Online Safety Should Be A Priority For Our Tech-Savvy Children

The joy of parenthood!

We offer our children the best of facilities that can enable them to become happy, healthy, responsible and educated citizens of the country. While, we want to understand their needs and desires to become the ideal parent, we also remain concerned about their well-being, taking outmost care to ensure that they grow as responsible citizens. This concern has become much more profound in the last couple of years as the Generation Z or our teens and tweens convert into digitally savvy netizens who want to share and access information at the flick/swipe of a screen. Undoubtedly, it is quite natural for us to jump upon on any new reports / studies that helps us understand how our children are adopting the digital wave.

The Teens Tweens and Technology 2015 carried out by Intel Security is the go to study for me as it should be for every parent. It studies the pattern of online activities among the teens and tweens aged between 8-16 in India in great depth. The good folks at Intel Security unveil their findings annually hence we can take stock of trends over the years.

I personally, look forward to this study to understand the new trends amongst children as they adopt digital technologies. This year’s study also includes information on the behaviour of parents too thus offering a holistic overview of what we as concerned parents think about our children’s online footprints. It thus offers great insights into the changes that have taken place in the attitude towards the online world, and the new concerns in the virtual parenting horizon.

Dear Readers, today, I will be sharing with you, the salient conclusions from the survey which you should be cognizant of:

STARTING WITH GOOD NEWS:PARENTS RATED HIGH ON CYBER SAFETY AWARENESS

This year, the survey has thrown up ONE very positive finding: Parents have become more aware of internet-related threats, thereby starting to educate their children about them. Nearly 91% parents polled said they have discussed the risks of social media with their children, including that of cybercrimes, cyberbullying, identity theft, data stealing, online reputation threats. In addition, 85% of the parents claim they follow their children on their social media networks.

Further, most parents want their children to receive online safety or cyber security training in the next 2-5 years to keep their personal information and themselves protected. I believe that this is a good sign of things to come as more parental involvement surely means better guidance for children online and consequently, greater safety for them.

ONTO THE CONCERNING NEWS: CHILDREN COULD BE FOOLING YOU!

The study indicates that some parents considered their children’s knowledge of social media far superior to their own, and this hampers their attempt to monitor their children online. Technology-savvy tweens and teens also know how to hide their social media presence from their parents by using aliases or by deleting search history. Quite a few respondents from children, definitely do not want their parents to see their social media pages and confess they would behave differently online if they knew their parents were watching!

But are all parents watching? No, because they do not want to pry on their children’s online life as they trust them. What, they are definitely aware of is that the risk of a stranger connecting with their children online is definitely real. And this has them worried. Yet surprisingly, only around 1 out of 6 parents discussed stranger-danger as a topic with their children.

BEWARE OF STRANGER DANGER- IT’S REAL

The survey reveals that almost half (44%) of the youth polled would meet or have met someone in person that they first met online. That’s quite an alarming number, isn’t it?

Children tend to be inquisitive and adventurous by nature. Clearly, they are interested in meeting new people but would this be the most advisable way to doing the same? The answer to the same is a resounding NO! Parents should educate children about how they can interact with new people by joining sports or various extracurricular activities but meeting someone in person they met only online should be strictly avoided.

Another finding that came out was that most tweens and teens who were polled maintained that they are conscious of the need for maintaining privacy. However, many unintentionally share details like name, date of birth, photographs etc. This increases the chance of a cybercriminal preying on them.

CHILDREN ADMITTING TO CYBERBULLYING

I can’t help but wonder at the rise in cyberbullying incidents among the children. Most children today are aware that social media platforms are being used to troll and bully; and they are scared of becoming victims themselves. Yet, a large number of those surveyed admitted having bullied someone online by posting something rude or mean about them, exchanging inappropriate language or tagging them in a mean picture.

This calls for serious pondering on the part of the parents in particular and the society as a whole; are we bringing up a generation of rude, vengeful, aggressive children? Cyberbullying indeed calls for serious planning on educating children to become ideal netizens. Don’t you think so too?

CHILDREN COULD BE INVITING TROUBLE ONLINE

Despite their awareness, only 42% have said they have never done anything risky online. The rest- which makes it a majority with 58% admitted to doing activities including playing video games with strangers, uploading intimate photos and messages, watching porn, bullying someone, purchasing harmful substance or gambling! Parents should ensure that children are made aware that such risky behaviour can cost them their future and have an impact on their parents even.

THE BOTTOM LINE

  • Talk to your children, frequently and openly, about digital threats, hygiene and etiquette. Explain why it is important today to manage one’s digital reputation
  • Monitor and mentor children online- don’t just leave it to the children to work out their problems. Let them know you are there for them if they need support and suggestions
  • Stay updated on all new social media sites and issues related to those. Ask your children about the new sites, their pros and cons and the wisdom of signing up on several sites
  • Be strict about following rules online yourself and guide children to do the same. Appreciate it when children stick to the rules, like not signing up on Facebook before 13
  • Use security tools with parental controls on all internet-enabled devices to monitor children online and guide them accordingly
  • Till then, ensure your security software is updated and running and talk to your children about cybersafety.

P.S.: Follow me on @Cybermum_India to know more on the findings from Teens, Tweens & Technology 2015.

P.P.S.: I will be participating in a tweet chat being planned by MyCityForKids and Intel Security on 29th Oct 2015 to discuss more on the blog topic with the hash tag #TeensTweensTech2015. Do join the conversation to make the online platform safe for yourself and your loved ones.

A Primer to Safe Searches Online

After I gave away my old laptop to my housekeeper, I was happy to see the excitement showcased by her kids as they began to experiment with the laptop. Needless to say our dear friend was left completely spellbound.

But the joy was short-lived as the laptop soon started facing issues and wouldn’t respond to their inputs. The worried kids quickly called upon an IT technician who tersely explained the situation with a single statement, “Virus”! Then he went about resetting the system. Obviously, the kids were inexperienced about safe surfing and online security and were puzzled when the technician said that the kids themselves were responsible for letting the virus into the system.

My help turned to me. “Didi (elder sister), what went wrong with our laptop? Doesn’t a virus cause the ‘flu? How did it get into the laptop?”

I was touched by her bewilderment. “You are right partially but the virus we are talking about isn’t of the pathological kind and instead it is a technical one. Simply put, the virus that affected the laptop is not a germ but a program/software written to do mischief. If you are careless and don’t follow some simple safety rules while surfing online, these viruses can compromise the device and infect it.”

Oh my God! How can we keep it safe from the virus then?”

“Why don’t you bring your kids and the laptop over tomorrow and I will give you all a quick session on cybersafety and to conduct safe searches online.”

Sure enough, our friend brought her kids along the next day and we  switched on the laptop and connected it to the secure Wi-Fi hotspot. I ran a quick check of the ‘Search History’ on the browser to see what the lads have been upto. As I suspected, they had been surfing and downloading lots of content regarding their favourite Bollywood stars and cricketers.

After checking the system, I asked them a quick question, “Okay children. Tell me what you like doing online.?”

Pat came the reply, ‘We love to check out new movie releases, download popular songs, posters of our favourite actress, that’s it, Aunty ji.”

Aha! And who is your favourite?”

“Priyanka Chopra!!” The children shouted in unison.

I smiled; their enthusiasm was infectious. “And have you ever downloaded any posters or screensavers, or games related to her?”

“Yes, we have done that just once.”

“Wow! Which is the website you go to usually for these?”

The eldest sibling smugly explained, “There are lots of free sites. You can get almost anything there if you search carefully.”

“That’s very smart of you. But now I want you all to think hard and then answer. Have you, in real life, experienced anyone giving away free gifts just like that? Would you trust a stranger and accept a gift from him or her? Or visit unknown homes to get free goodies?”

The children went silent. My maid spoke up. “Do you mean Didi that we should treat all these sites as strangers and be careful?”

“You are right! Not just you but many others too fall prey to these tempting free offers and become the prey of cyber criminals. Sometimes people are not even aware they have been quietly taken to another web address which in turn puts in spies called cookies in the computer that could also steal your confidential photos, e-mails and other information.”

The children looked worried now. “Aunty, the laptop crashed after I downloaded a screen saver,” little Alisha said

“Yes Alisha. It’s likely that the screensaver was a malware. But don’t worry. Be more careful the next time. Now I shall install my security tool in your laptop and show you how to use the McAfee Site Advisor to identify safe sites. Remember to stick with the green.

The general public is quite like kids I interacted with above; they click on any ‘free’ site or are gullibly led to unsafe sites while surfing. It makes it easy for cybercriminals to exploit this tendency and send malware to the visitors who may be looking for a ‘free’ gift.

The trick is to search smartly and I guess you, my dear readers would now like a few tips on how to be a smart online surfer, right?

Here is a refresher on how to stay safe while surfing:

  • Protect yourself online: Use a comprehensive security tool to warn you if you try to visit risky sites or links. It will also prevent you from downloading infected content and continually identify and remove malware that have managed to enter the system
  • Visit sites you trust: Authentic sites like Google & BING continually do virus checks. Don’t be tempted to visit suspicious/unknown sites to get latest news, pictures, songs
  • Password protect all devices: An unlocked phone/ or even unsecured Wi-Fi is one of the easiest way for cyber criminals to get hold of your data
  • Ignore Pop-ups: You are collecting facts on the World Cup when suddenly a message pops-up offering you discounted products signed by the players. Tempted? STOP right there!
  • Stick to official websites: For news and information on celebrities
  • Steer clear of websites that look & sound shady: They probably are. Check the spelling, the web address well. Don’t click on links sent to you over e-mail by people you don’t know, even if it’s your bank. Most importantly, stay away from websites that require you to download some additional software or offer access to your hardware in return for some free gifts online.
  • Download tools like the Site Advisor software: The software will indicate clearly if a site is safe or not. Heed it. Here’s a complimentary version of Site Advisor for you. Download it at www.siteadvisor.com.

Do visit the McAfee Facebook page at www.facebook.com/mcafee and McAfee Security Advice Center for information on the latest consumer threats and tips to stay safe online.

Happy surfing guys!!