The "new normal" brings new online risks for kids

In these difficult times, protecting your family’s health is a 24/7 commitment - and it’s not only their physical wellbeing you need to worry about. Their digital wellbeing is also under increasing threat, as interactions move online and new cyber-safety risks arise.

Here are a few of the latest trends experts are warning about.

Zoombombing

With schools closures all across the nation now, and education being delivered mainly online, our kids are being introduced to a host of new platforms. Teleconferencing service Zoom is among the popular ways of delivering classroom experiences to students remotely.

What could possibly go wrong, right? Um … no. 

One teacher recounted to website insidehighered.com that the very first day he used Zoom for remote learning. 

Straightaway, one of his students - using a fake screen name - accessed a Zoom feature that lets a user display an image in the background - in this case a pornographic video.

Zoombombing

“I didn’t notice it until a student on chat said something about it,” he said. "The chat window became incredibly active.

"Most of the comments were not on topic. They were vulgar, racist, misogynistic toilet humor. I would barely even call it humor."

An isolated incident? Sadly, no.

A spokesperson said Zoom was "deeply upset" about the attacks, and the company has published a blog post on creating settings to prevent Zoombombing. 

What parents can do:

  • Go to your child’s Zoom account 
  • Select "Settings" in the left sidebar menu.
  • Scroll down.
  • Toggle off "File Transfer" (it's "on" by default).
  • Keep scrolling down.
  • Under Screen Sharing, change it to "Host Only" (it's set to "All participants" by default).

Other options include disabling participants' video, muting participants, turning off file transfer and annotation options, or disabling private chat functions. 

COVID-19 scams and messages

Global pandemic or not, scammers have no scruples - and working remotely is their stock in trade. 

covid-19-scam text

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)’s Scamwatch has received multiple reports of COVID-19-themed scam texts. These messages appear to come from ‘GOV’ and they include a link to find out when to ‘get tested in your geographical area’ for COVID-19.

Clicking on that link can install malicious software on your device, designed to steal your banking details. 

How to protect yourself:

  • Don’t click on links in emails or messages, or open attachments, from people or organisations you don’t know.
  • Before you click a link, hover over that link to see the actual web address it will take you to (usually shown at the bottom of the browser window). If you don’t  recognise or trust the address, Google relevant key terms. This way you can find the article, video or webpage without directly clicking on the suspicious link.
  • If you're unsure, discuss the matter with a friend or family member, or check its legitimacy by contacting the relevant organisation (using contact details sourced from an official website).

If you’ve received one of these messages and you’ve clicked on the link, or you’re concerned your personal details have been compromised, contact your financial institution immediately.

And if  you’ve suffered financial loss from cybercrime, report it to ReportCyber at www.cyber.gov.au/report.  

Fake news and misinformation

The problem has become so acute that The Sydney Morning Herald recently dubbed it “the other viral problem.”

Unfounded claims, bogus remedies, made-up statistics, absurd conspiracy theories - they’ve all been spreading online with, well, viral speed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a perfect storm for the contagion, as more people work from home and experience isolation from their usual contacts.

morrison

In the words of PM Scott Morrison, "There's a lot of ridiculous stuff that's circulating on text messages and the internet about lockdowns, and sadly, even cases of wilful fraud and fraudulent preparation of documents — even recordings alleging to represent cabinet meetings and things of this nature. Don't believe it — it's rubbish."

What parents can do: 

  • Talk to kids about the risks - there’s plenty of fodder in the news about COVID-related misinformation to provide a jumping off point for an informed conversation.
  • Take the opportunity to talk about critical thinking skills and the importance of fact-checking, source-checking and questioning things we find online. 
  • Check out the fantastic resources provided by Office of the eSafety Commissioner to help you develop your children’s critical thinking skills.

Increased cyberbullying risks

School closures, social distancing measures and activity cancellations mean our kids are now being forced to stay online longer - and experts warn that an increase in online abuse and harassment won’t be far behind. 

“When smartphones and social media became ubiquitous for students, cyberbullying rates went up. This makes sense, of course, because there was now an almost limitless number of potential targets and aggressors,” notes professor Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the US-based Cyberbullying Research Centre.

“Well, during this unprecedented time when they’re all stuck at home, those same students will be using apps even more than they already do with them being forced to use online platforms for learning, regardless of their level of comfort or proficiency.

School closures, social distancing measures and activity cancellations mean our kids are now being forced to stay online longer - and experts warn that an increase in online abuse and harassment won’t be far behind. 

"Teachers are delivering education not just in learning management systems like Canvas, Blackboard, and Moodle, but even on Roblox, Twitch, and YouTube, among others.”   

The result? We can expect online aggression to escalate, along with self-preserving and self-defensive behaviours. 

The risks are especially acute for children who are not used to learning and interacting in online-only spaces. 

Even more worrying, many cyberbullying victims will suffer in silence. Research shows that many children are reluctant to confide in parents when they encounter abuse online. And while school staff can’t provide visual oversight or maintain casual between-class contact, at-risk kids are more likely than ever to slip through unnoticed. 

Racist/xenophobic cyberbullying is also expected to accelerate, especially where parents and politicians continue to refer to COVID-19 as a “foreign” or  “Chinese virus.”

What parents can do:

  • Be patient if your children start to get irritable and frustrated. They’re struggling to adapt to  this new reality just like you are - but they’re less adept at hiding their emotions or re-channeling them.
  • Allow and support the use of Skype, FaceTime and the like, and - with proper restrictions based on age, maturity, and family values - selected  livestreaming platforms. Research shows that connecting with peers is essential for kids’ health and wellbeing - especially in the midst of chaos and uncertainty.
  • Encourage physical activity, while observing recommended distancing rules. Experts agree that exercise is necessary at all ages to reduce anxiety and support cognitive growth.
  • Set clear screen-time boundaries and pply age-appropriate parental controls to manage social media, gaming and chat across all of your children's devices.

 

Parenting in the Age of Coronavirus presents lots of challenges - but plenty of opportunities too.

Family Zone is here to help, with advice from leading experts and strong, flexible parental controls.

Start your free trial today, and create a home where digital children thrive.

 

 

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Topics: Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, online safety, cyberbullying, scam, fake news, homeschooling, online learning, zoombombing

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