Are Your Kids Safe On The Internet?
Raising children in this digital age full of online predators is often terrifying. This article shows you how to protect your child from online predators.
BARK industry’s Sloane Ryan recently published a chilling investigative article on what it’s like to be an 11-year-old on the internet today. The article which quickly went viral prompted the question: how do I protect my child from online predators? As an African parent, you might feel that this doesn’t concern you because it hasn't been investigated here. However, cybercrimes are universal and child predators exist everywhere.
Why You Need To Protect Your Child From Online Predators
I joined Facebook when I graduated from secondary school and started becoming aware of the digital space. Though I dropped the occasional photo, I wasn’t active on the platform. By the time I became active, I was in my early 20’s and a little bit more discerning. The main story here is that the day I decided to clear unread messages that had piled up over the years, I was in shock at some of the propositions I had received. My age and pictures were up, and these people knew I was underage. Considering how impressionable teenage years are, what would have happened if I engaged?
For most Millenials and Generation Z (those born in the late 90s - 2000s), owning or using a mobile phone is totally normal. In fact, we have been so merged with digital devices that it's hard to separate our lives from it. It's required in some schools, needed for assignments, and serves as a portable office. Also, phones are so cheap these days, with N5,000 you can purchase an internet-enabled phone and a SIM card. Kids as young as 8 years old can easily access the Internet and are increasingly adept at multiplayer games and social media sites like Instagram and Tik-Tok where these predators lurk. If adults face cyber harassment, how much more kids?
Steps to safeguard your child from online predators
So, what can you do as a parent to protect them? My first knee jerk reaction is to say "No phones till they are 18" but common sense tells me it's unrealistic. Here are more realistic and actionable steps that can be applied:
- Find apps that can monitor your child's presence online
There are free and paid parental monitoring apps available on Android and iPhone app stores. These will enable you to set some restrictions and supervise your kids' activities online. In addition, you can set an alert for certain phrases used by harassers.
- Speak to them about signs they should be wary of
Based on the report, there are certain phrases used by these predators, including asking children to consider them as just an "internet boyfriend". Have a talk with your kids about securing their pages and being careful about friend requests.
- Have agreed times for using these devices
Set specific times they can use these devices. Depending on their age, you can insist that it should not be used without supervision.
- All passwords must be public
You should be aware of the passwords they use. Also, develop a system to create secure passwords that they can remember but will be tough for hackers.
- There must be permissions before downloading a new app
Before they download any new app, they should ask for permission first. As a Parent, you should test run these apps and research how safe they are before they can use them
List of apps you can use to monitor your child's activity online
Here is a list of parental monitoring apps available on app stores.
- Google Family Link for parents
The Family Link app lets you set rules on using the Internet that can guide them as they explore online. It also recommends apps that are safe for your kids to use.
This app detects messages containing cyberbullying, sexting, signs of depression or suicidal thoughts, and many others -- without you having to spend hours reading your child's messages. Bark supports dozens of popular social media platforms, along with email, and Android/iOS text messaging. This app helps a parent to manage their Bark.us account, including reviewing potential issues, adding children, and connecting accounts. You can find it on Google Play and Apple stores.
The free version of Qustodio is one of the most comprehensive parental control apps around. It enables you to set rules and time schedules, block pornography and other unsuitable content. For more features, you have to purchase a paid version.
The Kidlogger is very good at tracking what your children type and the websites they visit. In addition, there's a voice-activated sound recorder which can inform you who they have conversations with online. For older kids, you can select what to monitor that would not intrude on their privacy.
The FamilyShield is a free service owned by OpenDNS. It automatically blocks domains that OpenDNS has flagged under the headings "tasteless, proxy/anonymizer, sexuality, or pornography". Besides using it on PCs and mobile devices, you can also apply it to your network router and filter all the traffic that passes through it.
- Spyrix free keylogger
Though Keyloggers are often used by crooks to capture passwords, the Spyrix Free Keylogger helps you see exactly what your kids are doing on the internet.
- Kaspersky safe kids
The Kaspersky Safe Kids app is parental control software for all devices – desktop and mobile – with both free and paid-for versions. The free option has a filtering option so your kids can't see inappropriate content online. You can also manage their app time use. For more features like a battery and location tracker, you will need to get the paid version.
Is it going to be easy to protect a child from online predators?
It might be easier to apply these steps to children than teenagers. Particularly because they might feel you are intruding on their privacy. So if you are concerned about this, for young adults from 16 above, only set alerts for certain words and not to completely have access. Also, equipping your child with skills for the digital age is necessary, but keeping them safe at this time is also important.
There also some apps that are unsafe for kids. We covered it in this article: 10 Obscure Apps Parents need to be aware of