Want to protect your kids online? Train them to be cyber-savvy


The number of households where kids have access to one or more screens and Internet-connected devices is increasing – and with this come dangers to your children's wellbeing. Here's what to look out for and how to help your kids thrive in the digital age.

There's no denying how blissfully convenient screens can be in keeping kids quiet and occupied. But researchers report that excessive screen time – be it on a smartphone, TV, tablet or gaming console – can stunt cognitive development in the early years, hinder social interaction and cause kids to become disengaged. They can also be exposed to advertising or unsuitable content.

While parents generally know well enough to limit screen time, there are a number of dangers kids (and parents) may be oblivious and vulnerable to, especially when it comes to social media platforms. Netcare offers these 6 risks to educate your children about:

1. Cyberbullying

Social media sites and online games are today's virtual playground, and that's often where cyberbullying takes place. The best foundation for protecting against cyberbullying is to be comfortable talking to your children about what is going on in their lives, and how to stand up to bullies. Consider investing in parental control software so you can vet communications.

2. Cyber-predators

Sexual and other predators can stalk kids on the Internet, taking advantage of children's innocence, abusing their trust and, perhaps, luring them into very dangerous personal encounters. These predators lurk on social media and game sites that appeal to children (the same virtual playgrounds where much cyberbullying happens). Again, monitor these sites, the time online and talk to your children about what is happening in their lives.

3. Posting private information

Many children do not yet understand social boundaries. They may post personal information on their social media profiles that should not be out in public. Remind them that if Mom and Dad can see it, everyone can. They should also be aware of posts that can come back to haunt them later in life. Explain to your tweens and teens that they nothing really gets deleted on the Internet. Later in life they may regret strong opinions, selfies and party photos, posted where future partners or employers can find them in perpetuity, and then jump to unfavourable conclusions.

4. Falling for scams

For young or old, the best protection against scams is knowing that if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't true. If in doubt, research online to check the veracity of any claims before you click and commit. If it seems that someone you know recommended you for the product or service, get in touch with your contact and check. Also see if you can find a contact number from the company and call to query and confirm any offers.

5. Accidentally downloading malware

As with scams, educating your children against suspicious or random downloads is the best protection against installing malware. But antivirus software and related security protections can also help to safeguard your child's computer against any malware that sneaks into it.

6. Phishing

Phishing emails and smishing texts can pop up at any time, and the cybercriminals who devise them often keep watch on sites that are popular with children, knowing they are vulnerable. These criminals gather information such as email addresses and friends' names to use in their scams. Teach your children to avoid clicking on emails or texts from strangers and to be wary of messages that claim to be from their friends but have no genuine personal message attached.

With a little extra caution, and by limiting screen time to under two hours a day of high-quality, age-appropriate content, you can help to protect your kids from online dangers and let them learn from the many fun and informative resources available online.

Experts also suggest that parents share screen time with their kids. That way, you've an eye on what your kids are being exposed to and you can help them apply any online teachings to the real world. Doing this also makes for more quality time together, which is always a good thing.

July 2018 Netcare e-flyer: Dangers of Internet; Injury.prevention@netcare.co.za


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