Children start using technology from a very young age. Today, even 5-year-olds have access to tablets and smartphones. But is their education up to date when it comes to security? In 2019, up to 95% of Americans between the ages of 3 and 18 had access to the Internet. We give smartphones to our youngest kids to keep them occupied – they can watch cartoons, play games, and browse the web, but are they safe? Children exposed to technology from an early age learn to be proficient in its use. However, teaching about cybersecurity requires a different kind of education.

Are Children Easy Targets for Cybercriminals?

When hearing the word hacker, some people imagine mysterious men hidden in the dark, but this image is brought to us by movies and TV series. The truth is that cybercrime comes in many forms. That’s why many people fall prey to both sophisticated and simple Internet scams and cyberattacks.

Children, who are immersed in the world of technology at a young age, are easy targets. They lack the experience and knowledge needed to recognize the threats they may encounter online and are trusting. In 2020, the number of cybercrimes targeting young kids increased by 30%. This happened because everyone – including children and teenagers – started spending more time online.

Kids are especially susceptible to boredom and find isolation difficult. That’s one of the reasons why they tend to look for distractions and interactions with others. These are readily available in the age of social media – and hackers use this fact for their profit.

How Are Cybercriminals Dangerous to Children?

Internet scams and cyberattacks are more widespread than ever. This is because we are using the Internet more. Since the pandemic began, we have been working, communicating with our loved ones, and entertaining ourselves via the web. Cybercriminals are well aware of this. Sadly, too few people are “digitally literate”. Even adults fall victim to scams. Children are in even greater danger. Because they cannot recognize that someone is trying to take advantage of them, they are ideal targets.

Children can also experience cyberattacks targeting their devices. This is due to their lack of knowledge when downloading files from the Internet, such as games, films, and music, which may be infected with malware. Such malware can be used to steal kids’ and parents’ personal information: passwords, logins, bank details, etc.

The most disturbing threat is sexual assault. Sadly, hundreds of young kids and teenagers experience grooming. Predators prey on children wherever they can find them: in online communities, game chats, or on social media platforms.

What About Schools?

Some parents try to remove their responsibility when it comes to the cyber safety of their children, expecting schools to teach the young ones about online dangers. Unfortunately, schools tend to lag behind the times. While some voluntary programs are designed to educate young kids about safe Internet use, they only reach a small percentage of students.

Many schools continue to ignore the fact that cybercrime plagues society and one of the most obvious remedies is education from an early age. Children learn to use technology so quickly that they are better than their parents, so they should also learn how to stay safe – like they learn to look both ways before crossing the street.

How to Protect Children from Cyber Threats?

Even if parents can’t rely on schools when it comes to their children’s digital literacy, they can be the ones who teach them. What should they pay attention to?

Social Media

If your child has access to the Internet, they probably have accounts on various social media platforms. You should pay close attention to them, as many criminals and predators prey on kids there. Check your child’s privacy settings and ensure only close friends and family members can see your kid’s photos. It’s also a good idea to turn off messages from strangers.

Safe Connection

Teach your kid how to use a VPN on desktop and mobile devices. A VPN encrypts data, so sensitive information should remain secure even if your child somehow finds themselves in a dangerous situation online (e.g., after entering a malicious website). Some VPNs also have additional features, such as malware protection.

Passwords

Talk to your child about passwords. Explain that each should be unique and strong. No, your family pet’s name won’t do. Your kid should also know that passwords should not be written down in places that other people can access.

Trust

Explain that not everyone is trustworthy, so your child should not blindly believe everything a stranger says. Some criminals ask for photos or personal data (like your kid’s home or school address). If your kids experience something like this, they should seek your help and advice immediately.