The Utah Attorney General’s Office is offering tips to everyone who is concerned about online safety during the COVID-19 crisis. As schools closed and moved to an online setting, children are accessing the internet even more than normal.
In addition to online classrooms, children are using the internet on phones, tablets, and gaming platforms to keep in touch with friends as communities adjust to staying indoors. While convenient for connecting with friends and family, these devices are also pathways for predators to reach our children. These predators are aware of the fact that children are spending more time online and unfortunately, may try to exploit that. Below are some items to raise your awareness of internet safety and provide tips on how you can protect your children:
- Talk to your children about being safe when using the internet. Keeping an open dialogue with your children will help them know that they can come to you for help if they have a problem online. Teach them about using the internet safely and help them learn what to look out for when it comes to cyberbullying, predators, and suspicious activity.
- Educate yourself. The first step to helping your children practice internet safety is understanding it yourself first. Get to know how online and phone apps and online schooling work. Always keep you and your security software up to date.
- Be aware of online activity. Predators can gain access to kids through online chats, through popular apps, and through gaming networks. Keep internet-accessible devices in a high-trafficked area such as the living room. Find out what apps your children use the most and learn how they work. Consider using parental controls on your children’s devices to help filter or block certain content online.
- Set boundaries. Talk to your children about what they should not post, such as personal photos, their location, and personal information about them. Consider creating an online safety agreement together so you can both agree on ways that personal devices and technology can be used, and how to use it safely.
- Always use security and a secure internet connection. Make sure all online accounts are set to private and always use secure passwords on those accounts. Make sure your security software is up to date and that you are using a secure internet connection.
- Look out for changes in your children’s behavior. Below are several examples of behavioral changes that you should look out for in your children. If your child exhibits these behaviors, it could be an indicator of abuse or grooming by a predator.
- Being secretive about sites they visit or who they are talking to online.
- Clicking off the page they’re viewing when a parent enters the room.
- Being online constantly and not being able to get off.
- Pulling away from friends and family.
- Using behavior or sexual language that is not appropriate for their age.
- Possessing new items or gifts.
- Volatile emotions, such as jumping from highs and lows within a matter of seconds.
- Be aware of apps that can hide other apps. There are a number of apps that allow you to hide content or apps from parents. One such app conceals another app behind a calculator interface.
- Know who your children are talking to online or on the phone. Make sure you know who is on their friend list online and who they talk to on the phone, through messaging apps, texting, and online chat forums. Make sure they know that if they are uncomfortable with someone who is messaging them, they can come to you for help.
“The online risk for kids has multiplied now that they’re at home and on computers for school instruction,” Attorney General Sean D. Reyes said. “I realize some homes have five or six kids online at the same time. It’s going to take extra vigilance when parents are already stressed out, but it needs to be done. I urge everyone to look at the tips our office is sending out. Don’t hesitate to report suspicious activity. This is all part of staying healthy and safe as a family at this difficult time.”
“While gaming and social media can be safe and fun diversions with proper supervision, parents need to be aware and proactive about their children online,” Attorney General Reyes added. “Young people are often exposed to mature content without even seeking it out. And many serious crimes victimizing children start with predators on the Internet.”
For more information and tips, visit Common Sense Media and Netsmartz.