Having conversations with your kids about online safety during pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic quickly reshaped day-to-day life around the world, with schools being among the first institutions to respond to the outbreak by canceling in-person classes. In some states in the U.S., the school year effectively ended in early March, through a combination of site closures and shelter-in-place orders from local and state officials. 

Once you’ve brushed up on your scam knowledge, talk to your kids about staying safe.

Now that school as we know it is on hold for the foreseeable future, families face fresh challenges in adjusting to extended time at home. Many kids, in particular, will likely spend more of their time on the internet, which will in turn expose them to more risk while their parents or guardians are preoccupied with working from home. How can kids be kept as safe as possible in this landscape?

Reducing the risk of online scams and other threats

Children who are hunkered down at home, either because of COVID-19 or another reason, are often left to their own devices – literally. With a standard iPad, Chromebook or other device in front of them, the entire internet is accessible, along with numerous risks including phishing scams, social engineering schemes and deceptive online and in-app purchases.

For example, children may be especially vulnerable to messages to the effect of “You’ve won a prize!” or “Your system is infected, take action now!” since they have no context for knowing that such communications are designed to defraud their targets. That’s why online safety must start with education – both for yourself and your kids – and be followed by other steps that further reduce the overall level of risk.

Step #1: Learn about the relevant threats

To ensure that you’re protecting your family from online harm, first you have to know what danger looks like. Some of the important threats to know about include:

  • Talent searches: These scams specifically target children, often asking them to join a modeling or other type of agency – but insisting that payment be received first.
  • Scholarship schemes: Another kid-specific scam, this one promises access to a scholarship in exchange for exorbitant upfront fees.
  • In-app subscriptions: While not a scam per se, many applications include subscription options that can be confusing to children and which lead to big charges.

Step #2: Talk to your kids

Once you’ve brushed up on your scam knowledge, talk to your kids about staying safe. Depending on the age of your children, this conversation could take several forms. One approach that might work well with younger children especially is to use an app with them together so that you can see what they like to do and if any risk is involved in doing so.

Older children will likely want more privacy. Still, you should regularly talk with them about risks and monitor their activity, which brings us to …

Step #3: Set up parental controls

Most devices and their operating systems have built-in parental controls that let you manage what types of content your children can access. For example, the Nintendo Switch gaming console includes granular controls that can:

  • Monitor total play time for all system accounts.
  • Set time limits on how long anyone can play.
  • Restrict access to specified games and content.
  • Prevent any sharing via social media integrations.
  • Control who can make paid purchases.

Other platforms offer similar capabilities. Parental controls are generally secured with a unique PIN, without which they cannot be disabled.

Additional safeguards like antivirus software and online backup solutions can also support better overall safety. Learn more by visiting the Total Defense security blog today.