The Internet is a wonderful tool for your child to gain knowledge and get creative. But, lurking under all that information, are many dangers for your child. Read to know more about them
By Ashwin Dewan
Today, the Internet plays a pivotal role in a child's life. From posting updates on social media to paying their mobile bills, from checking mails (even suspicious ones) constantly to purchasing online games, an increasing number of children have become tech-savvy. But a majority are oblivious to the hidden dangers of the Internet and may fall easy prey to online scams.
Children are especially vulnerable to the dangers that lurk in the cyber world. While messaging, watching videos and movies, learning a new language, and buying toys online has been made possible by the Internet, children are also exposed to cyberbullying, online predators, inappropriate content, etc. Here are some online threats that both children and parents need to be aware of:
1. Phishing: This is one of the easiest ways to trick a child online. It involves the use of emails to lure someone into clicking on malicious links or attachments.
Toshendra Sharma, Founder of RecordsKeeper, Appvigil Forbes 30 Under 30 Winner says,“Often, the emails are designed to get the attention of the user with catchy lines such as 'Hey, click on this link to earn easy money' or 'You might like this.' Once children click on such links, their account is easily compromised.”
Although phishing emails can pop up at any time, the cybercriminals who devise these mails keep watch on sites, which are more popular with children. Once a child clicks on such a link, they will gather information like email addresses and friends’ names to use in their scams. The child’s account will be easily accessed and hacked.
As a parent, it is your prime responsibility to teach your child to avoid clicking on such emails or texts from an unknown source.
2. Cyberbullying/Cyber predators:
Cyberbullying: Bullying is something that is no longer restricted to the classroom and the school. With the emergence of social media sites in the last decade or so, children are more vulnerable to cyberbullying. The anonymity provided by the Internet and a lack of face-to-face interaction is contributing to the increasing number of cyberbullying cases.
For example, some unknown person can easily post a hurtful comment or a nasty rumour about a child on various social sites. In most cases, the victim, unable to handle this bullying, might retreat and hesitate to face society.
Parents should have a proper chat with their children about what is going on in their lives and give them advice on how to deal with bullies.
Cyber predators: One of the deadliest online dangers that children can be exposed to is the threat of cyber predators. Often, sexual harassment and abuse is a common scenario on the Internet. This involves people stalking and showering children with praise, gifts and understanding and ultimately, luring them into dangerous sexual encounters. Once they gain the trust of children, cyber predators make the little ones indulge in illicit behaviour both online and offline.
"Children are usually unaware of the risks of sharing personal details on an online public forum. They are likely to put out sensitive information such as home address, email addresses or phone numbers of parents while chatting with their friends. Children should be apprised of the dangers of giving out sensitive personal data online, as it may fall into the hands of criminals, who can use it to their advantage," says Dr Debarati Halder.*
3. Malware: The best way to protect your child from malware is to start with his online habit. Malware is any programme or file that is harmful to a computer user. It includes viruses, worms, and other spyware, which can damage your child’s account in several ways. Some deadly ways include stealing and deleting sensitive data, altering and hijacking core computing functions and even monitoring a child’s computer activity without permission. Use appropriate malware protection on your and your child's computer and tablet.
4. Gaming and the hidden costs: Children can easily download games online and play for hours. Every day, children spend hours on immersive, interactive and online games such as World of Warcraft and Farmville. Some games require children to purchase virtual items before progressing further. This can lead to children entering their parent's credit card details, which is then saved by the game site and used automatically in future for upgrades.
Monitor your child's gaming habits. It is important to educate your child about online game purchases and how he should consult you before making any payments or, using your financial details, online.
5. Online gambling: From purchasing lottery tickets, betting on sports, or the ubiquitous casinos, gambling has always been around. With easy access to the Internet, teens are increasingly engaging in online gambling through games such as online poker. They want instant gratification, and the lure of fast and easy money is a big attraction.
However, the drawbacks are equally big. Children, who start indulging in online gambling, are at risk of addiction, drop in self-esteem (especially when they start losing), financial anxiety and even, depression. Some sites can even ask for bank details, which can make teens vulnerable to financial hacking as well.
Parents should have a discussion with their children, especially teens, about the dangers of online gambling. Keeping the computer password-protected is one good idea.
While educating children about the dangers that lurk online, parents can take certain measures to protect their little ones.
No doubt, the Internet has made our lives easier. At the same time, it has also exposed our children to many online dangers. But, by being well-informed and aware of the dangers, we can always safeguard our children.
With inputs from Toshendra Sharma, Founder of RecordsKeeper, Appvigil Forbes 30 Under 30 Winner.
*Dr Debarati Halder, LL.B., LL.M, Ph.d,(Law) (NLSIU, Bangalore) is the managing director (Honorary) of Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling (www.cybervictims.org). She may be contacted @ firstname.lastname@example.org
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