IT’S a well-established fact that the average gamer in Australia is well into their 30s and that means that a lot of those gamers have kids of their own.
Several of the GOA team (including me!) certainly do, and keeping our kids safe online (be it gaming or using the internet generally) and the online landscape has certainly changed a lot from back when most of us were teenagers.
I, for example, was a teenager with dial-up internet access in the 1990s and Pirelli Tyre Calendar images were about as racy as it got, whereas kids and teenagers these days can inadvertently (or, let’s face it, deliberately) find hardcore adult content with a simple search engine query.
And that’s not getting into to all the other toxic, extremist, or harmful content which can be found in places where someone might not be intentionally searching it out – especially because its purveyors often find ways to make it seem palatable or not immediately concerning to the casual observer.
Online safety is an extremely important thing to teach your kids, although one of the challenges with having a cybersecurity conversation with your kids is that you and them may not be playing the same games or using the same social channels.
For example, a lot of parents are in Facebook or Instagram, or maybe even old-school text-based forums, while Kids These Days™ are far more likely to be on something like TikTok, Discord, Twitch, or SnapChat, or some other social media platform that’s so hip and ‘now’ the rest of us haven’t even heard of it yet – and that means different online safety issues and aspects.
Stephen Kho is a cybersecurity expert at Avast (the computer security software company) and said internet communication programs and communities had changed significantly from when many parents first got online and it was important to be aware of which ones they were using, what the community there was like, and what sort of online safety precautions should be taken there.
“It is very important parents are aware of platforms children are taking a keen interest in and interacting with so they can understand the safety measures needed to be taken to keep their families safe online,” he said.
Online safety comes in many different forms, and a very practical place to start is knowing who your kids are interacting with and in what spaces.
Stephen said starting the conversation with your kids about online safety might be confusing, especially for parents who grew up with earlier iterations of the internet – in which he suggested using chatrooms like AOL as a good comparison.
“The main purpose of a live chat room is to allow real-time online chat to users. Users are able to communicate with each other, share information via text and have an online interaction. Many of these functions aren’t monitored by admins, and are via private message which can be dangerous,” he said.
“While AOL only offered text communication (we just didn’t have the tech yet), there were different spaces designated for groups to talk about specific interests.
“Some of those spaces were totally PG, while others were more adult. And if you were a young person during the years of AOL, you might remember participating in age-appropriate chatrooms and also exploring ones that were definitely not for you.”
Obviously telling your children about your experiences on AOL or MSN Messenger or ICQ back in the day has extremely strong How Do You Do, Fellow Kids vibes to many people, but what it does is help establish you do have some experience of this stuff yourself and also can help you as a potentially un-hip parent get a handle on how what kids nowadays deal with in comparison to your experiences back in The Olden Dayes.
Beyond basic awareness that the internet isn’t all funny pet videos, amusing memes, and online shopping, here are some of the other ways you can help keep your kids safer online:
Talk about social media
“That means it’s time to start having conversations about sharing sensitive information and the risks of interacting with strangers online – even if they think they know and trust the person they’re talking to,” Stephen said.
“These conversations can be awkward, but think of it as another “talk” that your child needs in order to be safe in the world.”
Talk about passwords
Talking about password security and the importance of strong passwords was an important conversation to have, and Stephen recommended sitting down with kids and doing a password reset on all your major accounts at the beginning of the school year.
“You can even make it a game, by setting silly rules about what should be included,” he said.
Stay up to date with the latest security software
Internet security software has been an essential part of web use pretty much since its inception, but as cyberthreats have grown more sophisticated, so have the programmes countering it.
Modern internet security software focuses on more than anti-virus protection, and offers a host of additional features including anti-malware, malicious website blocking, firewalls (and, helpfully for those with children) parental control options
There are a range of perfectly serviceable free internet security software programs available, including Windows Defender, which provide functional but basic protection; whereas a paid service offers extra features such as those mentioned above.
I use the paid subscription version of Avast One on my PC, which goes beyond standard antivirus and includes (among other things) real-time malware protection and a VPN, as well as an inbuilt driver updater. I’ve certainly been very happy with it.
Talk about your online experiences often
Scams and phishing attacks are one of the most common types of online security issue the average user faces, and Stephen said it was important to talk to your kids about your experiences with them, what to look out for, and how to deal with them.
“We need to keep the conversation open and your children need to know that they can come to you with any issues they may have. It might also be worth discussing relevant news articles or happenings on these platforms to spark the conversation,” he said.
Encourage screen time in a central area of the home
Another effective way to help your kids stay safe on The Internet is by encouraging screen time in a central part of your home, rather than in their bedrooms.
“When your child is online, it can be ideal to have the computer they are accessing or their device in a central position of the home like the loungeroom or dining room area,” Stephen said.
“That way you are able to keep an eye on their activity, and it may also encourage them to not stray onto any dangerous sites or conversations.
“The digital world comes with its own unique opportunities — and potential dangers. But just like elsewhere in life, you, as the parent, have the tools to guide your kids and teens in the right direction.
“Have a chat about online communities, keep talking about digital citizenship, and point them toward more productive outlets. You’ve got this!”
The Commonwealth Office of the eSafety Commissioner has some excellent resources for parents and all other internet users regarding online safety; visit https://www.esafety.gov.au/ to access them and find out more.