Children are younger than ever when exposed to the internet via various devices, including mobile phones, tablets, computers and gaming consoles. As they play, watch media or interact with others online, they are vulnerable to cyberbullying, grooming, hacking, identity theft and phishing.
Internet safety and cybersecurity are vital parts of technology education, and parents and teachers should share the burden to ensure youngsters can navigate the digital world safely.
At what age should children learn about internet safety and cybersecurity?
Children as young as three are often given a tablet to play games or watch videos. Supervision is critical for this age group. Once children are old enough to access the internet themselves, from around five years old, they must be involved in age-appropriate conversations about online safety.
Keeping your conversations about internet safety age-appropriate is vital. It isn’t just their cognitive understanding that matters but also their emotional development.
The aim should not be to induce fear but to equip youngsters with the skills to spot potential dangers and know what to do and who to tell if they are worried.
Whilst young children need simpler language, it is essential not to forget to continue education about safety online as they grow older. A particular danger time is for teenagers who are far more likely to take risks as their hormones take over and they develop mood swings.
Teens are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and grooming. Don’t be afraid to tackle these subjects so they understand not to be embarrassed about seeking advice and help if required.
Resources and advice are available from the NSPCC, who are working alongside Lego to develop strategies for keeping children safe online.
Cybersecurity is just as critical for young people as adults.
Common cybersecurity breaches are:
- Phishing – unsolicited emails and fraudulent messages that seek to trick the recipient into providing private information.
- Malware is software that gets downloaded onto your device to cause harm and is often downloaded through links in messages and emails.
- Identity theft – stealing identity information that allows the criminal to commit fraud or other crimes.
Cybersecurity education should include strategies children can use to protect themselves and their private information.
- Passwords – Children should be taught from an early age not to share passwords and to learn to create strong passwords that cannot be easily guessed.
- Privacy – Children should be taught how to adjust privacy settings on social media so their personal information is not available to strangers.
- Browsing Safely – Children should be aware of how to identify safe websites and avoid suspicious pop-ups and downloads.
- Email Safety – Children should learn to avoid downloading unsafe attachments and not click on suspicious links.
Children should fully understand how they can report any concerns they may have regarding cybersecurity at school or home.
Every school will have internet policies that should be communicated and enforced effectively.
Establishing rules allows children to understand what they can and cannot do, and it may involve restrictions to the areas of the internet that can be safely accessed.
Parents should use parental controls to ensure children cannot access inappropriate material online. Supervision is essential, and careful activity monitoring is a sensible precaution, especially for younger children.