Strategies for Keeping Children Safe Online

Kelcy Ballantyne

In today's digital age, children are growing up with technology at their fingertips. While this has countless benefits, it also brings new challenges, particularly regarding online safety. Parents and caregivers may feel uncertain about educating their children on responsible internet use; however, you don’t need to be a tech expert to help. In this blog post, we'll explore practical tips and strategies to keep your children safe online.

Understanding Parental Controls and How to Use It

While incredibly useful for learning, fun and socialising, the internet (we can all agree) is not the best place for children to roam free. The importance of creating a safe space of age-appropriate content is essential in protecting a child’s physical and mental health. Parental controls are settings that can be used to limit and restrict certain features of most electronic devices. These include setting time limits, blocking certain websites, blocking calls and texts, or filtering concerning content.
It’s important to remember that no filtering software is 100% effective in preventing access to content. That’s why it’s always important to pair parental controls with online safety education.

Education, Education, Education  

Simply restricting access via parental controls is not enough to teach children about online safety.  It all starts with education! It’s important for parents and caregivers to have open conversations with young people about the responsibility that comes with owning a device. Understanding the potential risks and challenges is key, but also teaching young people the basics. We break down five simple tips for parents to begin with below:

Five Simple Things to Educate Your Children About

1. Creating Long and Strong Passwords
This is vital in safeguarding online accounts from cyber threats and protecting personal information. Strong passwords can be phrases made up of multiple random words, which can improve memorability while adding length to increase their strength. 

Remember to avoid easily guessable information like pet names or birthdays e.g., "password123", “Call Me Oliver”, “MyBirthdayIsJanuary12) ”
2. Only downloading apps from trusted websites
It’s important to educate children on the importance of only downloading apps from trusted sources such as the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. These sources undergo security checks, reducing the likelihood of malicious software and cyber-attacks. If children are ever unsure of a source, encourage them to ask first.
3. How to spot suspicious emails, calls or texts
When it comes to recognising spam emails, calls, or texts, continual education is vital. Cyber security education is not a ‘one-and-done’. Every day cyber criminals develop new ways to gain access to people’s devices to steal private information. Experts agree, one of the best ways to help kids recognise online scams is to show them examples of what to look for. Red flags include spelling errors, urgent requests, unknown senders or demands for payment.
4. Cyber friends vs. real-life friends
Young people often spend time interacting with real-life friends online, so it doesn’t seem strange if a new person likes or comments on their posts or sends them a message. It’s become increasingly normal for people to make friends online, so instead of focusing on who you know in real life vs. online as ‘strangers’, reframe the conversation to focus on behavioural red flags.
5. Keep it private
Recognising the importance of privacy empowers children to responsibly navigate the internet. Certain information like passwords, addresses, and bank details is off-limits, but it's equally vital to educate them about their 'digital footprint.' Emphasising that personal posts and photos can endure online indefinitely reiterates that it’s essential to be cautious about sharing with peers.

In today's digital age, ensuring children's online safety is paramount. For parents and caregivers, it may seem overwhelming to know where to start.  Luckily, we have some great local organisations in New Zealand to help! Netsafe and CERTNZ are two platforms that offer resources for parents and young people who want to navigate the Internet safely. In the face of evolving cyber threats, it is crucial to remain vigilant and keep parents and children informed of the latest developments.