What Do Parents Say About Our Survey Results?
You may remember that, a few months ago, we released the results of our survey on how parents of different ages monitor what their children do online. Broadly speaking, the survey showed that parents over the age of 55 tend to take a fairly laissez-faire attitude to their children’s online antics compared to much younger parents.
This was all the more interesting given the results of another survey we ran at around the same time, which showed that younger people tend to be more flippant about their own online security than older people. Millennials, it seems, can be remiss about their own online security while paying a lot of attention to what their kids are up to online. Clearly, its a complex issue for a lot of people.
These findings caused something of a stir when we posted about them on Facebook, especially when we published two of the key stats as individual infographics. The result was a fascinating debate about different approaches and attitudes to monitoring kids’ internet access and activities.
We’ll talk about this in-depth in this article.
Before We Start…
One thing that caused a fair bit of confusion among our Facebook community was when we referred to “children”. To be clear, our original survey only included responses from parents who have children under 18, no matter what the age of the parents. We weren’t interested in what parents over 55 think of their adult children’s online activities!
However, it is important to bear in mind that, generally speaking, parents in their 20s are likely to have very young kids while parents in their 50s and 60s are statistically more likely to have teenage children. This will inevitably affect the ways in which parents monitor their children’s internet access and the kind of devices kids have access to, or keep in their own rooms. This is certainly something to think about in our future research.
Note that these two infographics drew stats from the survey we discussed in this article, with a detailed explanation of our findings: Older Parents Less Aware of Online Dangers Than Younger Moms and Dads.
Infographic 1 – Do You Know What Your Kids Do Online?
Infographic 2 – Do Your Children Have Access to a Computer in their Rooms?
Responses to these stats varied widely, but most commenters fell into one of five broad categories, which I’ll call Helicopter Parents, Back-to-Basics Parents, Let-Them-Figure-It-Out Parents, Technology-is-Inevitable Parents, and Meet-in-the-Middle Parents.
Let’s take a look at what people in each of the categories had to say.
The Helicopter Parents
These are the parents who filter or monitor everything their children do online at all times to make sure they’re not looking at anything inappropriate or undesirable.
Some of these were quite extreme…
“I’m in IT, I simply apply work skills at home. I filter all my network traffic at the host level, plus I have real-time access to my kids’ devices, I can view whatever is on their screens, from my phone, from anywhere.”
With some parents operating in a way designed to make sure their kids knew they were being monitored…
“Until my kids are 18, any computer my kids have will be remotely monitored for inappropriate activity at all times. Go to the wrong site and they’ll get a Pop-up warning from their Pops.”
While others prefer to keep a quiet eye on things.
“I’m able to monitor what he is doing as well as if he tries to delete any history in his browser.”
Other parents simply don’t let their kids use devices unattended…
“All electronics come in my room at night.”
Especially if they had been exposed to the dark side of the internet in their own childhood.
“Because we experienced first hand the kind of experience with the creepers on the internet we don’t let our children have internet-enabled devices in their room alone.”
The Back-to-Basics Parents
These types of parents are suspicious of technology full stop, preferring to keep their kids away from the internet rather than monitoring their use.
Some ban all kinds of devices…
“My kids aren’t allowed to have electronics and they are only allowed to watch TV after spending all day outside”
While others were critical of how reliant some parents are on technology to keep children entertained and informed…
“Phones and games should not be parents.”
The Let-Them-Figure-It-Out Parents
These kinds of parents are the polar opposite of helicopter parents, believing that trying to block them from finding out about the world is counterproductive…
“Kids should be *educated* on how to avoid making a digital footprint the size of Texas and getting doxxed, recognize when someone is trying to groom them, and other things that will actually protect them from predators. Taking their devices away and/or installing spyware on them is a mentally lazy attempt to shield them from reality, and you will only have yourself to blame when they start keeping secrets from you.”
While others also emphasized how important it is to be able to talk frankly about the issues…
“You literally can’t stop children from doing things. The best way is to establish trust and understanding is by educating them, not sheltering them.”
And some talked about preparing them for the information they’ll have access to when they’re old enough to understand it…
“Yes a lot of s*** is taboo and bad, but information was meant to be free. Don’t teach your kids to avoid certain things because they’re evil, teach ‘em to wait until they’re more mature to learn what certain things actually are.”
The Technology-Is-Inevitable Parents
Then there were the type of parents that simply thought interfering was futile because internet-enabled forms of technology are so ubiquitous.
Some pointed out that phones are the same thing …
“A smartphone is a computer… what’s the percentage of parents that allow access to phones while in bedrooms? Answer: All of them.”
And others mentioned the rise of the Internet of Things, which blurs the lines between computers and other types of devices…
“Does [technology allowed in the bedroom] include smart TVs and other streaming devices as well?”
While some pointed to the educational benefits of computer technology…
“My son is about to be 14 and he is a coder and builds robots and he’s a gamer, so yeah I do [let him have that in his room]. My girls are 10 and 6 and their tablets have parental control so I also allow them to have their tablets in their room.”
The Meet-in-the-Middle Parents
Finally, there were the parents who seemed on the fence about the issue. These parents were trying to strike the balance between giving their kids access to technology and making sure they weren’t using it in harmful ways…
“They have tablets, but we monitor their game playing.”
Often emphasizing the importance of trust…
“I have taught my kids to be smart. I check periodically anyway. Me and my child have a very honest and open relationship. She tells me everything.”
Or checking in on activity with a view to limiting this as the children get older….
“They get up to Minecraft and JoJo Siwa Youtube videos. I check the households’ internet history every night, but I’m not too worried about them seeking out adult material. Until they’re old enough to be interested in that kind of stuff there’s no reason, and once they ARE old enough to be interested there will be no stopping them. If they do come across something, I’ll just explain it to them bluntly and honestly as best I can.”
Tell Us What You Really Feel
But what do all these conflicting – and often heated – opinions tell us about how parents really feel about what their kids are doing online?
Most of the responses boil down to one thing: the internet is something of a Wild West and you can’t control what happens there.
For some parents that means sheltering their children for as long and as much as they possibly can, to avoid them ever seeing something damaging. For others, that means that children will eventually have to come face to face with the dangers and they need to be prepared.
Whichever side of the debate you fall on, this has important implications for how you roll out cybersecurity in the home. I can’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t let your kids access online, or whether you should let them use a computer or phone without monitoring them.
However, it’s clear that, firstly, there are very real dangers to consider, and having the right tools at your fingertips is crucial to prevent malicious parties from getting to your technology or your family. How vigilant you want to be is your prerogative, but you absolutely need some level of protection against cybercrime, fraud, malware, data theft and the like.
Secondly, it stands to reason that if your kids are given free rein of the internet, they need to know how to handle scary situations that might emerge. Even if you keep them on a tight leash until they’re 18, you can’t watch their every move or protect them once they reach adulthood. That means you also need to educate them about staying safe online.
How to Protect Your Kids (and Yourself) Online
Antivirus Software (AV)
You’re not being paranoid: there are people out there who mean you harm. Well, perhaps not you or your children specifically, but hackers and cybercriminals are continually creating new types of malware that will do some serious damage if it gets into your system.
Different types of malware work in different ways:
- Viruses infect files on your computer or other types of devices.
- Worms burrow into your computer system or network, destroying or corrupting whatever files, programs or even devices they come into contact with.
- Trojans, which usually come from infected emails or websites, look like perfectly normal programs until you download and launch them, at which point they turn out to be full of malicious code. They often pose as virus scans.
- Spyware watches what you’re doing on your computer and transmits that information back to the hacker so that they can figure out passwords and personal information, or even spy on the actions of a particular target.
- Adware bombards you with popups or redirects you to unfamiliar sites or search engines.
- Ransomware locks up and encrypts your files, demanding that you pay a ransom to release them or they’ll be destroyed.
The more time you spend online, the more suspicious and careful you learn to be, but more innocent users can often be persuaded to click links or download items that turn out to be bad news.
Rather than leave it up to chance or find out the hard way that someone in your family has made a mistake, you’d be well advised to invest in decent antivirus software. Go for something with powerful real-time scanning that will quarantine anything dodgy before it can get into your computer.
The best packages are more like complete internet security suites than old-school virus scanners, with all kinds of parental control tools, social media and payment protection, built-in VPNs and firewalls, and even tools for managing security on multiple devices from a single dashboard. You can compare our top-recommended AV programs here.
With the right technology in place, you’ll have one less reason to breathe down your kids’ necks about staying safe online, which can make them less secretive about what they’re up to!
These are really useful, particularly if you have young children in the house. Basically, you can set up a blocker for certain types of content or search terms, to stop kids accidentally stumbling across something traumatizing, wildly inappropriate for their age level, or which you simply don’t want them viewing (or viewing in your house).
A word of advice, though: don’t push this too far. It stands to reason that you don’t want your five-year-old typing “Pokemon X Videos” into a search engine and instead discovering some pretty niche (and disturbing) viewing material. That’s exactly why things like Google SafeSearch exist.
At the same time, if you go overboard and try to ban every single phrase or topic that could possibly turn up content you disapprove, you’ll make it impossible for your children to research things they need for school homework, read the news, or simply find things out for themselves.
You can’t censor the whole world, after all… your children will get hold of the information they want eventually!
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are another useful tool to protect your kids’ privacy and security online, particularly if they play multiplayer games online or ever connect to public WiFi from their phones, laptops, tablets and so on.
A VPN gives you a secure, encrypted connection to the internet, so your true IP address is hidden – instead, it shows up as whatever one the VPN has assigned you.
Firstly, this prevents others on the network from viewing what you’re up to, which could lead to them finding out passwords or accessing private information. Many people don’t realize how easy it is for someone with the know-how to do that when you’re both on the same WiFi network.
Secondly, by concealing your IP address, you make it much harder for a person to try to overload your system with traffic – called a DDoS attack.
These kinds of attacks are often made on the sites or systems of government agencies, media outlets, human rights organizations and so on in an attempt to shut them down. However, gamers on the same network can see each other’s IP addresses, too, and will sometimes launch DDoS attacks on rivals out of malice. If your kids are keen gamers, it may give you peace of mind to get them to connect through a VPN at all times, so that your internet access is protected.
Talk to Your Kids!
The single most important piece of advice to take away from all this is also very simple: have a frank and honest chat with your children about the dangers online and involve them in your decision-making when it comes to limiting internet access or implementing technology for their protection.
It’s a good idea to start that conversation when the kids are very young, so that they set out using the internet with good habits.
Obviously you don’t want to terrify your kids, but you do need to explain some important issues to them, for example:
- Anyone can see what they put online, so it’s a lot like talking to strangers.
- It’s not a good idea to tell people they don’t know personal things about themselves, for example where they live or where they go to school.
- Once information is out there, you can never completely remove it – so it’s very important that they don’t share too much about themselves online.
- Explain the concept of identity theft and how information like addresses, birthdays and full names can be used by other people to pretend to be them.
- Make it clear that if they see something distressing online, they can talk to you about it and you won’t be angry with them.
With older kids and teenagers, there’s often more at stake, meaning serious conversations about internet security are even more important. At the same time, they’re likely to be more conscious of you invading their privacy, so you need to be sensitive about their feelings, too.
Issues you really need to bring up with them include:
- Why they should be extremely wary of anyone they haven’t met for themselves, in person. Even if they’ve sent pictures that are supposedly of themselves, the person they’re talking to could easily be someone totally different. In fact, even if they’ve spoken to this person over a video calling app like Skype, it’s possible that they are being groomed for a sextortion scam, which ruins lives and has led to a number of reported cases of suicide.
- That they should never send money to or share banking details with anyone they meet online, for any reason.
- That most connections aren’t encrypted or private. For example, Facebook Messenger does not use end-to-end encryption. This means it’s very easy to hack. If they share things like passwords, scans of personal ID or anything else that contains personal information with friends, they really need to do it via a communication method that can’t be hacked.
- It’s more and more common for teenagers to send each other compromising photos of themselves, but they really do need to be cautious about this. It’s very likely that these will be seen by or shown to other people at some point. Revenge porn is a huge problem with low prosecution rates the world over.
- On the other side of the equation, creating, sharing or keeping a pornographic picture of someone who is underage on your phone means you may have committed a crime, even if you are also under 18. In fact, you can be arrested for creating child pornography even if you’re sending nude pictures of yourself.
Internet security can raise some extremely sensitive issues. A lot of parents feel awkward talking to their kids about them, or are even in denial that their children could be drawn into an issue like this. The trouble is that the kind of people who exploit children do so by playing on their innocence and naivety, so if you aren’t warning them about the dangers, you’re doing them a disservice.
It’s a good idea to keep your children away from the worst parts of the internet when they’re too young to understand what they’ll find there. Remember, though, that they need to be prepared to protect themselves someday, too.