Digital parenting: 5 ways to protect kids from internet risks

Niki Payuyo
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April 8, 2021

My twin girls, Sam and Rey, have learned to entertain themselves during the lockdown as they grow more and more curious about the internet. They hit pause, play, and skip ads on YouTube. They know how to pick their own lullabies on Spotify. They have discovered the simple joys of scrolling through Lazada and Shopee to look for toys they might like. Did I mention they're three years old?

I watch them in awe as they skilfully hold a smartphone or an iPad in their hands like it was a natural substitute to a Barney stuffed toy. They navigate the apps with ease like their brains were simply wired to... understand. It amazes me as much as it makes me concerned as a parent. I know that teaching them about internet safety is just as important now as teaching them not to jump and play on the bed lest they fall and hurt themselves.

The Web is arguably one of man's greatest inventions, but it has also proved to be a dangerous place for those who can't tell the difference between what's safe online and what's not. With browsing the Web becoming second nature to children, it's never too early to teach three-year-olds how to use the internet.

On February 9, the Philippines joined the international community in celebrating Safer Internet Day. A 2004 initiative of the EU Safeborders Project, Safer Internet Day is recognized in 170 countries. For 2021, the campaign's official slogan is “Together for a better internet.”

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DWSD) and other member-agencies of the Inter-Agency Council Against Child Pornography (ICACP) spearheaded activities to increase awareness on internet safety and address issues on online sexual abuse of children.

Interestingly, I have never come across this global initiative in my three years of working as a news producer. Is it a case of the media giving little attention to it or government and the private sector failing to promote it as they should? After joining PayMongo, the need to be more proactive about online safety became more apparent to me when I learned how fintech companies often deal with a buffet of cyber risks. It eventually made me realize that everyone who spends time online should be informed about the perils on the Web and how children are especially vulnerable to such dangers.

Without a doubt, parents play a great role as catalysts in shaping a safer digital space for the younger generation. But to be able to do that, we must also know what to do as the first line of defense. Here are five practical things we can do to help protect our kids:

1. Secure your family's private information online.

The pandemic has forever changed the way we shop, as more and more people embrace online shopping and the convenience it offers. This shift in consumer behavior is more evident among adults, though it's also something I've seen firsthand with my daughters. Here's how we do it: We open the online shopping app together, then I search for a toy or a product we have in mind. From there, I let Sam and Rey pick items they like. Next, I do a quick background check on the seller, click add to cart, and proceed to checkout. This gives me full control of the purchases my twins make.

We hear this all the time and I am saying it again: to prevent others from stealing your financial details, create a strong password and visit your privacy settings from time to time. Others also take advantage of password managers or a secure file sharing system.

And yes, keep your passwords safe from your children. Absurd as it may sound, make sure they're not looking over your shoulder when you key in your password. If we have trouble memorizing our passwords, our children sure don't. Knowing a password will unlock endless possibilities for these curious little ones.

2. Get involved.

More than monitoring and exercising parental controls, it helps a great deal if parents take the time to explain to children the difference between good and bad online content. Having age-appropriate conversations over kids' online activities paves the way to safely integrating the digital age in their lives.

There were a few instances when my children would chance upon inappropriate content while browsing through Netflix or other streaming services. Since kids absorb these scenes like sponges and tend to imitate what they see, their Dad and I make it a point to sit down with them and explain why a particular scene or image is "bad."

Monique, one of my colleagues at PayMongo and a first time parent, shares how at 8 months, her daughter has quickly picked up her work habits and behavior.

"I was so surprised to see her one day grab my phone and move her fingers up and down on the screen as if she was scrolling through something. She’s also started to mimic me when I’m typing on my laptop and sometimes even inserts herself in my video calls," Monique tells me, adding:

"I understand that having an online presence is natural for younger generations. As much as I would like to limit my daughter’s screen time and exposure to the internet, especially social media, I know that it is also inevitable. The best that I can do is show her how to use the internet safely and responsibly even as early as now. The internet is so much more than just a place for kids to watch funny videos or post photos. As a parent, my goal is for her to see the internet as a tool she can use to acquire knowledge, that by using this she has access to information and resources for anything she wants to learn and master."

3. Teach kids to be smart about strangers on the Web.

"Don't talk to strangers" is something we have all been told as a child when making face-to-face interactions. However, when it comes to online safety, this age-old blanket advice just won't cut it, especially now that we've reached a point where anything can be done virtually.

Today's youth are bound to meet a lot of people online through virtual classrooms, online games, and social media. Speaking from experience as a millennial who grew up with the internet, I believe a more effective approach would be teaching children how to spot warning signs.

Another thing I intend to teach Sam and Rey is to trust their instincts: If something doesn't feel right or someone makes them feel uncomfortable online, it would be best to walk away.

4. Use online safety tools.

If you are a working parent juggling home and work life, there may be instances when you won't be able to monitor your child's media use. Installing parental control software and antivirus software can help you manage your child's internet access and set restrictions while you are not around.

5. Think before you click.

One time, my daughters inadvertently clicked on something that resembled a play button beside a video they wanted to watch. All it took for them was just a few innocent clicks until a pop-up ad for an adult game appeared. I got rid of it right away before they got a good look at it, but what if I had not been around?

That weird off-looking play button is not as harmless as it looks. I was still in college when I first encountered these fake buttons that say "OK" or "Download." I later learned that hackers use it to trick users into clicking the fake button, which serves as a vehicle for them to steal personal information or directs you to an infected website.

There will come a time when I won't be able to supervise my kids' online activities. So I have come to terms with the reality that it is practically impossible to shield children from dangerous content not obvious to them. As a parent, it has become my goal to guide, empower, and arm my daughters with sufficient knowledge on how to safely navigate the internet for them to have a positive online experience. 🌱

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