The start of the new school year marks an exciting phase for kids but could also signal the first step into a minefield of online risks.
Doros Hadjizenonos, Regional Director at cybersecurity specialists Fortinet, warns that young children, tweens, and teens face growing threats from online predators, scammers, fraudsters, and bullies. With the increasing prevalence of smartphones among kids, navigating the online world becomes riskier, especially in the context of a new school environment.
One major risk, according to Hadjizenonos, is the information voluntarily shared by kids online. Many children may not fully comprehend how the photos, videos, and personal details they share can be weaponized against them. Instances have been reported where fraudsters pose as online friends, manipulate young people into sharing inappropriate photos, and then use these images to extort money. The consequences can be severe. Beyond immediate risks, everything shared online contributes to a lasting digital footprint, scrutinized by universities and future employers.
Social and gaming sites introduce a range of risks for kids, including cyberbullying and phishing. UNESCO reports that one in ten children experiences cyberbullying, impacting mental health, well-being, and education. Online harassment affects nearly half of American teens, often based on appearance, race, or ethnicity. Hadjizenonos highlights risks of fraud and predatory behavior, particularly phishing and online shopping scams targeting teens in gaming environments.
Creating a safer online environment for kids starts with open communication, says Hadjizenonos. Kids need a trusted adult to double-check communications and links, offering support if they encounter trouble or regrettable situations. Parents should update software, secure Wi-Fi, and use parental controls on devices.
Emphasizing the importance of strong, unique passwords helps mitigate identity theft risks. Parents can control social media pages and implement device usage contracts for added security.