Christmas is just a few days away and rather than having sugar plums dancing in their heads as they sleep, most kids in the modern world are dreaming of new digital gadgets such as an updated tablet, smartphone, or latest gaming system. The truth is living in the digital age can make some things in life simpler, but others more difficult like keeping your kids safe online.

Between monitoring screen time, dangerous websites, and potential predators, there is a multitude of threats to the security of children parents must be leery of online. ORAM Corporate Advisors outlines some of the dangers of the digital world and a few ways to help monitor and secure your young children, tweens, and teens while they explore the world online.

Parenting in the Digital Age

A July 2020 pre-pandemic survey by Pew Research shows two-thirds of parents in the United States report that parenting today is more difficult than it was just 20 years ago. Technology was cited as a major reason among those surveyed because it has made parenting more challenging given social media, smartphones, and the ease with which children can access the internet.

The survey showed 71 percent of parents are concerned their child might spend too much time in front of screens from the television to the tablet and their laptop to their mobile phone. YouTube has become a major platform for both younger and older kids, according to Pew Research. A whopping 89 percent of parents of children ages 5 to 11 say their child watches videos on YouTube while 81 percent of children ages three and four do the same.

When it comes to phones, 56 percent of parents reported that their children spend too much time on their smartphones while 68 percent say they are sometimes distracted by their phones when spending time with their children. Most parents surveyed also reported they don’t believe a child should have their own smartphone until they are at least 12, yet 65 percent of parents reported that it is acceptable for children to have their own tablet before age 12.

Screen Time Doubled During Pandemic

Now add a global pandemic, school closures, and the expansion of online learning to the mix and kids are online more now than ever before. According to a piece by CNN Health just last month, kids nearly doubled their screen time during the pandemic. Teens reported spending nearly eight hours a day in front of a screen, twice what was reported before the pandemic, according to JAMA Pediatrics. The JAMA research connects excessive screen use in adolescents with physical and mental health risks.

Dangerous Websites

While many children are more tech-savvy than their parents, many still don’t know how to spot a dangerous website. Visiting the wrong site could expose children to inappropriate content such as violence or pornography. Additionally, there are sites that will capture their personal information to steal their identity. This could lead to real issues since most people aren’t monitoring their child’s identity on the Dark Web, which could allow someone to use a child’s identity for years before the problem is discovered.

Online Predators

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has reported that more than 50 percent of the victims of online sexual exploitation are between the ages of 12 and 15, according to an article by the Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center. The same article reported there are an estimated 500,000 online predators active every day and 89 percent of sexual advances directed at children occur in internet chat rooms or through instant messaging. In more than 25 percent of reported instances of online exploitation, the predator requested a sexually explicit photo of the child.

Be Proactive

So what is a parent to do? Start with being proactive when you allow your child of any age to use internet devices. Parents can use technology to solve most of the issues it has created. Take the following steps to be proactive with protecting your kids online:

  • Turn to Google: Set Google as the default browser on all devices then turn on Google Safe Search. It acts as an automated filter of pornography and other potentially offensive or inappropriate content.
  • Block Bad Sites: Use the parental controls built into each device’s operating system (OS). Every major OS from Microsoft Windows to Amazon Fire has settings to help kids stay safe online. Read the owner’s manual before handing devices over to kids and/or research online to see how to use the parental controls.
  • Keep Devices Updated: To see the most benefit of parental controls on devices, keep them updated. Take your child’s devices once a month, log in, and perform regular updates.
  • Separate Logins: Set up devices so each user has to log in under their own profile. This is true even for your cable so kids can’t get into trouble when your back is turned.
  • Check Browser History: Check your child’s browser history on devices to ensure they haven’t been seeing anything they shouldn’t.
  • Talk to Your Children: Teach children to be wary of online strangers just as they would in person. Warn them that older people may pretend to be a child to befriend them. Depending on the age of your child, you may share news stories about predators online.
  • Teach Them to Avoid Risky Behavior: Discuss unhealthy risks with your child such as using drugs, abusive relationships, and sending photos. Let them know that being pressured to send risqué photos, hide discussions or relationships, or using drugs is dangerous.
  • Educate Children About Chatting: Predators often connect with children in chat rooms for private conversations. Tell your children to never chat privately with someone they don’t know, period.
  • Install Apps: Turn to technology apps that can help you monitor and protect your child online.
  • Employ a Virtual Private Network (VPN): You can improve online protection by using a VPN to encrypt data and block strangers from knowing where your child or anyone in your family is browsing from.
  • Install a Firewall: By installing a modern firewall at home, you can prevent unauthorized connections to your computer and other online devices. This also improves security if you’re working from home.
  • Know with Whom Children are Interacting: Whether in person or online, know who your child is interacting with. Ask them about their friends at school, online, in sports, etc. Discuss issues such as cyberbullying and appropriate behavior online and in person.
  • Be Their Safe Place: Remind your children they can talk to you anytime about anything. Let them know that if they have questions or report something to you, they will not be in trouble for being honest.

Watch for Signs of Online “Grooming”

Online predators often ask children not to tell anyone about their conversations. If your child starts spending more time online and/or becomes secretive about who they are talking to or what they are doing, this should be an alarm. Changing screens or closing tabs whenever you walk into the room or nearby should be another signal something may be off.

Another hint that a child is being lured by a predator is they become emotional or angry easier, especially if you remove access to the internet or look into their devices or browsing history. Finally, if a child begins using sexually explicit language or talks about things they shouldn’t be aware of, it could be a sign they are being or have been victimized.

Apps That Can Help

In addition to the parental controls on each device, there are several apps that can help monitor and secure children online. Below are a few options:

  • Bark
  • Qustodio
  • Net Nanny
  • Mobicip
  • Circle

If you have further questions about monitoring and securing your child’s devices online, contact ORAM Corporate Advisors at (617) 933-5060. Our family of IT and cybersecurity specialists are here to help protect yours.