For children who use the Internet, content matters more than time. Here’s how to keep them safe

TO The Common Sense Media study revealed that the average screen time for children between the ages of 8 and 12 was five hours a day, and for teenagers it was more than seven hours in 2019. Unsurprisingly, according to this study Recently, much younger children were increasingly exposed to screens during global lockdowns.

Concerned adults worry about children’s excessive screen time or that the risks online outweigh the benefits. Therefore, the temptation for these parents is to focus more on restricting Internet use than on allowing their children to participate safely online.

While the impact of screen time on children is still debated, UNICEF’s Growing Up in a Connected World report suggests that what children do online has more influence on their well-being than the amount of time they spend online, and that kids who are more active online are also better at managing online risk.

So instead of hindering children’s Internet use, adults should learn how to facilitate the online experience effectively. But in the face of complex and rapidly evolving technologies, many parents don’t feel confident enough to guide their often more tech-savvy children.

It is important to note that risk does not always lead to harm. Children exposed to online risks may not be harmed if they have the knowledge and resilience to cope with the experience.


Also read: Internet and social networks are not bad. How do we educate our children about it?


Online risks for children

The OECD Risk Typology provides a practical review of emerging risks that parents, educators and children should be aware of. Simplified, these are:

  • Content risks: that include hateful, harmful or illegal content, as well as disinformation.
  • Conduct Risks: These refer to behaviors typical of children that can make them vulnerable, that is, in the case of sexting or cyberbullying.
  • Contact risks: including online predators, sex trafficking and cyber bullying, and have been identified as a growing concern in OECD countries.
  • Consumer Risks: such as inappropriate marketing messages and online fraud.
  • Privacy risks: many children still do not understand the privacy disclosures they encounter, nor the value of their personal information. Parents’ desires to overshare (“sharing”) can also lead to privacy and security concerns.
  • Risks of advanced technologies: the use of AI-based technologies, the Internet of Things (IoT) and extended virtual reality (XR) pose additional risks. The immersive virtual worlds within the Metaverse come with new and exacerbated threats, many of which are still poorly understood.

Tips for parents

Just like teaching kids about safety in the offline world, we need to talk about online risks. A family agreement is a great way to start the conversation about these risks and how to behave, as well as setting healthy limits for screen time.

Parental control tools help block explicit or disturbing apps and content on kids’ devices. Before applying them, it is important to discuss the reasoning behind it and agree on rules that respect children’s privacy.

One of the most common modus operandi used by cybercriminals, scammers and child predators alike is social engineering. This refers to provoking a victim’s emotions to suppress critical thinking from her. Protection against social engineering requires that children (and adults) not share too much personal information and that they exercise extra vigilance when something triggers an emotion.

Explain to kids that when any message makes them feel anxious (“there’s been a security incident”), rushed (“this is going to expire soon”), flattered (“I love your profile picture”), or scared of get lost out (FOMO), alarm bells should be ringing.

Critical thinking and a healthy dose of skepticism are key tools in spotting social engineering scams, online fraud, misinformation, and grooming requests.

There are excellent online resources for parents and educators that provide further guidance:

  • Childnet is a UK-based charity that empowers children and those who support them in their lives online.
  • InternetMatters helps parents keep their children safe online.
  • The Australian Government’s Electronic Safety Commissioner on how to stay safe online.
  • Stay Safe Online from the US National Cyber ​​Security Alliance for Parents.

Educators and policymakers

Policymakers must ensure that cybersecurity awareness and critical thinking become necessary life skills and are incorporated into public schools in all curricula to equip children against online risks.

For example, as is the case in Finland, in mathematics children can be taught how easy it is to lie with statistics, in art how images can be manipulated and in history propaganda campaigns can be linked to fake news and misinformation today. Being able to approach information critically, not cynically, should be the goal here.

This does not mean that the responsibility can fall squarely on the children’s shoulders. Governments should hold technology and content providers accountable for protecting vulnerable groups. Both the public and private sectors should collaborate internationally with relevant working groups, such as the World Economic Forum’s Global Coalition for Digital Security, to tackle harmful content and take coordinated action to reduce the risk of harm online. Governments must enforce the necessary legal and policy frameworks.

Jessica Lahey explains in her book “Gift of Failure” that overprotective parents create children who are anxious, risk-averse, and unprepared to fend for themselves.

By applying an “autonomous parenting” lens to the online world, we educate children about the risks, but at the same time, give them the space to explore and allow them to fail or succeed based on the effects of their actions. own decisions. .

This means that instead of trying to restrict all possible risks of the Internet, parents and educators should focus on raising awareness and encouraging critical thinking, mindfulness, and self-control. These are crucial prerequisites for effectively navigating not only the digital world, but also the offline world.

Anna Collard, SVP of Content Strategy and Evangelist, KnowBe4 Africa

This article was originally published at the World Economic Forum.


Also read: Children’s online privacy needs to be protected, but not everyone is equally vulnerable online