The start of summer vacation is the perfect time for parents to remind their kids about the importance of safe online habits
The sun rises, so does the school. But despite our best efforts, it’s likely that our kids will spend the upcoming summer vacation period glued to their devices. Depending on their age, protecting them can be a delicate balance between respecting their privacy and independence and ensuring they heed our warnings. Because while the internet is a great gateway to entertainment and social space, it also harbors darker forces.
With summer vacation, it’s the perfect time to give your kids a refresher on the major dangers that lurk online.
Top 7 internet safety risks for kids
Summer holidays mean more hours of the day to spend online. That in itself is not necessarily a healthy thing. But there’s more. Consider the following threats:
Nearly half (46%) of US teens ages 13 to 17 have experienced at least one out of six cyberbullying behaviors, according to Pew research. This can range from name-calling and spreading false rumors, to receiving unwanted explicit images and physical threats, and even sharing private images of themselves without their consent. Older teens in particular are more likely to experience this kind of abuse, which can take a toll on mental health.
Unfortunately, there are also people out there who want to prey on children. This can take many forms, from sextortion and online grooming to online solicitation and non-consensual sexting. Perpetrators usually use pseudonyms online, pretending to be the same age as their victims. In some cases, they will form a relationship with their victim and persuade them to post explicit content (known as sextortion). They would then threaten to share the images with friends and family unless the victim sent more, or gave them money. In other cases, a predator can remotely hack into a victim’s machine or device and activate a webcam to secretly record it. (This crime is different from sextortion scams, in which threat actors send emails claiming to have installed malware on a victim’s computer that supposedly allows them to record people viewing pornography.)
Nearly half of the children in England have viewed the content considered dangerous for them online. We’re not just talking about pornography or violent imagery here, but also material that promotes self-harm and suicide. It can have tragic consequences on rare occasions. A balance has to be struck between overprotecting our children and ensuring they are not exposed to potentially harmful content at too young an age.
Our children are also extraordinary online consumers. That means they may frequently visit sites like Facebook Marketplace to find bargains or sell items they no longer need for a little extra spending money. Unfortunately, these sites are also hotbeds of fraudulent activity, ranging from defective and counterfeit goods for sale, to items purchased that are never delivered. Often victims will be asked to pay via the Cash App, Zelle, Venmo or similar apps. Doing so means their purchases are no longer protected, so once the money is gone, the money is gone.
Kids love games. Estimated that 68% of children aged 6-10 years and 79% of children aged 11-14 years play it. But gaming platforms and services can also expose children to risks such as cyberbullying, fraud, predators and inappropriate content. Malware is often disguised in pirated software that is used as bait for eager gamers. And game accounts themselves are tempting targets for identity thieves, as they usually contain a large amount of personal and possibly financial information that can be retrieved.
The global market for smart toys worth billions. However, while these devices can enhance our children’s play and development, they can also open the door to privacy and security risks. Content recorded by toys, as well as passwords used to secure accounts, may not be stored securely by vendors. And in some cases, security flaws allow hackers to spy on children and their parents through the toys.
Social engineering tactics work on both children and adults. They usually take the form of phishing emails, texts, or social media messages, in which perpetrators impersonate trusted organizations, or sometimes friends, to achieve their goals. This is usually to trick recipients into handing over their login info or personal/financial data, or to get them to unknowingly install malware on their devices. This is often ransomware or info-stealing malware.
How to keep your family safe this summer
With a wide variety of threats, there’s no one-size-fits-all advice to help with internet security this summer. However, a good rule of thumb is to try to talk out any issues before getting in with parental controls or banning screen time. That’s especially true for more serious threats to your kids’ safety like online predators.
Consider sharing the following suggestions with your children:
- Remember to be careful when interacting online, because people are not always who they seem.
- Keep your social media profiles private and don’t accept requests from people you don’t know.
- Never send intimate content to people online, especially ones you’ve never met.
- Never click on links or open attachments in unsolicited messages.
- If you wish to reply to unwanted messages, check separately with the intended sender that the content is legitimate (but do not reply directly or use the phone number provided in the email).
- Always use a strong, unique password for any account and enable multi-factor authentication (MFA).
- Never download software from third party app stores.
- Always talk to your parents if you’re unsure about anything or if someone is bothering you online.
And parents should consider doing the following:
- Make sure your child’s device/machine is up-to-date and running anti-malware software from a reputable vendor.
- Don’t keep family cards in your child’s game account, so they don’t overspend.
- Thoroughly research all connected toys before purchase and always turn them off when not in use.
- Set ground rules about screen time and inappropriate content.
- Consider parental controls if the above fails, to block access to certain content and set usage time limits.
When you were a child, summer vacations seemed so long ago and you probably missed your school friends. So it makes sense to kill boredom by spending time online. But as parents, we also need to remind our kids to put down their devices occasionally, look up, and live in the real world for at least a few hours a day.