If you are a parent, you likely know all about the tricks and treats of a festive Halloween. Costumes, candy, and energetic sugar rushes can be a lot of fun for everyone, but most adults with kids also have some real concerns about safety during this special night of trick or treating. Darkness, strangers, traffic, and—if you’re old enough to remember certain urban legends—apples with razor blades are all things parents of young ghosts and ghouls think about when this spooky night rolls around, things they work hard to protect their children against.
But it might surprise a lot of parents to learn that one of the most dangerous things their kids face today is not the threat of poison candy or being hit by a car—it’s the threat of digital malfiscience. Hacking. Attacking. Locating. Abusing. These are the new frontiers of scary for young people, otherwise known as the modern equivalent of the boogeyman in the closet. The threat of having their data, their location, and their privacy exposed through lack of knowledge and negligence is the real problem parents should be thinking about—because the truth is, digital internet crimes against children are way, way more terrifying than anything Halloween could ever unleash.
The Horrible Truth
Internet attacks on children have increased considerably in the past few years, primarily because parents and young people are still learning how to implement proper cybersecurity on their personal devices such as laptops and smartphones. The truth is, the digital landscape is crawling with real-world creeps of all kinds, from cyber bullies to pedophiles to kiddie porn distributors to sex traffickers, all of whom are looking to inflict some type of pain and suffering on your child. And although this contemporary social problem has drawn a great deal of attention from parents, educators, and law enforcement, the phenomenon has continued to thrive in hidden digital environments.
Why? Because everything your child does online leaves a digital trace, and many of the social apps and platforms they enjoy invariably force them to reveal sensitive information like their age, full name, birthdate, home address, real-time location, and even private family details like mother’s maiden name or passwords.
In fact, the digital transformation of children has skyrocketed over the past few years, illustrated well through these statistics on eight to 12-year olds:
- 95% access the internet through some sort of personal device
- 51% of these interfaces happen through their own personal smartphone
- 45% use social networking sites
- one out of five report seeing or experiencing something online that bothered them
- 17% confirm they have been cyberbullied
And yet, despite these numbers, experts suggest the cybersecurity—or lack thereof—of young children often goes undetected because parents are too buy focusing on the behavior of teenagers and do not anticipate the danger. But given that many in this eight to 12-year old demographic are active social media users and internet surfers, it is imperative for parents to acknowledge and address this reality with support, advice, and flat out protection.
Parental Protection Light
Tackling your child’s digital safety is a big nut to crack, so it’s important to approach it in layers. First, there are some basic, common sense things you can do to enhance security and let your loved one know you are paying attention to their security.
- Communicate. As soon as kids become active online, it’s time for an honest discussion about the dangers and what you, as a parent, expect from them.
- Monitor. Bottom line is, kids don’t always listen, so it is critical for parents to surveille what youngsters are doing while logged on.
- Dictate. Parents are in charge—period. This means making house rules around internet use and sticking to them.
- Learn. As a parent, especially one with limited digital knowledge, it can be incredibly challenging to protect your child from internet dangers. You will need to educate yourself so you can educate others in your family.
- Model. Show your children how to handle their new-found digital citizenship by mentoring it through your own actions.
Parental Protections Heavy
Ok, great—so there are a lot of Halloween ghouls out there to worry about. Now what? Well, the good news is, there are many clear, pragmatic things you can do to protect your child from cybercrime. Here are some of the best methods for educating your youngsters:
- Learn about and USE privacy settings!
- Choose passwords and security questions that are difficult to guess.
- Avoid writing down passwords or pin numbers.
- Do NOT share your passwords of pin numbers with friends, no matter what.
- Never, ever give any private information to someone online, even if you think they can be trusted.
Along with these valuable security tips, parents should install protective software on their child’s smartphone. This tool will enable you to do all sorts of helpful things like track your child’s location, contact them immediately, turn off their apps, see their recent downloads, access their contacts, and create an alert on their phone, not to mention it gives them the ability to send a distress signal directly to you or contact 911 with the push of just one button.
Remember, Halloween is actually a time to sit back and enjoy the joy of dressing up and sharing spooky stories, relishing the mystery of the unknown. The real challenge is to stay vigilant in this digital world and make sure nothing unknown ever finds its way into your child’s cyber world. Because that is a place that should never see darkness or the threat of real-world monsters.