While the Internet is a routine part of life today, it doesn’t mean the younger generation is naturally aware of the dangers out there.
For those who grew up without the Internet, its vastness and complexity can cause great uncertainty about online security. In fact, a recent study conducted by Norton noted 86 percent of Canadian respondents worry about becoming a victim of online crime.1 Another aspect many adults are concerned about is trying to educate the younger generation about Internet safety when, for the most part, youth have never experienced a world without online connectivity.
A learning process
Personally understanding security measures can go a long way in protecting the entire family.
- Phishing – In 2013, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received over 16,000 complaints of fraud related to email and website scams.2 Cyber criminals use this strategy to gain access to personal information, via emails with links or requests for information such as account numbers, password confirmations, or addresses. Individuals should never open links or emails from unknown senders; reputable businesses will not solicit account or personal information via email.
- Passwords – A Microsoft Research study found the average person has 6.5 web passwords and 25 online accounts that require passwords.3 While easy to remember, names, birthdays, or other family information should be avoided, along with standard dictionary words; passwords shouldn’t be stored on a computer or mobile phone; and, each account should have a different password.
- Proactive online actions – Keeping security software updated is an important practice, as well as clearing browser history regularly, and being vigilant about closely tracking online accounts for any unusual activity.
Individuals, families, and businesses looking for more detailed safety practices should consider consulting the Government of Canada’s Get Cyber Safe program.
Building awareness in the younger generation
Among Canadian youth, 94 percent have a Facebook account, 87 percent have a cell phone by Grade 10, and seven out of 10 websites visited are social media.4 While the Internet is a routine part of life today, it doesn’t mean the younger generation is naturally aware of the dangers out there. And although parental control software is a commonly used measure, it is reactive and by no means replaces the value of proactive education and media literacy in building a strong shared awareness within the family.
Among the resources, advocacy organizations, and authorities that focus on Internet safety for kids, the emphasis across the board is open dialogue and communication within the household. It’s important to regularly discuss what children like and don’t like online and what they are learning in online environments as a way to keep conversation ongoing and build a comfort level for asking questions and approaching adults with problems. Parents should also reciprocate, sharing how they use the Internet for work and socially, to further engage in relevant, meaningful exchanges.
A 2014 study by McAfee Canada found just over half of youth polled said their parents have had a conversation with them about online safety; 25 percent said their parents do not monitor their online behaviour.5 Having the family computer in a common area, as well as rules against laptops and mobile devices being used privately, is one of the most effective strategies to promote an open forum, ensure activities are consistently monitored, and curb secrecy. This also presents opportunities to navigate the Internet together, promoting active learning from both parent and child perspectives.
Another key aspect in promoting online safety is remembering that while the Internet isn’t a physical space, most real-world parenting rules still apply. The same lessons of not talking to unfamiliar people, wanting to know who their friends are, and telling an adult if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable are just as valuable in the online world. And a specific one to highly stress is the sharing of personal information. Everything posted online is public to some degree, and youth often make decisions in the moment without considering long-term consequences. The goal is to help them develop a consciousness of purpose versus risk when sharing photos, messages, and profile details.
Overall awareness extends beyond the home as well, so finding out what community and regional initiatives exist can be very helpful. Good starting points are to contact the local school board, police department, and youth advocacy centre to get more information about sessions and campaigns that may be offered.
The bullying shift into cyberspace
National study results from Telus Wise, in partnership with MediaSmarts and PREVNet, showed 42 percent of youth between 12 and 18 have been cyberbullied and 60 percent have witnessed others being cyberbullied. A further eye-opener is that 43 percent said they don’t believe talking to parents or teachers will change anything.6
While each province and territory has legislation and policies that address bullying, Canada lacks a national anti-bullying campaign. As parents, educators, professionals, and role models, this should be a call to action to arm ourselves with the best resources, tools, and information to keep our kids safe.
Top age-specific online safety tips
|5 to 7*||
|8 to 10*||
|11 to 13*||
|14 to 17*||
*Sourced from MediaSmarts, Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy.
**Sourced from the Government of Canada website Get Cyber Safe - Protect Yourself.
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