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Today's Family Magazine

Study shows that 6 out of 10 children are exposed to cyber risks online

According to a recent study by cybersecurity company Surfshark, six out of ten children ages 8–12 are exposed to cyber risks online.  In addition, one in two children encounter cyberbullying, and close to one-third experiences other cyber threats such as phishing or hacking.  The study suggests that online safety education seems to play the most important role in children's ability to cope with cyber risks.  

“Through this study, we can see that the importance of educating children about cyber threats plays a massive role in them knowing how to deal with any problems that may arise online.  Every child is an individual.  They all seek different things from their online experience, and they all handle danger differently. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to discussing online safety with your children.  Instead, you must discover ways to converse with them and assist them in understanding what to do,” says Aleksandr Valentij, cybersecurity expert.

Cyber crime against children is surging.  According to the FBI Internet Crime Center Report (2015-2020), in 2020 the crime against children increased by 144% compared to 2019.

In comparison, from 2014 to 2019, the online crime rate was pretty steady, varying only by 5-9%.  Overall, from 2015 to 2020, the FBI got close to 10,000 online crime-against-children complaints, totaling more than $2 million in financial losses.

To put it in perspective, in the US only, around 12 million children were exposed to cyber risks, nine million were affected by cyberbullying, and six million experienced cyber threats in the past three years.

Cyber crime is not unique to the U.S.  Interestingly, the study showed that low and lower-middle-income countries have better online safety education, while high and high-upper-middle-income countries have lower levels of education.

High-income countries like Saudi Arabia and Uruguay have basically nonexistent online safety education, scoring 6.5 and 2 out of 100.  Thus, it does not surprise that children in Saudi Arabia and Uruguay are the least prepared to deal with online threats.

On the other hand, children in Asia-Pacific countries (India, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand) have the strongest online risk management skills.  India has 30% stronger online safety education programs than the global average, while Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand have even stronger online safety education programs than India.

How to talk with children about online safety

Overall, with few exceptions, such as in Japan and South Korea (high scores in online risk management but low in online safety education), online safety education seems to play an essential role in children's ability to cope with cyberbullying, phishing, and other cyber threats.

As the vulnerability of children's well-being online grows, cybersecurity expert Aleksandr Valentij shares six tips on how to talk about cybersecurity with your kids:

1.  Educate young children.  Use child-friendly educational sources like the Cyberocean interactive cartoons on to educate children to avoid sharing personal information, photos, and videos online.

2.  Discuss Internet safety.  Focus on empowering children, not scaring them when it comes to using the Internet.  Make sure your child knows what is safe to do online and what is not.

3.  Build trust.  Let your child know that they can approach you with any questions or concerns.  Create a trusting, respectful environment by encouraging children to tell a parent or trusted adult if they encounter a cyber threat.

4.  Use cybersecurity tools.  Use the right tools to help keep them safe (e.g., antivirus, VPN, content blocker, ad blocker, etc.).  Help your child to run regular scans together with firewalls and email filters to further decrease the risks, such as ransomware.

5.  Change passwords.  If the password for your child's email or gaming platform gets leaked, help your child change it immediately.  Even better to use password managers to generate new passwords and avoid using weak ones.

6.  Set up Internet rules.  Adjust privacy settings and use parental controls for online games, apps, social media sites, and other websites. Keep your computer in an open area and consider setting time limits on all devices.