Top tips for online safety for families across the ages

Parenting has changed. There is no doubt that in the digital age there are now more opportunities to create experiences that were previously impossible. However, at the same time, there is even greater and more complex risks and threats that were non-existent half a decade ago, says Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO at ESET Southern Africa.

For many parents, getting used to this is not easy and one of the trickiest aspects is figuring out what to do with online safety as the years go by. What is appropriate for a toddler is not exactly relevant for a six-year old.

In this article, we look at how you can focus your security over the years.

Age group: Under 5s

This is a tough age as children are so young. Many parents may even feel that online security is not applicable to them. However, what happens doing these formative years can have a huge impact on your kids for the rest of their lives.

Furthermore, with technology being introduced from such a young age – sometimes as young as three – it is essential you are ‘on top of your game’ to keep your children safe and secure.

  • You need to ensure that your devices are password protected so that children can’t accidentally go online when you are out of sight.
  • This is as good a time as any to invest in parental control software – this powerful technology is a real asset when it comes to safety.
  • Start talking about online safety and set boundaries. For example, stress the importance of not talking to strangers online and set limits to device usage.

Age group: 5-9

Between the ages of five and nine, there is a decided shift in the way parents and children view technology.

  • Continue with the previous tips, adjusting, for example, some of the settings on your parental control app.
  • Ensure that your children are accessing age-appropriate content (films, video games and, nowadays, apps).
  • If your children have their own devices, ensure that there are limits to what can be done/accessed.

Age group 9-12

This age group is where children begin to develop their tech skills, as well as gain a better understanding of technology and the internet – they know shortcuts, have favourite websites and are even active on social media.

It is also the age where children will start to really ask questions and query things and where there is a desire to take ownership and responsibility over their devices and what they view online.

  • Reinforce why you limit usage and why you have restrictions in place – it is not about control, but about safety and what you deem appropriate for their age.
  • Shift the focus of your conversation with your children to topics such as privacy and cybercrime. Your kids are among the most vulnerable groups online.
  • Reiterate the importance of security – from passphrases to two-factor authentication and encryption, there is plenty of ways to stay protected.

Age group 13-16

The teenage years are about give and take – as hard as it is to accept, your baby boy or girl is now a mature youngster, capable of looking after themselves and keen to be more independent.

Equally, on the flip side, they’re still young, dependent on you for many things and in need of constant guidance, as well as age-appropriate boundaries.

What is essential is that there is trust – on both sides. This way, you as a parent, can feel confident about letting your kids get on with their lives, while not having to look over their shoulder constantly.

  • Again, your ongoing conversation with your kids will need to change and take on more adult topics – things to bring up at this age are cyberbullying, sexting and the threat of online predators.
  • As you may have done with other things – like buying clothes and spending money on leisurely activities – let them take control of things like app, music or film purchases (setting limits of course).
  • Point out that certain activities, which they may consider harmless, are in fact illegal – something that parents themselves need a better understanding of.


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