, texts or websites. Many spam emails are phishing attempts.
Phishing attempts might ask your child to:
- click an attachment
- update a password
- respond to a social media friend request
- connect to a new wi-fi hot spot.
- respond or answer an email with personal information
To protect your children from phishing, it’s crucial to teach them to be cautious when sharing personal information online. They also need to know how to verify whether an email or link is safe.
One way to identify phishing attempts is to examine the email sender's address. Legitimate organisations typically have professional email addresses that match their websites. Encourage your child to look out for spelling errors or suspicious requests for personal information, and never click on links or download attachments from unknown or untrustworthy sources.
What is malware?
Malware is software designed to harm or infiltrate a user's device. There are several kinds of malware, including spyware, ransomware and trojan horses. Teach your children to be wary of downloading files or clicking on suspicious links, as these can be entry points for malware.
You should install reputable antivirus software on any connected devices. Other ways to protect your family from malware attacks include:
- updating all your software regularly
- using secure authentication methods such as strong passwords, multifactor authentication, and biometric tools
- creating spam filters to limit unwanted emails
- monitoring for suspicious activity such as unusual requests for information.
Fostering a vigilant attitude can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to these threats.
You could say today’s children live two lives: one in the physical word and the other online. Just as we need to teach them about personal physical safety, we also need to equip them to safely navigate the digital realm.
Online personal safety risks your family should be aware of include:
Cyberstalking – using online technology to track or harass someone. Examples of cyberstalking behaviours include constantly checking on someone, making repeated unwanted contact, and monitoring someone’s activity using GPS location technologies.
Cyberbullying – using technology to bully someone, making them feel embarrassed, hurt, upset or otherwise bad. According to the eSafety Commissioner, 44% of young Australians have had a negative online experience in the last six months, including 15% who were threatened or abused online.
Online predation/grooming – predators can use the internet to contact children and build a relationship with them with a view to abusing them sexually. An online predator may try to arrange a physical meeting. However, the eSafety Commissioner notes abuse increasingly occurs online, with predators tricking or persuading children into sending sexual images or performing sexual acts on webcams.
Exposure to offensive content – many young people get exposed to online content they are not ready to deal with. Examples of inappropriate content children may encounter online include written text, images or videos depicting violence, sex, and terrorism. Almost half of children aged 9 to 16 years are regularly exposed to sexual images.
5 ways to help your child build safe online habits
1. Encourage open communication
Creating an open, supportive environment where your children feel comfortable discussing their online experiences is essential for helping them navigate the digital world and maintaining web safety. Encourage your child to tell you if they experience anything online that makes them feel upset or uncomfortable.
It’s also important to monitor their online activities and encourage open dialogue about their online relationships. Reassure them that you want them to stay safe and will help them work through any adverse online encounters.
2. Establish boundaries for online activities
As a parent, you can establish guidelines for your child’s online activities. You could set limits for how much time they spend online, when, and where. It’s a good idea to keep online activities to areas of the home where you can see your children, such as in the dining room. You might like to set limits for how much time they spend in chat rooms or on social media. Consider installing parental controls that allow you to block or filter websites and monitor your child’s online activity.
3. Teach them about the risks of online interactions
It’s crucial to educate your children about the risks associated with online interactions, whether that’s on social media, gaming sites, or in chat rooms. Discuss the importance of using privacy settings to restrict who can see their profiles and posts. Encourage them to limit their online connections to people they know personally and trust.
Regularly review privacy settings together and talk about managing their digital footprint responsibly. Teach your children what they can do to protect themselves, such as blocking and reporting people engaging in harmful behavior.
4. Foster a healthy caution
Learning to safeguard their personal information will set your kids up for greater lifelong safety online. Encourage them to be cautious about sharing their name, address, phone number, or photos over the internet. Remind them that once information is shared on the internet, it can be hard to control where it ends up.
Encourage your children to be sceptical of requests for personal information, inappropriate questions, or invitations to meet offline, and to be cautious about engaging in conversations with people they don’t know.
5. Promote respect and empathy
To combat cyberbullying and cyberstalking, teach your children the importance of empathy, respect, and responsible online behaviour. Encourage them to think before they post or comment, reminding them that their words can have a profound impact on others. Emphasise the importance of kindness and standing up against cyberbullying by reporting and blocking anyone participating in activities that could be hurtful or harmful.
The internet offers countless opportunities for learning and social interaction. With knowledge, awareness, and open communication, children can learn to navigate the digital realm with confidence. Being proactive and informed will help you support your children to experience the benefits of being connected while minimising online safety risks.