Educating Children about online risks: Don’t believe everything you see

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It’s scary how little parents know about what their children do online. Do you know exactly what your kids do? I see children as young as 3-4 years old given tablets with no parental controls, no restrictions, and no protection. They can download and install whatever they want, they can look at anything they want with no restriction.

This is the first problem that we need to resolve. Do not give your young children electronic devices that they have uncontrolled access to without having parental control apps on them. Keep control of these devices and know what is happening on them. That way you can understand their usage levels, what they do and what platforms they communicate on.

Oh and please don't let young children create social media accounts, this is crazy. Why? I know some of you will want to know why this is a bad idea so here goes, let us run through a bit of a scenario so it makes sense.

Let’s say we have a 10-year-old girl - Sophie. Sophie is a great kid, she does well at school, never gets in trouble and is very well mannered. She has an iPad and has no restrictions on her access to the internet and can download any apps she likes. Why would her parents restrict her?  She’s a great kid, they don’t think she will do anything inappropriate. She has set up an account for Facebook to talk to her friends and share pictures and things. Seems pretty safe so far but what happens if she is approached by someone on social media that is pretending to be someone her age, over time convincing her to send pictures to them or even worse getting them to secretly meet them somewhere? I hope the alarm bells are starting to ring now. This is a real possibility.

This type of scenario happens too often and we all need to do our part to make sure our children are safe online and pay attention to what our children do online. Yes, I know this is worst-case scenario type incident but they are more common than you think. Set up parental control features restrict times of use and pay more attention. More needs to be done.

You need to sit down and talk to your kids about the risks of social media and the online world in general. I know these types of talks are difficult and we don't want to scare our children but it is important they understand that there are real risks. They need to know that online things shouldn't be believed without further validation. Just because someone says they are a 10-year-old girl or boy doesn't mean they are. They could be a 50-year-old man who is a big risk to them. They need to know this. We need to have some kind of class for our children run in schools about the real dangers of being online and we need to follow this up with conversations about what our kid's behaviour online is like. Why we need to restrict the usage and why they should come to us if they are approached by anyone they don't know (even if they are approached by someone they do if the communications are unusual).

If we can get them to understand the risks and feel safe about coming to us for help when they are not sure, then we will have a much safer online experience for our younger generations. If you want someone to do a talk about this to a class, don’t be afraid to ask your community you will be surprised how many people will volunteer their time to help educate children about these dangers. Trust me I know a couple that give up their time for these sorts of programs now and we need more of it.

 

Earlier this year a cybersecurity education program was announced which will be included for high school students (details here), this is being introduced to help resolve the cyber skills shortage and help the next generations to have a better understanding of cybersecurity threats. I feel that this is not enough though (yes, it is still great) but I feel that this needs to be addressed earlier in schools. I feel that it should be discussed and addressed in the latter part of primary school so that our youngest members of the digital world are not as vulnerable to threats. We can't just leave this up to schools to deal with though we need to all do our part to better educate our children. Be involved.

Let’s start a conversation about this and spread the word. Get this in front of as many parents as possible, get our governments on board to get this in schools but let’s not just say it’s too hard and leave our younger generations at risk. We can’t do it alone but together we can make a real difference. 

As always tell me what you think, maybe you have the answer to this problem? Maybe you just agree we need to do more. Let’s start the conversation. Till next time…

 

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