Threats to children online: how to protect them
In addition to entertainment or educational content, there are many cyber threats on the Internet that you should warn your child about. For example, your child may accidentally blab to strangers in an online game about their parents’ work schedule or an expensive purchase. And this is a threat to your family. When should you tell your children about cyber threats? What’s the best way to do it? And why can the prohibition method do even more harm? Psychologist Dmytro Vakulenko told Dovidka.info about this.
How to understand that gadgets have a negative impact on a child? What changes in behaviour can indicate this?
A child becomes more withdrawn, communicates less with peers and adults. There is less interest in the real world, in sports activities, in communicating with friends, and in learning. But the focus is not on the marks, but on the fact that he or she is not interested in it. These are the changes that are taking place. Well, and probably one of the most striking signs is that the child is irritable, emotionally unstable, aggressive.
Name the top 3 threats that a child can face online.
The first is gaming addiction, when a child is completely focused on games.
When they are not interested in anything else. They are constantly checking their game process, their account, they are not interested in live communication, they are not interested in anything in real life at all. Only the game, only gadgets, only online processes. By the way, it’s not just about games – it can also be an addiction to social media.
Another risk – especially now, during the war – is enemy propaganda. This is the influence on a child when he or she has some kind of negative result from interacting with information.
Another risk is personal data theft. This is a very common problem that affects not only children but also adults. That is, a child may not intentionally pass on important information to outsiders.
For example, they may give their parents’ work schedule or their own schedule, so thieves will know when no one is home. How does this happen? Through communication. An adult creates an account where he or she pretends to be a child, communicates, starts a friendship, and gradually learns more and more information. This account can be either on social media or in online games. For example, in Minecraft. There is a chat room where children communicate with each other, make friends and can share personal information.
This also applies to paedophiles. That is, adults register in children’s social media or online games and get the information they need there.
As soon as you explain, show your child what the Internet is, and allow them to interact with someone there, you must immediately explain the rules of behaviour. Just as we don’t talk to strangers on the street, we shouldn’t talk to strangers online. Similarly, we should not click on any unknown links. Because just as in communication one can learn some information, it can also happen in a technical way. A child can be sent a picture of a cat, the child clicks on this picture, thus following a certain link, and this link downloads a virus to the gadget. Or the attacker gains access to the camera or microphone.
Another important point to pay attention to is the use of software. Explain to your children that they should not download software from pirate sites, as there is a high probability that you will pick up a virus.
The alternative is to use paid software that is virus-free. You need to guide your children not to use torrents, not to consume pirated content, not to break the law, and to use only paid software. This will protect both your child and you.
How should parents react when a child suddenly starts talking to a stranger during a game?
This should not be an interrogation, it should be a conversation that respects the child’s boundaries. This is a general question that relates to the formation of a trusting relationship, when you are an example and an image of love, acceptance and wisdom for your child, when he or she trusts you. And in such circumstances, it is normal to ask your child, absolutely calmly: how are you doing, with whom are you communicating, who is this person, what are you talking about, what files are you exchanging. If the child trusts you, they will tell you about it.
Is it an effective way for parents to disguise themselves as a suspicious person and get in touch with their own child?
It seems to me that the next step would be to “stab” the child in the kitchen, so that he or she gets this experience at home, not behind the garages. This is a road to nowhere. You shouldn’t deceive your child and go down this path. If he or she finds out that you disguised yourself as a third party and extorted personal data from him or her, he or she will no longer trust his or her closest, dearest, most loved people – parents. This way, the child develops a deep perception that people can’t be trusted. Because if you can’t trust your parents, you can’t trust other people either. And it is difficult for a person who doesn’t trust others to live. They may feel anxious all the time.
If a certain connection between a child and parents is lost for some reason, how can it be restored?
The most effective tool is to come to the child and say: listen, we have facts. It is a fact that we constantly quarrel, that there are always some misunderstandings, we raise our voices at each other, and this makes both of us feel uncomfortable. So it’s worth saying that there is a problem and describing it. And explain that this is not your personal problem, but a common problem. And at the same time say that it is not the child’s fault. Then you say that you think it should be solved to improve the quality of life – yours and the child’s. In other words, to establish communication.
Often parents turn to the method of prohibition: they take away the phone, tablet, and don’t allow them to play computer games. How do children perceive this method?
The child feels that if something he or she really, really needs is taken away from them, then the one who is stronger is right in this situation. You think that if you take away an object without explaining anything, by force or authority, you have given the child a better future and protected him or her from certain risks. But at that moment, the child realises a very simple story: the one who is strong is right. And as long as you are strong, it works. But at a certain point, in adolescence, the child becomes physically the same as you, and maybe even stronger than you. And it stops working.
Even if you keep fit and can resist it, a child still grows up with the idea in their head that the one who is strong is right, and this causes resistance. Because for children, especially teenagers, one of the main tasks is to form their own boundaries and develop their personality.
That’s why a teenager will fight for the right to choose, for the right to fill their life with the activities they want. If you don’t communicate, don’t build interaction, and just take away, you will encounter resistance.
How can you encourage your child to spend less time with gadgets and not share important information without prohibitions?
Create a daily plan and help your child organise their time. Model their schedule, plan the weekend together, demonstrate where they have hours of games, hours of household chores, hours of some sports activities on the street or elsewhere. Help them to see where they start and end an activity. This will also help regulate their time with gadgets.
In order for a child to understand us, we have to speak the child’s language. And game is one of the leading activities of children under 10 or 11 years old. That’s why, for example, it makes sense to drink tea with sweets with teenagers, chat, and discuss something. And for younger children, it’s better to do it through games.
How can we play? It can be puppet theatre or games with plasticine. We can mould some situations. We can draw a comic book, draw rules of information hygiene, and rules of online safety. In the format of a comic book, where the main character faces certain challenges, and the mother and child draw the comic book together and help the main character cope with those challenges. The mother adds her expertise and some good ideas on how to respond to a particular challenge. It’s fun, the child will be delighted with the process because it will be filled with love, trust and wisdom. And the information you draw will be very well absorbed by the child through a game, drawing or plasticine.