Digital dangers: parents still struggle to protect their children from online hazards

Hong Kong parents are worried about cyberbullies and the countless other threats their children face, but a new survey shows how ill-prepared many are when it comes to fighting back

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 10:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 10:00am

The tech age has revolutionised many aspects of modern life, but it has also brought new risks and fears.

This is graphically confirmed by a recent survey for Norton by Symantec, which found that 81 per cent of parents in Hong Kong are concerned about cyberbullying.

But while many understandably worry about the downsides and drawbacks of the digital world, comparatively few are sure how best to establish workable practices and effective guidelines.

“Parents are grappling with how they prepare, protect and empower their children to use technology safely,” says Chee Choon Hong, director of consumer business for Symantec Asia-Pacific. “Families are navigating a world where debates about screen time are as important as [rules about] bedtime.”

Indeed, feedback presented in the 2017 Norton Cyber Security Insights Report reveals some stark realities. The Hong Kong sample of the international online survey is based on input from just over 1,000 respondents aged 18-plus. And the results clearly indicate the breadth of worries, as well as the difficulties that go with imposing effective supervision.

How to help children avoid cyber risks and thrive in an online world

Besides cyberbullying, parents expressed increased concerns about their children spending too much time in front of a screen (88 per cent of respondents); giving too much personal information to strangers – and being lured into meetings (84 per cent); and downloading malicious programmes or viruses (86 per cent).

But despite all this, regular parental supervision is not common practice. According to the survey, only 30 per cent of parents “always” supervise their children’s online activities.

The figures vary somewhat when it comes to oversight of specifics like online shopping (47 per cent), video communication (33 per cent), writing emails (30 per cent), and the use of social media (24 per cent). But the range of responses on ways used to monitor or restrict activity suggests uncertainties about what really works.

Technology has reshaped how our children grow up and has rewritten the rules of parenthood
Chee Choon Hong, director of consumer business, Symantec Asia-Pacific

For instance, some parents only allow access to certain content or websites, or they check their child’s browser history. Others review or approve all apps before downloading, set controls through the home router, or require computer use to take place in common areas of the home.

There is something to be said for all these steps. But, as Chee points out, the best approach is to have a clear, comprehensive set of rules for the family’s online safety. It pays to be proactive not reactive. And it’s important to adapt or update those in-house guidelines whenever necessary.

In that way, parents have no need to feel ill-equipped or that they are entering “uncharted waters”.

A good starting point is to install security software which prevents children from clicking on the wrong links or visiting out-of-bounds websites.

It also makes sense to talk about online etiquette, safe internet habits, and the realities of cyberbullying. Children may feel embarrassed, afraid or hesitant to speak about such issues, so parents should encourage them to ask for help if something looks suspicious. Maintaining an open dialogue can make all the difference.

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As part of this, children should be made aware of “stranger danger” online. The basic rule is not to give personal information to anyone you have not met in real life. And if information is shared on social media sites, then it is essential to check privacy settings to make sure nothing can be viewed by the public.

More generally, it’s also important to explain the need for special caution before downloading any app or clicking on suspicious URLs or social network messages. The mobile marketplace is full of hidden dangers and dodgy products. And phishing tactics, which usually involve sending spam email with unsuspected links or attachments, can carry all sorts of hidden malware.

“Technology has reshaped how our children grow up and has rewritten the rules of parenthood,” Chee says.