Recently, I received a call from a close relative asking if I could offer some practical advice on how he and his wife could protect their young children whilst on the internet or devices.
Of course, I was only too delighted to be asked and flattered that my opinion would be valued in protecting their family. After all, this is the cousin that I looked up to about "tech stuff" when I was growing up. I assumed that he would be all over this. To be fair, to a certain degree he was yet at the same time he knew he wasn't fully prepared and wanted to talk someone about it.
Which is a great segue to my first tip for EVERY parent.
Tip #1. Ensure you TALK with your child(ren) about online safety. There is no getting away from the fact that they will at some stage have access to a mobile device (phone, tablet, desktop) or a gaming console (e.g. PlayStation, XBOX, Nintendo etc) and an ISSUE will crop up.
Depending on the age of the child the issues will differ. I cannot cover all possible scenarios but some common issues that most parents will face this Christmas or indeed at any point in the year such as :
- Want to install an unsuitable mobile app or game "the whole class has it, why can't I" (e.g. SnapChat for under 13's) Response: Check the age suitability of the app. Would you let your 12 your old look at an 18+ movie? No you wouldn't and avoid giving in to "everyone else has it". Regularly (once a week) sit with your child to look at recent activity.
- Send/Receive a friend request (e.g. FIFA, Fortnite, Social Media, WhatsApp). Response: Treat every friend request with zero (0) trust until verified as being the actual person by calling the parent/person. Ideally you should ask your child to share with you if they ever receive/send such requests. Limit who can be added as a friend using the game or app settings.
- Teenager Send/Receive a request for a photo (e.g. SMS, WhatsApp, SnapChat, Instagram) Response: A bigger issue for teenagers being asked by "so called friends" or wanna-be girlfriend/boyfriends to send intimate images. Simply never do it. Face this head on with your child before it happens by talking about it.
- YouTube Videos (e.g. innocent search result in inappropriate content) Response: Use YouTube Kids instead. If not, make sure to turn on parental guidance in YouTube. Regularly check the search history with your child. (e.g weekly)
- Setup the Incorrect iTunes Account for your child. Response: Always setup a child iTunes account and setup Family Sharing. If you have already setup the wrong account, delete it now and start again otherwise you never will and there could unfortunately be serious consequences down the road.
- Cyber Bullying Response: Please liaise with the school and local police depending on the situation. Don't take matters into your own hands as it could make matters worse.
Irrespective of the issue, your number #1 goal, is to build a relationship with each child so that if an issue does arise they KNOW and FEEL they can CONFIDE in you without fear of a reaction. If you overreact, they will NEVER confide in you again. I cannot over state the importance of this piece of advice. No matter how mad or upset you may feel, STOP and LISTEN. Do not judge or criticise. Instead offer helpful feedback on lessons learned and perhaps offer what you may have done and ask what do they think?
Tip #2. Security App for Parents.
There is a fantastic online safety application called 'iKydz' which is a must have, especially if Santa delivers any new devices. Age specific restrictions can be set PER DEVICE meaning the teenager has one set of rules and another for the eight year old such as what time they can surf and what sites and apps can be accessed. DO NOT FALL into trap that by installing this app you can ignore Tip #1. It it is number #1 for a reason. It is the most important.
Tip #3. Surf in the same room
Up to a certain (14+) age please don't permit online access outside of the sitting room or kitchen. Out of sight, out of mind. Remember Tip #1 and the need to be able to speak about issues. This is less likely to happen if they are not in the same room as you.
Tip #4. Passwords.
Don't use the the same password across accounts. Use a password manager to store each of your different passwords (e.g. LastPass on the phone and desktop). Use a strong password that is generated by the password manager consisting of a minimum 14 characters and not one that is a plaintext word such as "password" with a number that you increment by 1 each time you change it. (e.g. password1 -> password2 .....)
Whilst I may not have covered all issues that can arise, I do hope I have offered some useful guidance for parents on how to protect their children this Christmas and throughout the year.
Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and Cyber Risk Aware New Year.