A 13-year-old in Bangalore was recently tricked into accessing child pornography and sending nude pictures of himself and his family members, by a person he had befriended on Facebook. It was only after the man, who goes by the profile name ‘Tejal Patel’, started blackmailing his parents for ransom, that they found out about this, and the father approached the police. It was also revealed that the man had been harassing many other children like this.
Children, today, have unlimited access to the internet and social media right from a young age, hence, incidents like the one in Bangalore have, unfortunately, become common place. While, it is impossible to monitor their activities all the time, and nothing is fail proof, it becomes all the more important as parents to ensure that you try and protect your children from cyber criminals. Here are some steps that you can follow to help reduce the chances of your child falling prey to cyber crime:
Keep your computer in a common room: While they can still access the internet from their phones and other personal devices, you can reduce the chances of your child accessing the computer secretly, by keeping it in the common room rather than in the children’s bedroom/study room. This will ensure that you keep an eye on what your child is looking at, and also make sure that she/he doesn’t end up on sites that she/he should not be accessing. This also makes it difficult for predators to contact your child as you would be closely monitoring for any suspicious activities.
Don’t chat with strangers: We constantly tell our children not to talk to strangers on the road – the same applies online as well. Let your child know that they should not be chatting with strangers, and that the 12-year-old friend they may have made online could actually be a 50-year-old man/woman and a potential predator.
Don’t share personal information: Inform your child that personal information should never be shared with anyone they meet anywhere – online or offline. Who all are at home, what their activities are, what the family members do or where they work – these are details that should never be shared online. While it may be tempting to post photographs in social media networks, it is also be best to advise children to resist from doing so.
Discuss about cyber crime: Talk to your children about cyber crime and online criminals. If you happen to read up some news about any child who has fallen victim to cyber criminals, share it with your kids. This will help them become aware of the potential dangers of getting friendly with strangers online. Your child should know that you are available to them any time they want to talk. Tell them that if they can approach you if they feel that someone is behaving inappropriately with them online, or they have seen something that is inappropriate.
Monitor your kids’ apps: With millions of apps available for download, many of which are free, your kids have access to a whole lot of information and activities online. While some of these apps may be useful, some may be harmful. Hence, it is best to keep a watch on the kind of apps your kids download and use. You can install parental controls that block out harmful apps.
Install strong passwords: Install a strong alphanumeric password for your home Wi-Fi network. Use unique and complex passwords on all your email accounts and ask your children to also create strong passwords for their personal accounts. Remind them never to reveal it to anyone, including their best friends, as they could be hacked.
Avoid clicking on external links: A number of websites, including children’s ones, keep having different links popping up. Some of these may be harmless ads, while some others may lead to potential viruses, or may be links to pornographic sites. Hence, inform your children to never click on such links or download anything without your permission.
Use parental control software: While younger kids may have a way of accidentally entering into inappropriate websites while clicking on seemingly innocent links, older kids may do it out of curiosity. This is where strong parental control software comes into use as it can block and filter access to inappropriate websites. Rather than downloading a plain antivirus, you can go for one of the numerous internet security suits that are available online. These usually offer one stop solutions to protect your PC against malware, adware, spyware, spams. Some even control how much time children spend on the internet. Other, more advanced security suites, also track children’s social media activities, the kind of apps they access, browsing history, instant messaging details and gaming history.
Limit access to social media networks: Ensure that your kids stick to the minimum age criteria when it comes to opening accounts on social media websites. Also, limit the amount of time you kids spend online and enforce a strict log off time at night. Most often predators are active at night, hence it is best to not allow your kids to access the internet at night.
Know your children’s online friends: As much as it is important to know who your children are friends with offline, you need to keep track of their online friends as well. Find out what they are doing, and if any new social media friends have been added recently. Go online, check what your kids have been searching for/looking at, people they have been chatting up with, and information they have been sharing on social media. Talk to them about any new friends they have added, especially if they are not part of their physical world, and red flag them.
Get a hobby: Encourage your children to have hobbies and activities that do not require the internet. Read a book, get involved in sports, drama, art, music – there are tons of activities that do not require technology, and can reduce the time that they spend online.