Hands down, children look to their parents to keep them safe online more than anyone else, which begs the question—what’s a parent to do?
Our recent study on connected families found that nearly three-quarters of children said their parents were best suited to teach them about staying safe online, nearly twice than teachers at school (39%) and more than twice over for online resources (34%). Parents recognize their role as a protector online as well, with an overwhelming 90% of parents worldwide agreeing that they’re the primary source.
However, our study also found that parents could be taking more steps to protect themselves online, let alone taking steps for their children. In fact, when looking at how parents protect themselves and then if they protect their children the same way, a distinct gap appears.
Online Security Habits Across Devices
Figures that were already low for relatively straightforward and relatively easily employed safety measures drop yet lower for children—such as installing antivirus software, protecting the computer with a password, or sticking to reputable online stores when shopping.
For example, on computers and laptops, note the 11% drop in antivirus usage, the 14% drop in device password/passcode protection, and the 9% drop in regular updates to the operation system.
This trend continues when the study looked at mobile device protection for parents and children. The numbers were similarly low, and sometimes lower than the rate of protection on PCs and laptops. For example, while 56% of parents said that they protect their child’s smartphone with a password or passcode, only 42% said they do the same for their child’s smartphone—a further 14% drop.
Across the board, parents reported protecting a child’s smartphone to a lesser degree than they protect a child’s computer or laptop—notably when it comes to installing antivirus on phones, to a figure of 19% less (57% to 38%).
Mobile Device Usage Among Children
What’s striking about this is how tweens and teens access the internet today. Our report found that 74% of them said that their smartphone was their most important device (followed by their gaming console at 68%). Moreover, the rate at which they use their smartphones indicates that these devices are their primary onramp to the internet. By ages 15 to 16, some 90% of children worldwide report using a smartphone.
Given these findings, two important points stand out for parents:
- First, the steps that parents take to protect themselves aren’t always done for their children—even though their children look overwhelmingly to them for protection online.
- Second, children are going largely unprotected on the devices they use to access the internet the most—their smartphones.
Misconceptions about online protection may play a role in these lax measures. Two additional findings may indicate why this is:
- 49% of parents think a new phone is more secure than a new computer.
- 59% of tweens and teens thought new phone was more secure as well.
Both perceptions deny the reality that smartphones, and the people using them, are subject to hacks and attacks just like with any other device that connects to the internet. As such, smartphones call for protection too.
6 Steps to protect you and your family online
So, what’s a parent to do? They can take a few basic actions that will go a long way toward safeguarding themselves and their families online:
1) Protect yourselves
It used to be that we could load antivirus on our devices and go on our way with confidence. That’s not the case anymore. While antivirus is still a cornerstone of protection, it’s just a part of overall online protection. Comprehensive online protection software protects more than your computer or smartphone, it protects you.
For example, ours offers all-in-one protection for your personal info and privacy for peace of mind against data breaches—along with further features that can remove your data from some of the riskiest data broker sites that are selling it online. Other features include an online protection score that shows you just how strong your security is, along with simple guidance that can help seal up any gaps.
In all, online protection is the place to start when looking after yourself and your family online, whether that’s on a computer, laptop, or phone—with particular emphasis on phones, given the way parents and children alike rely on them so strongly.
2) Protect your identities
Identity theft can affect anyone, even the youngest of children. Our study found that 15% of children experienced attempted account theft, while 28% of parents reported it happening to them. An identity protection service like ours can monitor your family’s accounts and personal info for unauthorized or suspicious activity—and help you restore a compromised identity with the help of a pro.
3) Protect your devices
In and above using online protection software, there’s also the security of your devices to consider too. After all, devices can get lost or stolen. Take steps to protect your devices by ensuring they’re locked with a PIN or other protection like facial recognition. For your apps, use two-factor authentication wherever possible for extra protection should your device end up in someone else’s hands.
4) Protect your accounts
Similarly, you can take steps to protect your online accounts by using strong, unique passwords for each one. That means no repeats. This makes it far more difficult for hackers to compromise multiple accounts, such that if one password is compromised in a data breach, any potential damage is limited to just that one account in question.
Taking care of that yourself can be a lot of work, given all the accounts you likely have accounts across all the shopping and banking, not to mention your apps. It gets even more involved when you add all your children’s accounts into the mix. Yet there’s good news, a password manager can do all the work by creating and storing strong, unique passwords for you.
5) Keep updated
Updating your operating systems and apps can keep you current with the latest features and enhancements, and help you keep one step ahead of hackers as well. Many updates to operating systems and apps include security fixes and enhancements, which can keep bad actors from taking advantage of any exploits or loopholes on your devices. Many devices and apps make it easy with an auto-update feature. If any of yours offer auto-updating, take advantage.
6) Keep talking
Completely aside from software, apps, and updates, another way to keep your kids safe online is through conversation. When talking with them about their day, weave in a few questions about what’s happening online. What are their favorite games and apps right now? What shows are they watching? Is there a funny post or video they want to share?
Questions like these, simple as they are, can make talking about their life online seem more normal—the ups and downs of it alike—and provide you with opportunities that will help you foster strong decision-making skills that they can carry into adulthood.
Closing the gap
With our study uncovering a clear gap in protection, parents can rest assured they can close it with a few relatively straightforward steps, making everyone in the household safer than before.
This was just one of several findings from our global report on connected families. Others include noteworthy differences across nations, such as which nations report the highest levels of cyberbullying and which nation has nearly 100% of its young children saying they use a smartphone regularly. Yet more findings reveal insights into screen time, video game usage, and a breakdown of the top online activities for teens—and many more ways families are growing up together through their lives online.
Again, what’s a parent to do in light of all this?
Our blog is a great place to start. It offers parents and families a terrific resource when they have questions about life online, along with further resources about online protection that simply make for good reading. Our aim is to help you get thinking about what’s best for your family and the steps you can take to see it through, all so that you can make everyone’s time online safer and more enjoyable.
Follow us to stay updated on all things McAfee and on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats.