Plans are well underway to launch a new ‘digital’ curriculum come September 2014, ensuring computer science is well-represented in classrooms across the country. But with children as young as five potentially learning to develop computer code in class, awareness around the dangers that lurk online is worryingly lacking.
The all-encompassing online world
For many of us, interacting with the online world is second nature, whether it’s placing a grocery shop, making a restaurant reservation, or updating a Facebook status, it’s seen as integral to our daily lives. Equally, our children use the internet for a multitude of things – completing their homework, connecting with their friends or downloading the latest One Direction hit. They’re fully embedded in the digital universe, but at what cost to their safety?
As a parent myself, I'm all too aware of the dangers lurking online that could threaten the innocence of children, but also the risks that threaten the wider family unit. Email scams, privacy-invading mobile apps and dodgy downloads can not only mean your computing device is compromised, but can also lead to the loss of sensitive personal data, or finances.
Engaging children around online safety is crucial to ensuring an accurate understanding of the threat landscape, and how to behave appropriately online. However, research commissioned by McAfee and the Anti-Bullying Alliance, part of leading children’s charity the National Children’s Bureau, revealed a third of parents (32%) admit to not having had any conversation with their children about online safety. But if they’re not aware of the threats themselves, how can this be done effectively?
The need for education
With today’s teens being the first generation to grow up immersed in the cyber-world, it is clear that parents require more support to help them to keep up with rapidly changing technology and to understand how they can keep their children safe online.
More than half (53%) of parents put the onus on education, saying that knowing their child is learning about e-safety in school would make them feel better equipped to help keep their child safe online. But nearly a third (32%) of parents admitted that better parental personal knowledge of the internet and social networks would help them feel better equipped to keep their kids safe online. One in six (18%) parents admit that their own knowledge of the internet and social media platforms is not adequate to match the online behaviours of their child.
The introduction of the digital curriculum is critical to the skills development of our children, but safety needs to play a central role in its roll-out and implementation. It’s also crucial the responsibility of providing digital education does not fall wholly onto the teaching community. It’s imperative parents and guardians also take a vested interest in staying safe in the online world – not just for the benefit of their child, but also themselves!
Some useful tips to engage your children in safe online behaviour include:
Use friends-only settings: Make sure all posts and profiles on social networking sites are set to be viewed by “close friends” only
Update passwords: Replace all simple, short passwords with new complex ones (for example using a number of unrelated words in a sentence) and keep them private
Keep devices in the open: Computers, smartphones, and online games should be placed and used in a highly visible areas of the house
Disable geo-tagging: Prevent the storage of location-based data on smartphones and cameras
Actively participate: Know more about your kids’ online networks and games. Work together to review friend lists and manage privacy settings
Use aliases: Encourage your child to use non-identifiable nicknames on gaming and social networking sites
Hubs like Bletchley Park Trust, home of the World War II codebreakers, are today building on their heritage to help to educate the public around the threats that exist online – looking to close the skills gap between the cyber criminals and citizens. By providing workshop sessions to visitors, and showcasing a history of cybercrime, the Trust is looking to not only educate, but inspire, the next generation.
Schools, parents, third party organisations and pupils themselves need to work together to ensure a truly holistic digital education. Only then do we stand the best chance of ensuring the dangers that lurk online are not given the opportunity to materialise.
By Raj Samani, a security expert at McAfee