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COMMITMENT| 21.12.2021

How to encourage cybersecurity awareness in children

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As true digital natives, children are constantly exposed to cyber threats that they must learn to avoid in order to have a safe, uplifting virtual experience.

On UNICEF’s website, the Committee on the Rights of the Child points out that “the digital world can include information that is biased, contains gender stereotypes, is discriminatory, racist, violent, pornographic, or exploitative and uses hate speech, as well as false narratives, erroneous information and misinformation, distorting children’s right to information from the source and compromising further rights, such as their right to protection, privacy, and non-discrimination.”

They warn us that, despite providing great opportunities to access all kinds of information or create your own content, cyberspace or the Internet (whatever you want to call it), exposes both children and adults to multiple dangers.


Online dangers

At this point, talking about the multiple threats hidden online almost seems like stating the obvious, given that people have been alerting us about these risks for a couple of decades now. Despite it all, the authorities and specialized organizations are still fighting to raise people’s awareness of the issue, because unfortunately, cyberattacks continue to grow in number and their complexity is evolving as fast as technology in general. In other words, when we celebrate technological progress, cybercriminals are also rejoicing, because they have new ways to create threats.

Along with the usual dangers, there are certain threats that affect children in particular: Cyberbullying (which can lead to humiliation, aggression, insults and blackmail over social networks), grooming (actions carried out by an adult to befriend a minor and obtain photos or videos with sexual content, and that may even lead to sexual abuse) … In fact, according to Educación 3.0, the Violencia Viral (Viral Violence) report by Save the Children states that in 2019, the types of violence most frequently suffered by children were exposure to content of a sexual and/or violent nature without consent, cyberbullying and the aforementioned online grooming.


A topic everyone must learn about

To raise awareness of the issue, it is clear that education must involve not only children but also adults, who need to adapt to this new reality as well. One of the main problems is that sometimes everyone learns at the same time. In other words, since they are facing certain cyber threats for the first time, parents and teachers lack the experience they would normally have to share with children in other areas of life.

For example, any responsible adult can warn children about potential dangers they may find in the street. However, many of them do not know how to educate or advise them when they move through cyberspace. And the reason is simply a lack of knowledge.

This creates a more complex scenario when it comes to improving children’s education in cybersecurity. So, what can be done?


How can children be protected from online threats?

Despite this situation, adults need to provide children with the right tools to face the dangers lurking on the Internet. At the same time, they must protect them to the best of their ability. Keep in mind that threats are not limited to what children see on a screen, they actually reach the real world. Needless to say, there are cases of pedophilia or physical abuse.

Thus, the main restrictive measures that can be taken, especially by parents, are as follows:

  • Blocking websites.
  • Restricting browser permissions.
  • Monitoring social network use.
  • Limiting time spent online.

As can be expected, as children get older some of these measures are no longer valid or sufficient, so it is best to provide them with tools that allow them to detect any threats.

“Blocking and restricting some features of the Internet, as is frequently done, is an effective measure to protect your kids from some dangers, but it won’t help them in the medium and long term. So, if parents really want their children to enjoy the virtual world safely, the solution is to teach them how to keep themselves safe, since this will encourage them to have good habits when browsing the Internet, avoid cyber risks, etc. We live in an increasingly digitalized world, so educating kids about cybersecurity is a sure way to keep them safe online, and also open new doors for their future career.” With these words, Mario García, general manager of the company Check Point for Spain and Portugal, confirms the importance of learning about cybersecurity, or rather, cyber threats.

In addition, it is not only about teaching children to avoid pornographic or fraudulent sites. “Children are virtually born with a smartphone or tablet in their hand. They are digital natives, and from an early age they use electronic devices to view media content and play games online. These activities are seemingly harmless, but they have associated risks, such as the consumption of content that is inappropriate for their age, excessive use, or inappropriate contact with others online, so it’s important for them to gain an understanding of and a suitable education in cybersecurity from an early age,” according to Incibe, Spain’s National Institute of Cybersecurity.


How to encourage cybersecurity awareness

The first step is to support your child in the learning and awareness process and, if necessary, to learn about it yourself at the same time. There are multiple tools to help with this task, from games to videos that explain the dangers lurking in the “dark corners” of the Internet.

However, this is an almost daily job, just like avoiding threats in the “real world.” Remember that for children, life online (games, social networks, content portals, etc.) is an important part of their daily recreation (and even study), so we must stop distinguishing between some dangers and others. Ultimately, they all pose a threat to their safety.

Regarding ways to encourage children’s awareness, experts usually agree on the following recommendations:

  • Share online activities in their early years. That way, safety-related issues can be introduced gradually.
  • Guide them on responsible Internet use. Adults must continuously guide children online as they discover an immense world of networks that they can explore with just a click.
  • Show them the dangers by providing practical examples so they are ready to detect them. Not only is it necessary to explain what can happen, but we must also illustrate the consequences with real cases to help raise their awareness.
  • Know which apps they are using. Cellphone or “tablet time” shouldn’t be a time when “anything goes.” Rather, it’s important to know which apps they download and what they contain. That way, you can explain whether or not they are appropriate to use.
  • Social networks entail continuous exposure, putting privacy at risk, and this can put children in danger. Therefore, it is necessary to stress the need to protect one’s private space by showing your child that it may not only be a danger to themselves, but to all family members or friends who appear in posts. Just as you wouldn’t invite just anyone into a room, they shouldn’t be able to access private profiles, either.
  • Teach them about cooperation and trust. Once your child begins to know what they should and shouldn’t do, it’s time to build trust. That way, they can start to cooperate and warn you of possible intrusions, threats or abuse that they and their environment may be facing.

A young person’s personality is still being shaped during their teenage years and can be altered by the misuse of new technologies. For this reason, some time ago Fundación MAPFRE launched its “Control Your Network” campaign, which remains active, to raise the awareness of parents, educators and young people about the potential consequences of overusing new technologies and to promote responsible use.

“Control Your Network” is a program that works with children from 11 to 16 years old in Spain, Malta and several Latin American countries. Workshops, manuals and educational material for families and teachers have been developed in collaboration with the Spanish National Police, a leader in this field, to comprehensively guarantee children’s safety in the educational environment.

The objectives of this program (in spanish) are as follows:

  • Raise the population’s awareness of the need to cultivate healthy digital habits.
  • Provide children with knowledge that allows them to differentiate between use and abuse.
  • Inform families about inappropriate behaviors and solutions to them, so that children and teenagers see their parents as someone they can talk to if any problem arises.
  • Provide education professionals with materials to work on these concepts in the classroom and identify signs of inappropriate use of new technologies among their students.

Unfortunately, bullying through electronic devices is an increasingly common crime. What once remained in the schoolyard (but was no less important) now extends beyond it, making it even more challenging for parents and educators to detect bullying. Innovation and the inclusion of coverage external to the insurance industry is becoming more common in policies. MAPFRE took a further step a few years ago by adding digital protection coverage to its home insurance policies (including the issuance of a certificate of veracity for cases of digital violence to children, which serves as documentary evidence when a complaint is lodged).