For those who have children and relatives in school, the start of the school year is like the start of a new year. For many, September then becomes a January full of new resolutions, routines, responsibilities and new challenges.
The alarm clock goes off and the whole cycle starts from morning to night, as in most cases extracurricular activities join the compulsory classes to fill up the diary of both parents and children. All these activities fill up more and more space in the blank sheets which are then full day after day. But many times amongst these diary entries we forget to write down, or at least value, something that takes up more and more of our time: Internet use and speaking to children about this vital issue that cannot afford to be overlooked. If we are browsing the web, children are too. If we have to be responsible about our digital safety, they need our supervision and for us to teach them how to take care of their safety on the web.
Each time technology invades more spaces of our every day and time spent browsing the internet increases more and more, including for our little ones. Facing this prospect we should note down in our homework diary that as being responsible for our children we have to ensure that they use technology safely and responsibly according to their age. And yes, it’s time to talk about homework as the arrival of the new school year is an ideal time to start and to apply a series of healthy cyber tips in order to get the essential digital safety under control, something we should never forget. We are as safe on the web as the least safe of our contacts, which means time and dedication before the situation overwhelms us.
Any time of the year is the right time to deal with digital safety, but as the school year is underway here I will share with you five cyber tips to get you off to a good start.
Summer means spending a lot more time outdoors and although one of the basic safety rules is to avoid connecting to open Wi-Fi networks, let’s not kid ourselves. It’s easy in this period to say we ‘needed’ to connect to the Wi-Fi network of a hotel, a restaurant, shopping centre, airport or even at a friend’s or relative’s place where we spent a few days.
Ok, we’ve done it, so now what? Well two tips in one: firstly, use this time to check all your family’s mobile devices and computers and to see the Wi-Fi networks they have connected to in order to delete them and to prevent the different devices from unnecessarily trying to connect to these networks. And secondly, use this time to change your passwords, mainly of email addresses and social media accounts. If you notice that any account has been compromised, it is best to change this digital lock rather than leaving it as it is. Remember that passwords should be long with a minimum of 8-10 characters, strong in the combination of letters, numbers and special characters and different for each service. Sit down with your child to teach them how to make a strong password, teach them that it is good to regularly change them and get to it. By the way, your Wi-Fi network is yours no one else’s, have you changed the standard user and password to avoid hacking? Do it, there’s no excuse.
2.- Clean up apps.
Holidays are a perfect time to download some apps, online games and tools as you needed them for a specific purpose or because you had more time but once the daily routine begins get that broom out and delete, delete, delete.
Uninstall all the apps that you no longer use, because as well as taking up space, remember that everything you download onto your mobile devices takes a series of permissions and if you aren’t going to use them it is best to remove them so that they stop collecting information. Again, this tip applies to both your own devices as well as shared devices and your children’s devices. Sit down with them, check the apps that they have and remove any that they no longer use or find any that are unsuitable for their age.
This can be an ideal moment to speak to children about the permissions that downloaded apps gather and the rules of use on social media that set a minimum age to access. All of this is in the terms and conditions which, by not handling digital safety correctly, we often don’t pay attention to. You must read them in order to avoid any surprises. As adults we cannot let them register on social media, download apps or games without supervision, not everything is suitable for all ages.
3.- The webcam on all your devices (computer, smartphone, tablet, smart TV), are they covered?
A good tip for digital hygiene is to make sure that all your devices have a covered webcam to avoid being recorded. If the device is infected with any type of malware or if any type of spyware is installed you could be recorded through the camera unaware, so start to protect your privacy and your children’s privacy. Each time there are more types of covered webcams on the market but there is another very simple option at your fingertips like placing a sticker. Each time you use the camera you just need to remove it and you’re ready.
4.- At this point you know that making a backup copy is essential but at times laziness takes over.
There are many tools that make this task easier, don’t put it off because if one day you lose data or access to it, it will be too late. As in summer you will have accumulated more data, take the opportunity to do it. Check all the photos and videos taken during your holidays, store everything you want to save and ruthlessly delete what you need to, you will gain space and start to get into the routine of backing up your important data. Remember that you should instil this good practice into your little ones. As soon as you get into the habit of backing up your data the better.
Use this time to check with your children the photos and videos they have taken on their devices and shared on social networks or exchanged with their friends. Tell them about the risk of exposing personal information on the web, remind them that everything we upload onto the internet stays on the internet forever and once we upload something we lose track of that information so we should all think twice before uploading anything. Advise them before publishing or tagging someone online that they should ask that person’s permission and be aware that sharing images online, be it publicly or privately with people that they know or don’t know, puts us at risk. On the internet we never know with absolute certainty if whoever is on the other side of the screen is who they say they are or who we think they are. Insisting on this again and again is never too much, grooming is a reality, protecting them, informing them and being alert is crucial.
5.- Netiquette, these online etiquette rules apply to everyone.
It is hugely important to always keep in mind that whatever we do not want done to us, not to do it ourselves. After all, being polite is something that we should apply to all areas of our lives and the digital world is no exception. So do not insult, write correctly, be nice, report unpleasant or uncomfortable situations, be respectful with the privacy of others and more besides that, cannot be overstated.
These five cyber tips are very basic but we should incorporate them into our diary with no excuses as supervising children in the digital world should be continuous and start exactly when they pick up a device connected to the internet. The longer we do nothing, the more difficult it will be. Starting a new school year is always a challenge. Achieving digital safety, a must. Get to it.