In a school year unlike any other, back-to-school means virtual learning for many children. But an increase in screen time also increases the chance for cyberbullying and other online safety risks. Here are some ways to protect your children and ensure they stay safe across all their platforms, like computers, tablets and cell phones.
Online safety tips
Share these tips for online security with your children (and use them yourself):
- Explain information protection basics: Children need to know how to create strong, secure passwords. Make sure they understand spam, and phishing emails and calls. Talk to them about why it's important to protect their online identity, and how what they do on the internet can affect them in real life.
- Don't “Check in”: Make sure everyone in your family knows that sharing their physical location and posting it to their social media accounts can be dangerous. You are letting anyone (including criminals) know your exact location, making yourself easier to follow. Advise your child to wait until he or she is home to post about visiting a restaurant or another location.
- Teach them nothing is free: Younger children especially may not understand that services offering free products oftentimes come at a cost. Explain that “free” services like Facebook sell your data to advertisers.
- Don't text and drive: Texting and driving is still a major safety concern for teens. It is important to know that even touching your phone while driving is dangerous – and illegal in many states. Remind children to configure their phone before they leave the house or use hands-free voice recognition if they plan on using their mobile device for navigation or listening to music.
- Avoid fake apps: Scammers have been known to create lookalike versions of legitimate apps in an attempt to trick people into downloading malware. Always research an app before you download it. Most reputable developers have a website that will highlight the app and also show any other apps the company has made. If someone has been scammed by the app, they may warn you in the comments on the App store. Only download apps from official stores such as the Apple App Store or Google Play for Android devices.
How to handle cyberbullying
Online harassment is on the rise, with more than 36 percent of middle and high school students having reported being a victim of cyberbullying last year – up from 33 percent in 2016 – according to the Cyberbullying Research Center. Here’s how to help your kids understand they aren’t alone and what you can do to help.
Know what it is:
Unlike in-person bullying, cyberbullying is not so obvious. It involves sending, posting or sharing negative, harmful, false or mean content about someone else. It is generally targeted or repeated, and can affect both children and adults.
Watch for signs of cyberbullying:
According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, signs of cyberbullying include a noticeable increase or decrease in device use; children hiding their device screen when others are around; and a change in personality including a lack of interest in activities that were enjoyed in the past.
Talk to your children about cyberbullying and let them know that you are available as a resource. Experts at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services urge parents to report cyberbullying to the social media platform on which it occurs. If the bully is a schoolmate, report it to the school. If applicable, try to determine if more professional support is needed, such as speaking with a school guidance counselor or a mental health professional.
Do not respond to a cyberbully:
The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you block the bully and keep your child’s communications with the bully as evidence in case it will be needed in the future. If your child is a victim, the most important step is to talk to them about what's going on, how they feel about it and what they're going to do about it, according to the National Bullying Prevention Center. Involving them in the process, not just taking over, will help them take control of the situation.