With so many of us relying on the internet in ways we simply haven’t before, it follows that a safer internet is more important than ever before too.
June marks Internet Safety Month, a time where we can look back at the past year and realize that the internet was more than just a coping mechanism during the pandemic, it evolved into a survival tool.
Our research published earlier this year showed how. It found that we relied heavily on the internet for our banking, personal finance, shopping, and even healthcare—not to mention the ways we worked, studied, and kept in touch with each other online during the pandemic. For millions of families globally, the internet was their connection to the rest of the world.
None of that would have been possible without a safer internet that we can trust. The truth is, part of creating a safer internet rests with us—the people who use it. When we take steps to protect ourselves and our families, we end up helping protect others as well. How we act online, how we secure our data and devices, how we take responsibility for our children, all of it affects others.
Here are just a few ways you can indeed make a safer internet for your family, and by extension, safer for others too:
1. Protect all your devices from hacks, attacks, and viruses
Start with the basics: get strong protection for your computers and laptops. And that means more than basic antivirus. Using a comprehensive suite of security software like McAfee® Total Protection can help defend your entire family from the latest threats and malware, make it safer to browse, help steer you clear of potential fraud, and look out for your privacy too.
Protecting your smartphones and tablets is a must nowadays as well. We’re using them to send money with payment apps. We’re doing our banking on them. And we’re using them as a “universal remote control” to do things like set the alarm, turn our lights on and off and even see who’s at the front door. Whether you’re an Android owner or iOS owner, get security software installed on your smartphones and tablets so you can protect all the things they access and control.
Another thing that comprehensive security software can do is create and store unique passwords for all your accounts and automatically use them as you surf, shop, and bank. Further, it can keep those passwords safe—unlike when they’re stored in an unprotected file on your computer, which can be subject to a hack or data loss—or sticky notes that can simply get lost.
2. Check your child’s credit (and yours too)
With stories of data breaches and identity theft making the news on a regular basis, there’s plenty of focus on the things we can do to protect ourselves from identity theft. However, children can be targets of identity theft as well. The reason is, they’re high-value targets for hackers. Their credit reports are clean, and it’s often years before parents become aware that their child’s identity was stolen, such as when the child enters adulthood and rents an apartment or applies for their first credit card.
One way you can spot and even prevent identity theft is by checking your child’s credit report. Doing so will uncover any inconsistencies or outright instances of fraud and put you on the path to set them straight. In the U.S., you can do this for free once a year. Just drop by the FTC website for details on your free credit report. And while you’re at it, you can go and do the same for yourself.
You can take your protection a step further by freezing your child’s credit. A freeze will prevent access to your child’s report and thus prevent any illicit activity. In the U.S., you’ll need to create a separate freeze with each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). It’s free to do so, yet you’ll have to do a little legwork to prove that you’re indeed the child’s parent or guardian.
3. Smartphone safety for kids
Smartphone safety for kids is a blog topic in itself. Several topics, actually—such as when it’s the “right” time to get a child their first smartphone, how they can stay safe while using them, placing limits on their screen time, and so on.
Taking it from square one, make sure that all your smartphones are protected like we called out above—whether it’s yours or your child’s. From there, there are eight easy steps you can take to hack-proof your family’s smartphones, such as juicing up your passwords, making sure the apps on them are safe and setting your smartphone to automatic updates.
If you’re on the fence about getting your child their first smartphone, you’re certainly not alone. So many parents are drawn to the idea of being able to get in touch with their children easily, and even track their whereabouts, yet they’re concerned that a smartphone is indeed too much phone for younger children. They simply don’t want to expose their children to the broader internet just yet.
The good news is that there are plenty of smartphone alternatives for kids. Streamlined flip phones are still a fine option for parents and kids, as are cellular walkie-talkies and new lines of devices designed specifically with kids in mind.
And if you’re ready to make the jump, check out our tips for keeping your child safe when you purchase their first smartphone. From basic security and parental controls to keeping tabs on your child’s activity and your role in keeping them safe, this primer makes for good reading, and good sharing with other parents too, when you get serious about making that purchase.
4. Know the signs of cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is another broad and in-depth topic that we cover in our blogs quite often, and for good reason. Data from the Cyberbullying Research Center shows that an average of more than 27% of kids have experienced cyberbullying over the past 13 years. In 2019, that figure was as high as 36.5%. Without question, it’s a problem.
What exactly is cyberbullying? Stopbullying.gov defines it as:
“Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation.”
Part of the solution is knowing how to spot cyberbullying and likewise taking steps to minimize its impact if you see it happening to your child or someone else’s. The important thing is to act before serious damage sets in or even a criminal act can occur.
The painful truth is that someone’s child is doing the bullying, and what could be more painful than finding out your child is doing the bullying? If you suspect this is happening, or have seen evidence that it’s indeed happening, act right away. Our article “Could Your Child (Glup) be the One Cyberbullying,” outlines ten steps you can take right away.
If you’ve taken steps to solve a situation involving cyberbullying and nothing has worked, know there are cyberbullying resources that can help. Likewise, don’t hesitate to contact your child’s school for assistance. Many schools have policies in place that address cyberbullying amongst their students, whether the activity occurred on campus or off.
5. Internet ethics
With all the emphasis on technology, it’s easy to forget that behind every attack on the internet, there’s a person. A safer internet relies on how we treat each other and how we carry ourselves on the internet (which can be quite different from how we carry ourselves in face-to-face interactions).
With that, National Internet Safety Month presents a fine opportunity to pause and consider how we’re acting online. Very Well Family put together an article on internet etiquette for kids, which covers everything from the online version of “The Golden Rule” to ways you can steer clear of rudeness and drama.
Granted, we can’t control the behavior of others. Despite your best efforts, you or your children may find themselves targeted by poor or hurtful behavior online. For guidance on how to handle those situations, check out our article on internet trolls and how to handle them. There’s great advice in there for everyone in the family.
Internet safety begins with us
If we didn’t know it already, the past year proved that a safer internet isn’t a “nice to have.” It’s vital—a trusted resource we can’t do without. Take time this month to consider your part in that, what you can do to make your corner of the internet safer and a thriving place that everyone can enjoy.
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