At Cybersecurity Magazine we focus on cybersecurity, but every once in a while we also publish topics which are of a more general interest, while still being related to security. This is why we would like to bring your attention to an article from SpecOps Software, who interviewed Environmental Psychologist Lee Chambers about online bullying – an unfortunately increasing trend – and what you can do about it to protect your children.

With the current situation forcing us to spend more time at home, we find ourselves immersed in our tablets, PCs and phones more than ever before. This is also true for our children, who are looking for distractions via technology.

However, this can prove a dangerous activity if not supervised, as many criminals target children online. With that in mind, the security experts at Specops Software has provided a 5-step guide on how to protect children online.

But first, how much would online bullying affect your child? Specops Software got in touch with Lee Chambers, Environmental Psychologist and Wellbeing Consultant, to get a better understanding on this.

“Online bullying can affect your child’s mental health in both the short and long term. Children who are bullied online are at increased risk of suffering from mental health problems and difficulties acclimatising at school. It can also cause long term damage to your child’s self-esteem.

A recent study from the NICHD has evidenced that children who are bullied electronically are at a high risk of developing depression than children not bullied electronically, showing just how damaging it can be. In the short term, it can make you feel anger, anxiety, fearful and isolated, which can manifest itself in struggling at school, becoming withdrawn, or changes in behaviour and mood.

Because we live in an interconnected world, with ever-present digital devices, cyberbullying can happen anywhere at any time. Even in places considered safe, you can still be a victim, and it’s not always possible to know who the perpetrator is. And because it can be spread and shared, it can lead to a spiral of humiliation for the child who has been targeted.”

So, what can you do to keep your child safe online?

  1. Discuss online safety from an early age

You need to educate both yourself and your child about the different types of dangers they could be facing online, how to spot them and what to do if they’ve been targeted. It is very important that you teach them to be open with you and inform you if they feel like something is wrong.

  1. Know your child’s behaviour

When children become victims of online bullying, or other kinds of threats, you will be able to notice a change in their behaviours if you pay attention. Are they more apathetic? Are they in a bad mood after using their device? These are the things that parents need to keep an eye on.

  1. Set rules and always stick to them

As an adult, you should be in control. Set boundaries on what your child can and cannot watch online. Make sure you take steps like talking to your internet provider to block any pornographic content. It is also important to limit their screen time.

  1. Be aware of what devices your child is using

In order for you to be able to supervise your child online, it’s important to know what devices they are using. Check their browsing history from time to time, to make sure they are not accessing dangerous content. A good tip is to also check the tech recycling bin, you might find surprising things there too!

  1. Use parental blocks

Most internet providers offer Parental Control to help you keep your children protected. It’s important to not neglect these and make good use of them. It will save you the time and stress of constantly checking certain sites which would automatically be blocked, and it can make sure your child is spending only a certain amount of time on their device. 

How can we protect our children without disrupting their autonomy?

There is a fine line between overseeing your child in order to protect him/her and making them feel like they have no privacy. Specops Software asked Lee Chambers what is the best way to proceed in this case.

“It is never easy to find the balance between your child’s autonomy and safety. And as our children may not always be able to articulate their feelings to us as parents, we must look out for potential warning signs that they may be being bullied online. Look out for cues such as anger or distress after being online or looking anxious while using a device. Maybe they avoid discussion and are secretive about their devices. Or maybe their sleep, appetite or joy for life has changed.

As parents, we should always look to monitor our children’s use of technology to some extent. Open and honest communication is vital, letting them know that we are there to protect, not punish. We can consider parental control apps, data access, and knowing who our child’s contacts are.

We can also educate ourselves in the latest platforms, acronyms, and trends that our children will have access too. And we should help our children identify what is online bullying, and how they should deal with it from both sides, and how important it is to save the evidence. But most important of all is to foster an understanding in our children that if they are targeted, they should tell a trusted adult as soon as possible, and that they will not be restricted in use or privacy if they are proactive in communicating with us.”

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