Cybersmarts: a parent’s guide

ME PoV Summer 2020 issue

The Internet has created a world within our world, building a cyberpathway that parents may sometimes find difficult to navigate. But it doesn’t have to be complicated say these authors. Most often what works in the real world works in cyberspace. Here’s how parents, like their kids, can have cybersmarts.

The constant launch of new apps and social media sites leave children exposed to new experiences on a regular basis. According to Homeland Security, if a child sleeps eight hours a night, then half the time they are awake is spent online that makes for eight of their 16 waking hours online. While there is no denying that the cybersphere can be a tool for information, learning, and connection, parents cannot deny the potential for harm it can present. As parents, it is our job to give children the right tools and knowledge to navigate cyberspace safely. 

As a starting point, parents should understand the various types of cybercrime that can exist and the various ways in which cybercriminals may try to defraud their children.

Crimes that happen in real life, such as stealing and bullying, also happen on the Internet. Just like you have to look both ways before crossing the street, you have to be careful when crossing the Internet pathway.

Some common online issues younger generations face include:

  • Cyberpredators (people on the Internet searching for victims to cause them harm in any sort or form).
  • Cyberbullying (threatening or spreading rumors about someone mostly using social media platforms).
  • Identity theft (using another’s online identity for cyberspace activity).

As an example, in 2018 a suspect tried to lure a boy with money and expensive gifts but failed when the boy informed his father who advised him to report the case through Dubai Police’s e-crime platform.

While some parents may try to vilify or limit using the Internet as a means of keeping their children safe, that is not necessarily the way to go. There are measures parents can take once they build awareness and educate themselves about the ways of cyberspace.

Connectivity is here to stay, don’t fight it! Control it in your family’s best interests. Younger generations are now growing up in a connected world and enjoying the benefits of being a part of a cyber world. Considering the risks involved, it is important to educate them about cybercrimes and what they should do to protect themselves from the dangers of the Internet while online. 

It is important to avoid scaring children away from using the Internet—it is a valuable resource that they can learn how to best use over time. Instead, talk to them and create an environment of trust to have an open and honest discussion about anything they face online that seems to be inappropriate or suspicious. Below are some guidelines that may prove helpful.

  • Educate children not to talk to strangers. Similar to how we educate our children to behave offline, so the same education applies online. We have to make them aware not to communicate with strangers online and never agree to meet in person if we don’t know who they are meeting with.
  • Never send personal pictures to strangers. Always know who the person is before sharing any personal pictures or information.
  • Never meet in person with anyone whom you met on a social networking site because some of the people may not be who they say they are. Instead, they should be informed to tell a parent, teacher, or an adult they trust if a stranger contacts them on a chat, through email, or via text messaging.
  • Assume that anything that gets posted on a social media site will remain on the Internet forever. A lot of children don’t know this and may unintentionally make posts that they later won't want to make public. Talk to your kids about what is appropriate to share and not share. This is extremely important in protecting their identity, reputation, and future.
  • Give your children the confidence to stand up to cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is one of the biggest risks out there for kids. Teach them to never send or respond to mean or insulting messages. If they become a victim of cyberbullying, or hear others talking about sending or receiving hurtful messages, they should report this behavior to an adult.

If something happens online that makes them feel uncomfortable or scared, they should talk to an adult about the situation immediately.

  • Teach them to be respectful online. Educate your children to treat people like you want to be treated. Avoid using bad words or irrespectful behavior when chatting online.
  • Think before you click. Don’t open emails from strangers and don’t click on links for unfamiliar sites.
  • Look both ways before crossing the street. Make them aware when entering contests, joining clubs, or sharing personal information without checking with an adult they trust, that name, address, password, age, phone number, birthday, email address, school address, and other facts about them are personal and shouldn’t be shared without checking first.
  • Educate them about the criticality of passwords and to never share them with anyone. No matter who asks for their password whether it is an online form, or people they are chatting with. No one should know their passwords except their parents.
  • Teach them how to create strong passwords. A strong password is hard to guess and easy to remember. Using complex phrases should be the norm and simple passwords should be completely avoided.
  • If an offer received seems too good to be true, it probably is. How many of you have ever received an email offering something free, like a cell phone or concert tickets? These are designed to get you to give up personal information or click on links to automatically install malware or spyware (this is what we call phishing). Make sure they don’t fall for that trap. 
  • Keep their mobile phones locked. Always lock their devices when not in use. Use strong passwords, multi-factor or any other form of strong authentication mechanism.
  • Teach them to be aware of the copyrights and terms and conditions. Our cyberculture needs to change, and we should educate our children to read the copyright and the terms and conditions before using any online content or applications, as that will allow them to understand how the application is using their information and they will also learn how to respect the rights of the author and ask for permission before reusing.

Like in all aspects of life, education starts at home. It is our responsibility to produce a generation that is cyber-aware and cyber-responsible, because the world of cyber has started and will inevitably take over the old-fashioned life as we have come to know it. Remember that cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility.


by Tamer Charife, Partner, and Mohamed El Nems, Manager, Risk Advisory, Deloitte Middle East

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