In a world where new apps are released on a daily basis, it’s easy for the most tech-savvy parent to feel overwhelmed – to say nothing of the worrying statistics on cyber crime.
A recent Police Scotland investigation into online child sex abuse found a staggering 523 children aged 3-18 were identified as victims or potential victims over a period of five weeks.
Findings also showed 77 people were arrested, 392 charges were libelled including rape, sharing indecent images and grooming and over 300 million images and 547 devices were seized in that time.
While authorities are making efforts to crack down on cyber crime, there are measures parents can take to safeguard their children online.
We spoke to Tom Hollingsworth, an Irish YouTuber with an amassed following of over 500,000, who came up with the following tips for parents.
New apps, games and forms of social media may seem like a vast subject, but by spending time informing yourself on the latest trends can make all the difference.
Choosing child-friendly apps and games is a good way to introduce younger children to the cyber world, parameters that can be extended as they get older.
Tom said: “The issues [with online abuse] are always very similar but there’s always new apps and new types of social media changing with those issues. It’s easy to stay on top of things if you watch what everyone is doing – and it’s usually trends.
“It’s impossible for social media companies to monitor all their users, there’s simply millions and millions. I think [responsibility] definitely comes down to the parents.
“I think parents need to spend a few hours educating themselves on the different apps that children are using – what they can and can’t do on those apps and more importantly, who they are talking to and if they know the person they’re talking to.”
Protect your data with strong passwords
A strong password is one of the best defences against information theft, particularly personal and financial details – parents and children alike should take care over creating and remembering them.
It’s a good idea for parents to spend time with children to discuss the importance of passwords, the risks of leaking such information to strangers and how to create a memorable one.
Even after you’ve selected your password there are measures you can take to make sure it isn’t discovered, including:
- Don’t disclose your password to anyone else.
- Don’t enter your password where people can see what you’re typing.
- Use different passwords for every website.
Take advantage of filters
Educating children is key, but it’s useful for parents to take advantage of the filters available to them.
Most devices and internet providers come equipped with tools enabling parents to filter out content they don’t want their children to see, which retailers will explain how to use if asked.
Parental control software can also be bought to filter out pornographic or violent material or enable monitoring of sites that children are using.
But you still run the risk of viruses and malware infecting your computer, particularly through clickjacking – where fraudsters attempt to get users to click on tempting videos or apps, which results in downloading malware or tricking people into sharing information.
Antivirus software is your best defence – information on which can be found via PC Advisor.
Monitor who your children are talking to
Micro-blogging sites such as Instagram and Facebook are useful for parents to be familiar with. They’re among the most popular social media formats – but parents can also see who their children are friends with, and potentially who they are talking to.
Discussing what is and is not appropriate to send to other people online in a matter-of-fact way is a great approach to instil a healthy appreciation for internet safety in children.
Issues to be wary of are sending photos, downloading music and movies and texting –
Tom said: “Once something goes on the internet, it’s on for good – you might be able to delete things like photos but other people can make copies.
“Children just don’t know the ages of and mental states of people who are online, and may come up against predators.
“At the end of the day people can pretend to be whoever they want on the internet and that can be very dangerous.”
Report any abuse to police
Blocking offensive users on social media sites is a quick solution to online abuse – but that doesn’t stop people from creating multiple accounts to target vulnerable individuals.
If you suspect your child has fallen victim to cyber crime, the best course of action is to involve the police via Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.
Tom said: “In my experience people that have come across say predators or people who just shouldn’t be on the internet they’ve always voiced it very publicly and that was their best form of defence.
“If you do come across anything like that always go to the local police and let them deal with it.”
STV.TV: Parents’ guide: How to safeguard children from online predators