There are other ways for people to indirectly target your kids that you may not think about.
Technology plays a major role in children’s daily lives. Today, kids spend hours online playing games, chatting with friends, or simply scrolling on social media. Most parents are aware of the studies warning of the negative consequences of too much screen time. But there are other online dangers parents must also be aware of— and some of them come in unexpected ways.
EBONY spoke with award-winning Internet Safety Expert Fareedah Shaheed to learn about hidden risks and what families can do to keep their children safe online. With a background in cybersecurity awareness, threat intelligence, and online gaming, Shaheed founded her company, Sekuva, through which she educates parents about online safety and how to protect their kids from harm.
Parents are likely aware of the possibility of children encountering and communicating with strangers online, and of the grooming and cyberbullying that can occur in this space. However, Shaheed says there are other ways for people to indirectly target kids that we may not think about. In addition to the aforementioned online dangers, the online world is a portal through which predators can use avenues like gaming and social media to gain access to children.
“They can get into your online accounts and learn more about your family,” says Shaheed. “There was a case where a predator hacked into a girl's Snapchat account and found out where she lived, her friends’ names, where she went to school, and also downloaded her pictures. It has nothing to do with your kids being lured in by some friendship or romance. It had nothing to do with what the child did or what the parent did. It was just a portal. All of these apps hold our information and if you don't know how to protect your accounts then you're vulnerable to a predator or hacker easily being able to take that information.”
Likewise, Shaheed warns that caregivers are also a portal to their children. One way parents may inadvertently put their children at risk is through "sharenting"—the oversharing of details about your parenting, your children, and the emotions your kids are going through. This information, which your kids may not even want online, can be valuable to someone who is targeting your family. But there is another side of this that many often fail to consider.
“The portion that we typically don’t talk about is connected to what I said earlier about not understanding the importance of account security for your kids and for yourself. So your security also matters for your kids’ security because you hold a lot of information about them that can lead to grooming, cyberstalking, and cyberbullying. You live in the same house and have the same internet. You may use the same devices or have very similar devices. So knowing how to secure your devices and your Wi-Fi is extremely important.”
Some of the apps and equipment you may use to protect your children’s safety can also be used against you. Things like security cameras, monitoring apps, and even baby monitors can be accessed by predators, allowing them to invade your privacy and get a hold of your data.
“A hacker can get into your security camera or baby monitor and watch your kids and talk to your kids through it. It has happened many times over. Even the monitoring apps," explains Shaheed. "If you're not using a reputable company and service that has been vetted for security, privacy, and safety, there may be an instance where a hacker or predator is able to access all the things you monitor your kids on. If you monitor your kids’ chats or location, a predator can also have access to all of this.”
Though terrifying to know the possibility of such intrusions exist, there are steps you can take to protect your family. Shaheed shared the following tips to help parents keep their children safe from online dangers:
Have a strong foundation to foster open communication
Shaheed stresses that protecting children from online dangers is not just about technical security and privacy. She is a staunch believer in the importance of having a solid foundation, and that one of the best ways to accomplish this is through therapy.
“In reality, your relationship with yourself, your self-nourishment, your self-care, and breaking generational curses allows you to have a better relationship with your kids where you can better connect with them. You have to have those open conversations with them, but it’s difficult to do so when you don't know how to have them or if when they say something you don't like you’re immediately in fight or flight mode. This can exacerbate the problem versus trying to find a solution together.”
“Internet safety is all about us—parent and child—against the world, as opposed to parent versus child. There’s going to be friction and tension. You’re going to have times when you don't agree. But if you can have that safe space with open and non-judgmental communication, that’s the best way to approach it," shares Shaheed. "They will come across predators, groomers, and cyberbullies online, but if they have a safe space within you and their household, it’s easier for them to walk through those emotions. This is the most important thing.”
Secure your family’s accounts
To protect your online accounts, Shaheed recommends choosing strong passwords and utilizing a reliable, vetted, and secure password manager. This means avoiding the permanently free ones found on random websites.
“Two that I personally recommend are www.1password.com and www.lastpass.com. They have family versions, and they manage your passwords for you so you can protect your children’s accounts on Snapchat, Roblox, Minecraft, as well as your own accounts. That is extremely important from the security side. It’s also important to look closely at the security and privacy settings. Every time you download an app for yourself or your kids, immediately go to account settings and see what they have available,” says Shaheed.
Lastly, Shaheed encourages parents to enlist others to help with the things they might not understand or know how to do when tackling online safety and security.
“Get support because it can be overwhelming. You don’t have to be tech-savvy to protect your kids online. You don’t have to know more than your kids to protect them online. Seek out help from a professional such as myself, a family member, or your friend from high school that’s a computer geek. You don’t have to do it alone.”