Got kids? Then you’ll see everyday just how well our little ones use computers, tablets, and smartphones without a second thought — usually wanting to consume more than is good for them and than you’d like. You’re probably also wondering how you can make the internet safer for children, since you know exactly what the associated risks are of using it.
Read on to learn what threats are lurking for children on the internet and how you can help your kids surf safely in an age-appropriate manner so they can use the internet by themselves, in a responsible way, and with a critical eye.
Internet threats to children
In addition to lots of useful content, material that’s unsuitable for kids is often only ever a mouse click away. But since very few parents would want or be able to actually sit next to their child all the time and accompany all their online activities, this makes it all the more important to teach kids at an early stage about online dangers.
In the following, we’ve listed possible internet threats for children as examples to show you how incredibly varied and perfidious they can be — before we go on to give you tips on how to make the internet child-friendly.
Online games that glorify violence and websites with a pornographic focus are just a few examples of content that is really unsuitable for children and from which youngsters should be protected.
There are also major risks lurking in messengers and social networks, which children and youngsters use heavily. That’s because criminals manage time and again to mask their true identity behind a fake profile and get in touch with kids,
Children can quickly become victims of cyberbullying on social networks and messengers. Cyberbullying is one of the main dangers of using the internet, it can take a variety of forms, and it’s unfortunately quite common among youngsters. These forms include:
- Verbal abuse,
- Causing offense,
- Naming and shaming,
And it’s not just kids and youngsters who are attacked or ridiculed by aggressive or insulting texts or compromising photos or videos that are published on social networks. As you know, the internet never forgets.
Cyberbullying also includes the theft of (virtual) identities, where the perpetrators offend others or even make transactions on behalf of their victims.
Alarmingly, cyberbullying often affects children and youngsters. A study published in October 2022 by Germany’s Bündnis für Cybermobbing (Alliance against Cyberbullying) and TK, Germany’s largest health insurance fund, titled “Cyberlife IV — Cybermobbing bei Schülerinnen und Schülern” (Cybrerlife IV — Cyberbullying among high school students) (link in German) revealed that approximately one in five adolescents between the ages of eight and 21 has already been a victim of cyberbullying. The corona pandemic and the associated home schooling reinforced this — and even now, the number of those affected remains practically unchanged. Based on their extrapolations, the authors of this study came to the conclusion that around 1.8 million schoolchildren in Germany could be affected.
What may be perceived as a joke by the young perpetrators can have dramatic consequences for the victims, such as social isolation, stress, psychological issues or, in the worst case, even causing them to commit suicide. To make matters worse, those close to the affected children and youngsters often find out far too late that a child has been the victim (or perpetrator) of cyberbullying.
By the way, it’s difficult to define what “cyberbullying” means due to the different interpretations of this term in various countries. In Germany, for example, the term “cyber-mobbing” is used, in Italy “virtual” or “cyberbullying”, and in Spain “harassment via internet or mobile phone”.
Phishing and spam
It seems that not a day goes by without the media warning us about phishing attacks. You’re probably well aware of such cyberattacks, where cybercriminals attempt to obtain personal information and access credentials (like your account log-in details) with really genuine-looking emails.
Compared to adults, children and youngsters are often not as suspicious. They often act without hesitation when they are offered a new online game or a fantastic prize such as by email or on social networks. If they then click a link that was sent to download the great game, this download can turn out to be malware that can wreak more damage.
Because the devices (smartphone, tablet, computer) your child uses are probably on your home network, downloading a supposedly new online game could even affect your entire home network in the worst case.
Interested in learning more? Check out our recently published short guide on how to protect yourself against spam. You’ll also find a blogpost there about how to spot and what steps to take to stay safe from phishing attacks.
Top tip: With a proven antivirus solution, which we always recommend as an essential line of defense for all your internet-enabled devices, you can significantly improve your protection against malware.
Avira, for example, has over 35 years of online security experience, and its lightweight Avira Free Antivirus solution enables you to ward off a wide variety of malware.
Video games like Minecraft, Fortnite, and others have found their way into many kid’s rooms, with most children naturally finding it difficult to stick to agreed times for gaming.
It’s unsurprising that cybercriminals are active in all areas of the internet and that their fraudulent and dangerous activities do not stop at children and youngsters — especially not adolescents who love gaming so much.
For example, cybercriminals, dubbed online predators, use video games, social networks, secret chat rooms, and other online chat platforms to contact minors. And you can’t rule out that sex offenders are involved in this form of contact too. Once online predators set their sights on a teenage victim, they track them across all corners of the internet — with video games, chat rooms, and social networks now becoming their hunting ground.
Set rules for a child-friendly internet
Let’s be clear: There’s no such thing as an absolutely childproof internet. But you can carefully raise your child’s awareness of the possible risks and — above all — agree on rules for using the internet.
Age-appropriate times for the use of digital media
The first thing to do is to agree on clearly defined, age-appropriate times for using the internet. Germany’s Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA), for example, recommends the following times as a guide for the child-friendly use of digital media:
- Children aged 0 to 3 years should avoid using screen-based media if possible.
- Children aged 3 to 6 years should spend no more than 30 minutes a day consuming digital media.
- Children aged 6 to 10 should spend no more than 45 to 60 minutes a day on digital media.
You should also set when your child can use these time slots for online gaming or surfing. Also agree that digital devices should remain switched off such as during meal times or when you’re sitting together as a family and before going to bed. And, without wanting to point any fingers: Be a good role model for your child.
Behaviors and rules to help protect children’s online privacy
Arguably, one of the most important topics that you should discuss with your child and for which you should set clear rules is probably the topic of online privacy.
- You should explain to your child that photos (especially revealing ones) have no place on the internet because they may be reposted and strangers might get their hands on them.
- Personal information such as their name, address, phone number, school, and such like should never be given out — especially not to strangers.
- Chatting with strangers should also be put on the no-go list.
- Your child should also not respond to hurtful messages or posts in their own social media profile. Instead, they should delete the post or comment in question and block the author.
Tips for a safer internet for children
Children should be made aware of how to handle their personal information and stay safe online at an early age. There’s plenty of information out there for parents and children, and we think it’s a really good idea to sit down together and start thinking about which offerings work best for your circumstances.
Of course, you should always keep all your devices up to date and install recommended program, operating system, and app updates to close potential security holes on your computer, smartphone, or tablet. In doing so, you’re already laying the basis to make the internet safer for kids (not just for your offspring).
Great homepages for kids
To do this, go to your browser settings and simply set the address (it may also be referred to as a URL) as the default homepage. By the way, you’ll also find loads of top tips for children and parents on public service broadcaster websites, like pbs.org/parents.
Take parental control on a technical level
You can exercise a whole bunch of technical controls to limit your child’s options on internet-enabled devices and make your little ones safer. These include:
- Blocking certain internet content, services, and apps
- Restricting when they can use devices (including online games such as Fortnite or Minecraft)
- Defining specific drives or folders that cannot be accessed by children
- Protecting the system settings against changes
- Setting up internet activity notifications (e.g. by email)
- Monitoring activities on social networks.
If you share your computer with your children, it’s a good idea to create a separate profile for each user so that the parental controls only take effect for the user using that profile and not you. However, don’t just rely on filters and settings. Instead, build your child’s online literacy skills by talking to them about how to get age-appropriate information.
Here’s how to customize parental controls on a Windows computer:
- Go to the Settings app, then choose Accounts.
- From there, select Family and then Add someone.
- You can then customize in great detail which apps, online activities, and usage times should apply to your child.
If you want to make a Mac childproof, select System Preferences and then Parental Controls to configure in detail which technical restrictions should take effect to protect your child.
Measures to help protect children’s personal information
Once they’re on the internet, embarrassing photos and videos or phone numbers are there for good as the internet never forgets. And because it’s not always entirely clear which apps access what data, it’s worth thinking about every online app before it’s used.
- If possible, your child should use different, ideally anonymous, email addresses for the various social networks to avoid revealing their age and gender. This makes it at least more difficult for the online thieves, which we’ve already mentioned, to compile the information disclosed on various sites into a comprehensive profile.
- It’s best to always download apps together with your child and make sure that you only download them from trustworthy sources. Also check what access rights the app is requesting and whether these fit the app’s purpose.
- Teach your child how to come up with strong passwords that can help protect their personal information and online accounts.
Cross-platform and cross-device security solutions
We think it’s a good idea to install a cross-platform and cross-device all-in-one solution like Avira Prime before your child has their own device. That way, you can boost online privacy, device security, and the performance of the devices you and your children use in one go, making the internet safer for your kids.
If you go for a solution like Avira Prime, you benefit from an all-you-need suite of premium tools that can be installed on anywhere from 5 to up to 25 devices (computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets) and which includes a whole range of security features. Among them:
- An antivirus solution to help you better detect cyberthreats from viruses and other malware,
- A virtual private network (VPN) which, thanks to its encryption technologies, can make surfing using public Wi-Fi hotspots more secure,
- A password manager that can help you and
- your kids create strong and unique passwords for your online accounts,
- A browser safety extension that can better protect you from infected websites, prevent companies tracking you, and block intrusive ads,
- Smartphone protection, which can help block phishing websites and unwanted calls on more than just your kid’s phone.