Kids go unprotected online

Millions of children could be exposed to a range of online threats at an increasingly young age, according to internet security company ESET

Over the last year, 77% of parents bought their children an internet-enabled device. Despite this, over 50% of parents failed to consider buying (or are unsure if they bought) anti-virus to protect it.

“The internet is a brilliant playground for children,” said Mark James, technical director of ESET UK.

“It allows them to engage, explore and learn – all undoubtedly positive things; however without the right guidance from parents, children can find themselves in dangerous situations that they’re unable to deal with alone.

“The average age at which parents now feel it’s suitable for children to use the internet unsupervised is just 10-and-a-half years old. At such a young age, it’s easy to be confused by online scammers and tricksters, which makes the need for protection all the greater.”

Parental controls available within anti-virus software, online or the device are only used by 45% of parents to block unsuitable material. This is despite a further quarter also being fully aware that parental controls are a key feature of the anti-virus software they’ve purchased. Similarly, a third of parents fail to make use of filters and schemes provided by their Internet Service Provider (ISP).

The study, which polled some 1,000 adults with kids aged between 5-18, also shows that many parents may be feeling alienated by the rapid pace of change in the online landscape.

A third confessed to feeling ill-equipped to educate their children about staying safe online, with a quarter going so far as to say that they never talk to their children about the importance of being cyber-safe.

A third also suggested that their children have better knowledge of internet safety than they do, with a half unsure of or in the belief that their children hide aspects of their internet activity from them. 

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With so many parents feeling incapable of teaching their children about security, the issue of responsibility is ever-important. Almost half (45%) of parents would prefer this to come under schools’ responsibility, while 51% want to see more support from the Government in having these conversations. 

Changing attitudes are also apparent, with parents of older children (16-18 years old) believing that 13-and-a-half years old is a suitable age to use the internet unsupervised, compared with an age of nine for parents with children aged between five and seven.

Mark James continued: “Naturally, talking to strangers online, instant access to adult material and cyber-bullying are all top of mind when parents worry about their children’s online activities.  

“In addition, it’s also important for parents to feel empowered to teach their children about online threats such as viruses and malware. Accidentally clicking on the wrong link or downloading dodgy software could spell disaster, as devices become infected and online scammers potentially gain access to your most private possession – your family’s data. Further steps from the Government in advising parents on how to tackle their burning questions on the topic would be welcomed by many.”

UK Safer Internet Centre director, David Wright, said: “Children are spending more time online than ever before, whether this be for education, gaming or socialising with their friends. With this however, we’re also seeing a diversification in the dangers they face. As such, parents and carers ought to feel comfortable with the technology their children are using. Informed parental guidance and best practise are critical in teaching children life lessons in navigating the Internet safely until it’s second nature.” 

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