Cybersecurity has become more than just a scary theory and we’re protecting ourselves, but are we doing enough to protect our children?

Throughout September, I was given the opportunity to analyze the digital lives of 3 pre-teens and 2 teenagers. The quest was simple: Find out where there are gaps in the cyber safety and security world. Sadly, however, the results lead to many sleepless nights and nightmares. It very quickly became evident that parents need to start doing even more. Furthermore, I should mention that the purpose of this article is not to encourage parents to “disconnect” their children. It rather discusses some of the challenges that parents may have and how parents can face them.

Fun Apps & Games

Being only a few years older than the focus group, I completely understand the need for fun apps and games. Even my parents, whose ages I should probably not reveal (sorry mom!), often indulge in a bit of Candy Crush. Although games often seem harmless, some games do have the ability to crawl into real life. These games can put your child in danger.

Two great examples of such games are Pokemon Go and the so-called “The Blue Whale game”. Pokemon Go requires the player to move around in the real world, which can be lots of fun. Sadly this could however encourage its players to enter unsafe areas for gameplay. Then there’s the Blue Whale game has a bad reputation for encouraging self-harm and suicide in its players. Ironically, regardless of their intentions, both these games have caused injuries and deaths. Some games also come with the added risk of a “live chat” feature. This is where players can communicate with each other while they play. This leaves the door wide open to cyber-bullying.

As a parent, you will most likely not want to prohibit your child from playing games though. What I can recommend is that you ask them what games they’re playing and take a special interest. Also, ensure that your children obey the age-restrictions the developer has set, they’re there for a reason.

Stranger Danger

Another app that is certainly not unknown to our world in 2017 is WhatsApp. We use the IM app in our everyday lives to communicate with our friends, colleagues and even children – but is your child using it for those reasons too?

During the course of my study, I took some time to send WhatsApp messages to 10 teenagers that I did not know. I told 5 of my “targets” where I got their number from and I told the other 5 that I simply couldn’t remember where I did. The shocking bit – 8 of them continued to talk to me after I had admitted having never met them before. 5 of those 8 were willing to give me personal information such as their home addresses and the schools which they attended. Of those 5, I was able to find and “add” 4 of the “targets” on Facebook. This meant that out of the 10 targets, I would be able to permanently have kept track of at least 4.

These are the facts that would make any parent cringe. Sadly there is also no way to protect your children completely when it comes to this. It is likely that your child has met someone new on a WhatsApp group or after an “accidental” Facebook add, but it’s not easy to know! I might not be a parent, but I think only open dialogue about the risks may help here.

Your Child’s Browser History

Any parent with teenagers will tell you that a massive challenge will always be curiosity. You can certainly also imagine that the internet is a very bad place to satisfy that curiosity. You might be reading this and immediately thinking about pornography, but that’s not all I’m talking about. Of the 5 children in my study group, only 2 of them admitted to watching porn. What is shocking though is that 4 of them admitted to having used the internet to search for treatments and diseases related to medical symptoms they were having (self-diagnosis and medicating).  I believe that this should be a massive no-no for any internet user, even an adult!

But what can you do? Here I would recommend the monitor- or- block- strategy. If you’re worried about your child accidentally finding something on the internet – block it. When you believe that your child might become curious about some things and would just like to make sure you know when they do, monitor for it. If your approach is to block it, please feel free to read through our guide on Child-Proofing Your Internet Connection

Location & Social Media Privacy

The last two things that showed up in the study was a lack of simple privacy settings. During my study, I found that 4 of the 5 children in the group had Facebook or Snapchat and had, at some point, checked into a location or left on their location settings on their phones. These children also posted real-time photos of themselves on social media, from which their location could be seen in the photos. What was especially shocking to me was that the privacy of their accounts was set so that all their friends and even some of their friends’ “friends” could see their location. This meant that they were at risk of strangers still seeing their location and using it for malicious reasons.

Luckily Facebook and Snapchat make it very easy and quick for users to check and follow-up on their privacy settings. I’d recommend that parents do so at least twice a year! You can see more details on how to change a Facebook profile’s privacy settings here.

So as you can see the risks in the cyber world are great, but the good news is that they do not outweigh the benefits of the platforms they usually come with. Finally, you should also know that most apps and platforms have websites with a lot of info that you can check to your child safe on the platform. This means you never have to compromise!