From the Avast Blog

Are you having the right conversations about online safety with your kids?

Originally by Emma McGowan, 21 October 2020

Plus, how to make online safety part of the daily conversations you have with them

Talking about online safety with your kids is… awkward. Not unlike the other talk that parents avoid, the online safety conversation can feel overwhelming, intimidating, and even embarrassing. Maybe you’re worried they know more than you do. Maybe you’re not even sure what dangers kids today face online today. Or maybe you’re scared that they’ve already done something that put them in danger.

But whatever the reason you might be avoiding The Talk (Online Version), it can’t be avoided forever. And, awesomely, more parents are having these conversations since the Covid-19 pandemic started. According to the Avast Kids Online: Generation Lockdown survey, 47 percent of parents are having more of these conversations since going into lockdown and spending more time online.

In the interest of getting that number closer to 100 percent, we spoke with psychotherapist and author Catherine Knibbs — who works with clients who have experienced trauma online — and kids’ online safety expert Parven Kaur, the founder of Kids N Clicks, which helps families navigate and thrive in the digital world. Here’s what they told us.

When to have the online safety talk (or talks)

First things first: Kaur says the conversation about online safety will never be a one-and-done situation. Like other tricky conversations, parents should be prepared to have conversations about online safety over and over again. In fact, Kaur suggests making it a part of the daily conversation you have with your kids. 

“For example, we tend to ask children about how school was and what they learned,” Kaur previously told Avast. “The same way we need to regularly ask our children if they have seen or read anything interesting online. Ask them if they have seen any funny viral video, they can share with you. Ask them if they saw something that upset them. The point of these questions is to show your child that you are interested in their digital world.”

Knibbs adds that it’s a good idea to have these conversations when there’s “a little bit of distraction.” She suggests bringing up the conversation while you’re going on a walk, in the car, or just finished eating. Lead with compassionate curiosity, starting the conversation by saying something like “I’m just wondering…”  

“Try something like, ‘I’m just wondering… how would you know if someone was trying to steal your data?’” Knibbs suggests. “Try making it about cybersecurity rather than cyber safety, depending on the age of your kid.” 

She also suggests modeling it as a situation that happened to you that you need advice for. 

“Kids love giving advice to the ‘experts,’” Knibbs says. “Young people love to help out those who are slightly older.”

What to include in your online safety talks

The specifics of what to include in your online conversations with your kids are going to depend on their age, maturity level, and your own knowledge of what they need.

“The conversations we have with them will also differ according to their age group and maturity,” Kaur says. “For younger children, we can introduce to them the idea of how the internet actually works. For example, get them to think about the internet as a global city where everyone is far away but can be connected to each other. Get them to think about how there is always a person sitting behind a screen and what we say or do might affect that person.”  

Regardless of their age, your kid will very likely not want to have this conversation with you. Knibbs points out that, up until about age 12, kids actually can’t understand long term consequences. In fact, that’s something that’s often difficult for full-grown adults to do. 

“Young people go, ‘Ugh! I’m fine!’” Knibbs says. “Because they don’t actually understand risk. It’s a bit like the Covid-19 virus. For some people it’s like, ‘I can’t see the virus, therefore I don’t see the dangers,’ right?”

Another place parents might see resistance is if they present the issue as, “If you do this, bad things will happen.” In addition to the fact that kids can’t see long term consequences, it’s pretty well known that telling many kids “don’t do this” is going to result in them wanting to do it. Instead, Knibbs suggests having conversations in a more roundabout way.

“Rather than saying ‘there are bad people out there online,’” Knibbs says. “Say something like, ‘Who are friends online? How do you know they’re a friend and not just someone you talk to? How do you know it’s a genuine person?’”

Questions like these help kids develop the critical thinking skills they need to navigate both the digital and physical world. Knibbs says they’re especially important when dealing with online grooming, as they’re the skills that will help your kid realize, “Hmmm, something about this isn’t right.”

But Knibbs also cautions against focusing solely on the “big monsters” of online child predators, to the detriment of talking about other issues that might come up online. Cyberbullying, for example, is a huge for kids online today and Knibbs sees many clients who are seriously traumatized by the things “friends” have said about or to them online. 

And, finally, Knibbs wants all parents to know that, no matter your level of tech literacy, you’ve got this. 

“I used to say if you’re not tech savvy, get tech savvy,” Knibbs says. “But it’s a certain type of personality who wants to be tech savvy. Instead, become the expert of your child. And most people are the expert of their child.”

The dangers your kids face online might not be what you think

Originally by Emma McGowan, 12 October 2020

Parents need to adapt to the ever-changing risks that today’s children encounter online

Millennial and Gen X parents grew up side by side with the internet, stumbling through the painful days of dial-up and America Online in their younger years and then falling head first into Facebook and social media in their twenties. So while people of those age groups feel like we know the internet — and, to a large degree, we do — that doesn’t mean that the dangers we were told to look out for as children online are the same as the dangers kids face today.

We were told to never give away our real names online. (Hence all of those embarrassing AIM screen names — mine was MadonnaMiniMe.) We were warned of stranger danger in chat rooms and private conversations. (Anyone who ever learned what “cybering” meant when they were 12 knows that’s true.)  We were told to never reveal our addresses. (Still generally a good call.)

While online grooming is certainly still a concern, kids today are facing a whole host of other obstacles online that parents may or may not be aware of. And that’s totally understandable! Many of these things just weren’t issues yet when we were kids, because the technology literally didn’t exist yet. Just as our parents probably didn’t have a firm understanding of everything that was going on online when we were younger, it’s reasonable that today’s parents are similarly in the dark. 

But here’s the thing about being a grown-up: You know more about the world than your kids do, no matter how proficient they are in TikTok. Psychotherapist and author Catherine Knibbs, who coined the term “cybertrauma” to describe some of the negative effects online experiences can have on kids, encourages parents who are freaked out about online activity to remember that fact.

“We’re being told that children know more about cyberspace than we do,” Knibbs tells Avast. “That’s not actually true, because we know more about people and conversations than they do. So, actually, we know more about the internet than they do.”

With that in mind, there are still some online dangers that you might not be aware of. So here’s a quick outline of some of the dangers kids might encounter online today, based on the best currently available research. Hopefully it will help you feel more prepared to guide your children through the digital world.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a huge problem online, across any platform where kids hang out. When it comes to social media, 42 percent of young people have experienced cyberbullying on Instagram; 37 percent on Facebook; 31 percent on Snapchat; and 10 percent on YouTube, according to The Annual Bullying Survey 2017, Ditch the Label – UK Study. Bullying also happens on gaming platforms that allow kids to play together virtually.

According to UNICEF, one in three children in 30 countries report that they’ve been victims of online bullying. And while Avast’s Generation Lockdown survey suggests that parents are aware of this issue — 89 percent report being concerned about it for their kid — cyberbullying is still a relatively new phenomenon. That means many parents might be unsure how to handle it or what to look out for. 

Knibbs says that one thing to be aware of is that, unlike in-person bullying, cyber bullying can be just one traumatic instance. (In person, bullying is defined as a pattern of behavior, not just one instance.) Because online bullying can be much more vitriolic, Knibbs says, even one event can lead to lasting negative effects on a kid’s mental health. Check out the Avast guide to cyberbullying or Knibbs’ own website for further guidance.

Poor body image

And speaking of mental health effects, too much time on social media is probably not great for young people, especially girls. In addition to the potential for cyberbullying outlined above, constant exposure to filters and photoshopping can lead to poor body image, for both boys and girls. 

A good comparison to when Millennials and Gen X parents were younger is magazine ads and photos. Most of us are aware of the effect those super skinny girls and young women and super buff guys had on our self image as young people. Now imagine what might have happened if you’d stared at those images for hours, every day. Not great. 

But, luckily, just as we were taught to be critical of the images we were exposed to in magazines, young people can be guided on how to recognize altered and unrealistic images online. Internet Matters has a great guide to help you get started.

Sexual solicitation 

Unfortunately, stranger danger is still real online. And you all certainly know it: 91 percent of parent respondents in the Generation Lockdown survey reported being concerned about “strangers talking to [their kids] and asking them to share personal information or inappropriate images of themselves.” However, only 58 percent have told their kids not to talk to strangers. 

That’s a big discrepancy. It’s important to talk to kids about who they should and shouldn’t be talking to, but it can be an intimidating or embarrassing conversation for parents. So rather than trying to scare your kids about all the baddies out there, Knibbs recommends asking leading questions.

“Ask, ‘How do you know they’re your friend? How do you know they are who they say they are? And how could you tell?’” Knibbs says. “What you’re trying to do is encourage critical thinking, because critical thinking is the thing that prevents them diving into grooming conversations.”

See the difference? Instead of taking a scare-tactic approach (which has been shown not to work in many fields), you’re actually teaching your children the skills they need to navigate the internet on their own. 

Exposure to explicit content

“The internet is an 18+ world,” Knibbs says. And she’s right — the internet was not built with children in mind. That means that content that’s perfectly okay for adults is being viewed by young people who don’t yet have the ability to understand what they’re seeing. 

Sometimes kids come across sexual content by accident because they’re curious about bodies, and other times, friends show them stuff that should only be seen by adults. But regardless of how they get there, you can pretty much guarantee that kids are going to see porn at a young age: The average age for first exposure today is 10.3 years old, according to Enough is Enough. (Other sites say age 11, but that’s based on an outdated study from 2005. And considering the reluctance of most kids to talk about this stuff with adults, it’s likely the age is even lower.)

This is why it’s extremely important for sex education classes to include explicit content education and for parents to add a conversation about porn to “the talk.” If you’re completely floundering on how to get started, check out this awesome guide from Sex Positive Families. They also offer a great webinar to help you through the process.

Phishing

Phishing is a type of online scam that manipulates human behavior in order to get access to valuable information, like passwords or banking info. So, for example, a phishing email might look like it came from your boss and ask for a copy of your W-2, but it’s actually a fake email from a cyber criminal. 

While phishing scams started in the 90s and early aughts — the first phishing scams appeared on AOL in 1995 — they’re much, much more prevalent today. And, unfortunately, young people are more prone to fall for them than older people are: According to Get Safe Online, 11 percent of young people under 25 have fallen for a phishing scam, compared with 5 percent of people over 55.  

So far, the best bet for protecting kids against phishing scam is education. A 2017 study found that teaching kids how to detect phishing scams was effective for reducing the number of scams they fell for — but only in the short term. This suggests that repeated refreshers are probably needed. 

Just like the physical world (or, as we Millennials and Gen Xers used to say, IRL), the online world has certain dangers that your kids will likely stumble upon. It’s scary, but it’s also an opportunity to remind yourself that, as a parent, you can be good at guiding your children through both worlds. All it takes is a little education, a little gumption, and a lot of conversations.

How can I prepare my kid for digital independence?

Originally by Emma McGowan, 16 October 2020

When it comes to ensuring that your kid makes the right choices in the digital world, communication is key

No parent loves monitoring their kid’s every move online — but it’s a necessary evil, kind of like driving underage kids around to all of their activities. You just have to do it until they’re a certain age.

And, according to the Avast Kids Online: Generation Lockdown survey, more than half of parents of kids under 12 expect their child to be digitally independent (meaning their online behavior is no longer constantly monitored by their parents) by the time they are 12 years old.

However, only 50 percent of parents have actual conversations about good and bad behavior online with their young children. And that’s worrisome. Just as you wouldn’t put your kid in a car at age 16 and say, “Drive, kid!” without ever talking to them about how to drive — and why speeding or driving intoxicated or looking at your phone while driving is dangerous — you can’t let a kid run around freely in the virtual world without first preparing them for how to do it. 

But while there are very clearly defined steps your family can take toward preparing a child for the type of independence that comes with a driver’s license, the steps toward preparing them for digital independence aren’t as obvious. Starting with: What is the appropriate age for digital independence?

Catherine Knibbs, a psychotherapist and author who worked in tech before she went into the mental health field, jokes that “probably age 25 to 28” is when young people are truly ready for digital independence, based on what we know about brain development. But, obviously, no parent is going to be monitoring their child’s online activity until age 25 — and no grown “child” would allow it. So with that in mind, Knibbs suggests that around age 11 or 12 — depending on the child — is a good point to start stepping away from constant monitoring of online activity. 

“It’s all about identity and identity goes with independence,” Knibbs tells Avast. “Pre-internet, kids worked out different identities in real world, tactile areas — so, for example, if they went to try martial arts or dancing, they’d have to visit those actual locations. Now they do all of that online.”

How to prepare your kid for digital independence

So how do you ensure your kid is going to make the right choices in the digital world? The same way you ensure they make the right choices in the physical world: By having a lot of conversations with them. Parven Kaur, the founder of Kids N Clicks, which is a web resource that helps parents and children thrive online, suggests making talking about the online world part of the “daily conversation” you have with your kids.

“For example, we tend to ask children about how school was and what they learned,” Kaur tells Avast. “The same way we need to regularly ask our children if they have seen or read anything interesting online. Ask them if they have seen any funny viral video, they can share with you. Ask them if they saw something that upset them. The point of these questions is to show your child that you are interested in their digital world.”

You can also ask their opinions about online issues that you’ve noticed yourself. 

“The key here is not to tell them about it but rather ask them what they know about the topic,” Kaur says. “For example, take a particular issue like misinformation and ask them what they know about it and how they think it is shaping their thoughts. Parents will be surprised to learn about what their child has to say about it. From there, develop the conversation and share your thoughts about it, too.”

Knibbs also recommends picking a time when there’s “a little bit of distraction” to have the conversation. She suggests when you’re going for a walk; when you’re in the car together; or when you’ve just finished eating. 

“Start with ‘I’m just wondering…’” Knibbs says. “And then ask something like, ‘How would you know if someone was trying to steal your data?’ That way, you’re making it about cybersecurity rather than cyber safety.”

That sideways approach also helps them develop critical thinking skills, which are essential for safe digital independence. According to Knibbs, those are the skills that will keep your kids from diving into conversations with adults who are trying to groom them, for example. 

“You need to help them differentiate between theoretical and real,” Knibbs says. “Ask, ‘How do you know they are who they say they are? How do you test it out? How would you do that in the physical world?’”

Finally, trust yourself. Parents are sometimes intimidated by online safety conversations with their kids because they have the impression that their kids know more than they do. But, Kaur points out, you know more about the world than they do — even if you can’t ever get the printer to work.

“Your child may have more technical skills than you do but as a parent you have more life experiences to share with your child,” Knibbs says. “Those life experiences extend to the digital world as well. For example, being able to think critically when seeing a piece of news online, showing compassion even online, understanding the effects of posting something and how it is viewed by others, and many more.”

Do families really need parental controls?

Originally by Emma McGowan, 14 October 2020

Talking about online safety isn’t enough

According to Avast’s Kids Online: Generation Lockdown 2020 survey, 44 percent of parents have made agreements with their children about what is and isn’t safe to do online. And that’s great! The best defense against potential online dangers is communication, communication, communication.

But, as any parent knows, kids are still going to push back against rules. And that’s where digital boundaries in the form of parental controls come into play, especially for kids under the age of 12. However, parents don’t seem to be taking that fact into account when it comes to online safety: Only 34 percent of respondents to the Kids Online: Generation Lockdown survey set parental controls on every device their kids use and 36 percent make sure privacy settings are in place on social media apps and sites.

Psychotherapist and author Catherine Knibbs, who worked in tech before she went into the mental health field, says that when it comes to internet safety for your kids, your best bet is to use a combination of conversation and digital boundaries.

“The best form of parental control is conversation,” Knibbs says. “And you can use a tool to assist you if you don’t feel confident enough.”

In her own life, Knibbs chose to have a computer in her family’s living room. The result was “a lot of conversation and interaction” when they were younger, as she was able to just look over and comment on what they were doing. But as they got older, she realized she was going to need to change her system. 

“When they were about nine or 10, we had a conversation about ‘If I can’t be there to watch, I want to know what you’re doing online,’” Knibbs says. “And then I bought some software that notified me of any swearing or grooming language that happened while they were online.”

Almost immediately, Knibbs started getting thousands of email notifications per day about other people swearing in the World of Warcraft games her sons were playing. She used that information to initiate a conversation with her boys about swear words.

“I told them, ‘You will come across people who swear and who use words you don’t understand,’” Knibbs says. “‘In those cases, it would be better for you to come to me rather than go out and google it yourself.’”

Knibbs’ experience is a great example of how open communication and parental controls can work in tandem to protect kids. And luckily, these days, you don’t have to know how to install special software to set up parental controls. Both iOS and Android offer built-in parental controls and if those don’t do the trick, there are easy-to-use apps you can install to protect your kids

Parental controls on iOS

Apple has pretty great parental controls built right into your your iPhone, iPad, iPod, Apple TV, or Mac computer. Everything you need can be found under “Screen Time” in your “Settings” on each device. 

iOS parental controls include:

One thing about choosing to implement parental controls this way is that you have to do your own research and make your own decisions about which controls are appropriate for which ages. Some parents might like that added level of control, while others might feel overwhelmed. For those who want a little more guidance, check out Avast Family Space, which  includes pre-set filters based on your child’s age.

Parental controls on Android

Android has long been the preferred the operating system for people with more tech skills, because the operating system lets you customize and adapt much more than iOS does. however, that means it’s a little trickier to set up parental controls on your own than it is to set up parental controls on iOS.

Unlike iOS, Android doesn’t have its own built in parental controls. There are some things you can do with the built-in tools — including preventing some app downloads, creating a restricted profile, limiting data usage on Wi-Fi, capping data usage, and setting up data usage alerts. 

But they’re more like parental control workarounds that utilize existing settings within Android to keep certain actions in check than they are parental controls per se. If you want to do things like restrict content or you just want a little help figuring out what you should be doing, you’re going to need to download a third party app in the Google Play Store. (We recommend Avast Family Space, of course.)

Parental controls over your home network

Finally, you can set parental controls over your home network. This is especially useful if your kids are young enough that they’re only or primarily using devices in your house. If you choose this route, you don’t have to set specific restrictions for each device. However, it’s not very difficult to remove a device from network-level restrictions (plus it doesn’t work outside the house), which means it’s less effective for teenagers.

In order to set up restrictions on your home network, you have to change the settings on your Wi-Fi router. Your router is how all internet (that isn’t cellphone data) comes in and out of your house. Many routers come with built-in parental controls, which you can learn about in the manual or by googling the name of your router and “parental controls.”

If your router doesn’t have built-in parental controls, you can set them up yourself by changing your router to OpenDNS, which allows for web filtering. And while that might sound kind of techie, stay with me here! It’s surprisingly easy: Just go to the OpenDNS site and follow their instructions.

Finally, you can purchase third party software that helps you protect, manage, and monitor your home network. Sometimes this option makes the whole process just a little bit easier.

While implementing parental controls might seem intimidating at first, it’s an important part of protecting your kids online. Think of it this way: You have conversation with your kid about why it’s important to go to school every day. But you don’t just leave it there! You also confirm with their school they’re showing up and staying through the day. Plus, if they aren’t going, there’s a system in place for the school to let you know. 

Digital boundaries in the form of parental controls do a similar thing for your kids online: Ensure your kids are sticking to the boundaries you’ve both agreed on. Because while you can’t be with them 24/7 online or in person, you can use the tools at your disposable to keep them safe. 

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