Research carried out by Kaspersky Lab and iconKids & Youth has found that children from eight to 16 are not only addicted to communicating on social media, but also behave very dangerously on these networks, putting themselves – and the rest of their families – in danger.
Children rely on the Internet to connect and communicate with others. This is the most important online activity for them. In fact, it’s so important to them that 35 per cent would, under no circumstances, want to be without social media. As children get older, online methods even start to dominate their social contact with others. Yet, while social media makes it possible for young people to stay in touch with friends, it also makes children extremely vulnerable.
Young people, who wish to be part of this social networking peer group, may find themselves sharing too much personal information on social networks. Many do this without realising that the information they share can also be seen and used by potentially dangerous people. Worryingly, most children display their school (66 per cent) and the places they visit (54 per cent), and one in five (22 per cent) display their home address. When a child shares location information with their friends, little do they know that this information may be used by malicious people, intent on finding that child in real-life.
With children posting all of this information online, criminals have a wealth of data to take advantage of. Parents should be alarmed at the fact that a third of children reveal information about the expensive things their parents do (36 per cent) and their parents’ work (33 per cent), and a fifth even discuss the amount of money their parents earn (23 per cent). With this information in their hands, and combined with knowledge about where children are located, it’s easy to see how criminals can become more targeted in their activities.
The risks extend even higher than this when we consider that a substantial percentage of children (31 per cent) are prepared to lie about their age online. 17 per cent of eight to 16 year olds pretend to be older than they really are and one in ten (ten per cent) alter their ‘age’ depending on the website that they are using. In the worst cases, this scenario can leave children vulnerable to being approached by inappropriate adults, who think they are talking to other adults and potentially exposing children to adult content.
Andrei Mochola, Head of Consumer Business at Kaspersky Lab, comments: “Sometimes children see no danger in their online conversations – they are open, fearless and communicative. And that is why their parents need to prevent them from being exposed to danger. It is wise to teach children from an early age what can be shared – online and offline – and what should be kept secret, in the interests of the family’s and children’s safety and privacy. It is also important to use necessary privacy settings in social networks, so that only friends can see children’s posts and information. For an additional layer of protection, specialised security software, such as Kaspersky Safe Kids, allows parents to constantly monitor changes in their children’s friend list and wall posts, so that parents can protect their children before they unwittingly cause themselves harm.”
Janice Richardson, Senior Advisor at European Schoolnet, says: “The majority of online problems young people report to helplines are due to a breach of privacy at some point during their online interactions. Understanding what personal data is, and how to protect it, is intrinsic to being literate in today’s world. Children need to learn from early childhood that privacy is their most precious possession – and an essential human right. The new European General Data Protection Regulation aims to help young people protect their privacy, but the most reliable form of protection is sound education from parents, teachers and the whole community in which the child lives and learns.”
Here are some tips which can help parents to avoid these risks:
- Talk with your children about their experiences and concerns, and try working together on some of the activities on www.webwewant.eu
- Encourage your children’s creativity online, and practice uploading posts together before letting them do this alone
- Explain why social media is for children aged 13 and over, talk about rights and responsibilities, and prepare your child for this big step into the open online world
- Befriend your child online until you are satisfied that they are ready to take on this responsibility; from time to time print out their profile and stick it on the wall – online content takes on a very different aspect when it is printed for ‘public’ viewing
- Set rules with your teen about the use of their webcam, and make sure these rules are respected
- Encourage your children to teach you about new options, apps etc., especially when they relate to privacy
- And remember, your child will do what you do, not what you say!