How to keep your kids safe online during COVID-19
By Anna Chin, Founder of GOFBA
As we enter summer 2020, families across America have spent the last several months adapting to the social changes imposed by the COVID-19. Most states have instituted stay at home orders shuttering businesses and encouraging social distancing. Regardless of the length and severity of closures for a particular area, all American families are facing new challenges with these COVID-19 restrictions.
As face to face communication becomes scarce, the use of digital communication has skyrocketed. Families are using the internet for social communication, work activities and schoolwork at historic levels. As internet use increases so do the risks of internet-based threats including chatroom imposters, inappropriate internet usage and cyberbullying. This is particularly true for school-age children. Here are some ways that parents can keep an eye out for trouble and protect their families.
The sudden increase in home-based video conferencing has brought new opportunities to families hoping to maintain some level of normalcy in their daily lives, but also has exposed them to new risks. Kids across the U.S. who are using digital communication are finding greater flexibility in keeping up with friends and family and tuning into classes remotely are at increased risk of being monitored by unintended audiences or “imposters.” These uninvited participants can retrieve an access code or other links to the chatroom and, in doing so, compromise the safety, well-being, or privacy of the kids in the chat.
Inappropriate internet usage
With less time to socialize face-to-face with friends, classmates and others in the community, kids are more likely to fill the gap by exploring new avenues for socializing online, which may pose greater threats. For instance, middle schoolers and teens with smartphones and other devices with cameras may try sending inappropriate images. They may also seek out potentially harmful and violent content. These dangers existed before COVID-19 but stay-in-place orders and “social distancing” may lead to risky changes in routine.
Another issue to be aware for children, especially those of middle school or high school age ranges, is cyberbullying. This form of social abuse occurs over SMS and text platforms, apps, social media, online forums and gaming platforms, and can have serious consequences. Without direct access to school resources like faculty and counselors, students may be less likely to report these issues to helping authorities. For parents looking to familiarize themselves more with this student threat, stopbullying.gov can be a great informational resource.
How to reduce risk as a parent
Many U.S. schools have advanced firewall protection and other safeguards to help limit harmful internet activity during the school day, but it becomes more difficult for teachers to monitor when daily lessons are taking place remotely. This puts the impetus more on parents, many of whom have their own work to attend to as well. However, by following safe internet practices – both tech-based and interpersonal – parents can decrease the risk of these threats becoming a reality for their children and young adults. We propose the following security measures:
· Be sure that your kids’ devices have the latest software and antivirus programs.
· Set up multi-factor authentication (MFA) – two types of identification that limit the chances of bad actors accessing at-home networks.
· Deploy monitoring tools to pinpoint suspicious activity, such as an alert when someone in your family follows a link to a suspected bad site.
· Block inappropriate domains on your kids’ devices network.
· Track social media usage and manage screen time throughout the day. Set boundaries within reason – too much can backfire.
· Add controls to detect what kids are typing, what photos they are sending, and their location.
· Using safe search engines and secure chat sites, like GOFBA, that offer a shield from malicious sites.
· Have open conversations with your kids about how and with whom they are communicating online.
· Work with your kids to create rules for safe internet usage. This should be a collaborative process, where kids are encouraged to help in the creation of rules.
· Be wary of the signs that your child is in distress.
Unfortunately, not all children have the necessary knowledge, skills and resources to keep themselves safe from many of the digital threats that exist in today’s world. But with your guidance, you can make this difficult COVID-19 period far more bearable and maybe even enjoyable for them.
Anna Chin is the founder and visionary behind GOFBA, and currently serves as the President and Chairperson of the Board of Directors. She began her entrepreneurial journey nearly 15 years ago with the desire to create a safe haven online, a gift for generations to come, and founded GOFBA with the goal of achieving this dream. Prior to founding Gofba, Ms. Chin achieved a number of successes in the world of fashion design, graphic and HTML design. She is also a graduate of Video Symphony Pro School of Media Production where she specialized in graphic design.