When I think about a birthday present or holiday gift for my kids, one thing often comes to my mind. It is a new gadget like a laptop, smartphone, or tablet. Today, these devices are almost useless if they are not connected to the World Wide Web. So, how do we, as parents, ensure our children are safe when they surf the web?
Based on recent reports, teens spend about nine hours online every day. IMHO that is a whole lot of time! I often wonder what do children do on the Internet all this time? Do they play games or communicate in social networks? Am I providing them enough information in order to make their online experience safe and hassle-free? Being an infosec guy, I want to share several tips for other parents.
First of all, it is important to know what apps children should never install and use. Yes, it is easier to say than to do. There are a lot of ways children can hide unwanted apps from us. Parents should know what red flags to pay attention to.
Do you know anything about the app called YouNow? Most parents have never heard of it but it is very popular among youngsters. It is a tool for online streaming that is likely to be already installed on your kid’s device. Users operate different hashtags to create a hype and attract viewers like for example: “singing” or “dancing.” One hashtag trending now and which makes me wary is: “sleepingsquad.” It is intended to show people who are sleeping.
While using this app, children mostly stream what they do in their rooms at home. They may also chat with their friends or other users who are often complete strangers.
For some parents, it may sound innocuous, but not for me. I know that things often can turn upside down. Such apps provoke users to get more likes. And when immature minds compete for likes, you may never know what they can do. And I hope you understand that during all those activities kids disclose plenty of private information. That is just one type of online services that parents should know about and look out for.
Next, it is worthwhile to keep abreast of numerous IM apps like ooVoo, WhatsApp, or Kik. There are also extremely popular multimedia messengers like Snapchat and dating apps like MeetMe, Tinder, Skout. These apps should be in our spotlight also.
Do you know that there are apps that help kids to hide photos, messages, and other information from parents? For example, the app called Vaulty allows to password protect videos and photos. Moreover, the app takes a photo of the user who types in the wrong password when trying to view protected media files.
One more popular app of this kind is Hide it Pro. It works the same way, but for more secrecy, it is disguised as an audio manager. It helps to hide calls, apps, multimedia, and messages.
Proceeding to the ways to protect our children while they use connected devices, let me list below the best practices that I use myself.
- Device location
When children sit by the PC or use their smartphones, they should be in your sight. Once in a while, you may have a casual peek at them and see what they watch or type or at least observe their reactions and mood. I allow my youngest son to play games for 30 minutes while I am cooking dinner. He is sitting in the kitchen and I keep tabs on his online activity. Even most harmless games can cause aggression and irritability. And this approach of mine is not a shoulder surfing. I just try to take reasonable precautions. According to some surveys, a whopping two-thirds of parents are not aware of what their kids are doing online.
- Mind social networks
For younger kids, you should get all their authentication info for social networks. I create social accounts for my children myself and I have all their passwords. I have also added my kids to my family and friend’s lists. This way, using my own social account, I can keep track of what is happening in kids’ social circles. Some people or my own children can write inappropriate comments or add photos that should not belong on a social network, so having an ability to monitor those things, helps me to prevent bad scenarios.
Children should know that all their posts and photos compose a kind of digital profile\footprint. All information is kept on distant servers, no matter if your profile is private or public. And it will stand there forever! Kids tend to overshare. They post a lot of info about themselves and their families. Parents should stress that it can be dangerous. Cybercriminals may use open-source intelligence (OSINT) methods on Facebook and other social networks to prepare different cunning frauds targeting all members of the family. Explain to kids that it is a bad idea to give away personal details or share all ”cool” moments from their life.
- Proactive measures
Today you may use various parental control apps to prevent things from getting out of your hands. Parental control apps help to keep track of children whereabouts. Such apps allow you to set the time limits for using specific apps and offer an effective way to be sure children do not visit unsafe websites.
In case your kid really needs to go to a certain site, the parental control app can be configured to send parents a message with the request to allow it or not. You can distantly lock your child’s phone or specific apps.
A parental control app is an effective one-stop solution that gives you enough privileges on your kid’s device to ensure their online safety. Limiting and monitoring what your children do is normal in today’s risky cyber world that is full of cyberbullying and hackers. And mind that new malware pieces may target even Apple devices that most of us consider safe.
- Educating and rewarding
Systematically talk to your children about online security. Place particular emphasis on the often pitfalls like cyberstalking, social engineering. Do not underestimate the potential of such teaching. When buying a new phone, first explain how to safely use it. And finally, reward them for doing things right.