Thanks to Clara Ellington, blogger, for sharing insights into the key threats our kids face online and how we can help educate and protect them.

Stats that say that 95% of kids have access to a smartphone, and that point to how 45% of kids say they are online on a “near-constant” basis (Pew Research Center). While these stats are compelling, as a parent, you don’t really need them to know how much your kid uses the internet. More than likely you see them stare at their phones or devices all day, so you already realize technology has become a vital part of our kids’ lives.

This highly digital lifestyle many of our kids lead presents parents with challenges, the most significant being trying to find a balance between giving kids the freedom and independence they want when on the web while also doing our best to keep them safe. Of course, this is not easy. Overly cautious parents run the risk of pushing their kids away, which can sometimes lead them right into harm’s way. But not doing anything overexposes kids to the risks that are out there, putting them in unnecessary danger. Finding the middle ground is tough, and things will be different for each kid and situation.

Common Threats and How to Protect Against Them

To effectively protect your children, you need to know what they’re facing. Being informed will help you determine when your kid is at risk but also will help you respond to any protests kids might have when you try to intervene on their behalf.

Here’s a summary of the main threats your children face and how you can protect them:

  • Malware and other viruses will corrupt the files on their computer or phone, and once downloaded, can get into other parts of the system, compromising personal information and possibly passing the virus onto someone else. Make sure their devices are properly protected, which means installing an anti-virus program on all devices your children use to connect to the internet.
  • Set strong passwords, and make sure your kids have a working knowledge of how to detect malicious-looking sites. This includes checking to make sure the sites they’re on are secure as well as verifying site addresses and avoiding web pages with tons of pop-up ads.
  • Parental controls. These can be very effective but can also cause problems with your child if not used correctly. Here is a complete guide that explains parental controls in-depth and offers some tips on how to use them effectively.
  • Phishing occurs when hackers ask you to give them access to an account. They most often use email and create messages meant to look legitimate. Or, they will pose as someone your kid knows and use this to try and get them to send money or personal information (this scam is most commonly known as the Nigerian scam). There’s no real defense against phishing except awareness. Know how to spot phishing emails and then help your kids learn these skills too. To get started, take this quiz offered by Google to see how good you are at spotting phishing attempts and where you need to get better.
  • Identity Theft. If a hacker manages to gain access to even one of your children’s accounts, they will almost certainly try to gain more access, which could result in identity theft. Help your child by helping them create secure passwords which will keep them safe against most threats. You’ll also want to ensure your home Wi-Fi network has its own password and is secure.
  • Sexual Predators. The FBI estimates there are more than half a million sexual predators online each day, and many of them use the internet to try and meet their victims. Make sure your children know not to speak with strangers, and not to meet up with anyone they meet online.
  • Online Dating Scams are a type of fraud that costs Americans millions each year. In these situations, criminals will pretend to be interested in their victim before asking for money or something else, such as access to a credit card or bank account. Children, particularly teenagers who by nature are becoming more sexually curious each day, are especially vulnerable to these types of tactics, so they must be prepared for them and know how to react. Basically, if you get your kids to be skeptical of people they meet online and not give away sensitive information, you, and they, should be plenty safe.
  • Cyberbullying. Bullying has always been an issue with children. The growth of the internet has not made things easier and has given bullies a new platform. Talk to your kids about what cyberbullying is and ask them if they’ve ever experienced it or seen it happening on social media or elsewhere. It’s possible they have been a victim to it for some time but didn’t know it. It’s also likely they’ve been engaging in it without any knowledge what they were doing was wrong. Either way, cyberbullying can have a profound impact on your child’s health and safety both now and in the future.

Talk with Your Children

Seeing some of the threats they face, it should be clear how important it is for you to take steps to keep your kids safe online. However, while the tactics we’ve mentioned are important, nothing will work if you don’t develop an open and honest dialogue with your child about their internet use. It’s possible this might lead to some uncomfortable conversations, but as a parent, sometimes that’s just what we’ve got to do to keep our kids safe, especially in today’s highly digital world.

Clara Ellington Guest PostAbout the Author: Clara Ellington is a writer and blogger who is especially interested in digital marketing.  She loves to share her knowledge and help readers be more productive with social media and  SEO.