Image Credit: Supplied

Sooner or later parents inevitably face the question of buying their kids their own electronic device. According to Kaspersky’s research, 61 per cent of kids get their first device between the ages of 8 and 12, and, surprisingly, in 11 per cent of cases, they are given their own mobile phone or tablet before they turn five. It is essential for parents to learn the guidelines for introducing a device into their kid’s life for the first time, as early as possible.

Together with clinical psychologist Dr Saliha Afridi, Kaspersky offers cybersecurity and psychological insights that parents should be aware of before giving their kids their first tech gadget.

“Once a gadget is introduced, your family's life will inevitably undergo a transformation, as your kid will be drawn into the realm of the internet,” explains Dr Afridi.

Clinical psychologist Dr Saliha Afridi

“Rather than forbidding it, it is advisable to guide your kid on proper online behaviour. Learning, however, is a gradual process that does not guarantee perfection from the start. Mistakes will naturally occur, such as your kid accidentally downloading malware or engaging with suspicious individuals or struggling with screen time management. Nonetheless, your role as a parent is to provide support and aid in their learning process. Only this way can you help your kid to be safe online.”

Here are some questions to help parents navigate the early stages of kids' ownership of electronic devices.

What should you do before giving a tech gadget to your kid?

Set up a Child Account before giving your kids their first gadget. Whether it's a phone or a tablet, it’s crucial to ensure the safety of the gadget. Even if it is a brand-new gift, prioritise setting up this feature.

A Child Account acts as a safeguard for the device, preventing downloads of mature games or songs with explicit content. For detailed guidance on creating a kid’s account on Android or iPhone, refer to Kaspersky’s comprehensive guide.

Install all the basic applications that support communication and learning—like messenger apps to stay connected with you or map applications. Don’t forget to set up privacy and confidentiality settings in each of the installed applications so that the kid, for example, isn’t discoverable via their phone number by unknown individuals. Tools like Privacy Checker can assist you in tailoring the optimal protection settings for various devices and platforms.

Remember to install a digital parenting app as well. This will empower you to curate content, monitor the duration your kid spends on specific apps (and even set limits if needed), and track their current location.

Activate the feature that blocks calls from unrecognised numbers adding an extra layer of security to prevent unwarranted calls and safeguard your kid from potential risks.

How do you introduce a new device into your kid’s life properly?

Walk your kid through the device’s functionalities as well as the potential dangers when gifting them a new gadget. This is an opportune moment to explore its features and understand its potential pitfalls. There are classes at the Google Store or the Apple Store that families can take to learn the ins and outs of the device.

Craft a set of family rules and a usage contract together. In this conversation, it’s important to foster an understanding and consensus about the responsibilities and expectations tied to device ownership. To ensure a healthy balance, establish tech-free zones and times, perhaps during dinner or the hours leading up to bedtime. Designate moments for non-tech hobbies like reading, outdoor games, or puzzles, which can act as beneficial counterparts to screen time.

This collaborative approach not only instils a sense of duty but also guarantees that kids grasp and respect the set boundaries. Periodically revisiting and refining these rules as your kid grows and technology advances is key.

And remember – unless a kid shows a healthy level of engagement with real-life activities and in-person socialising, do not introduce a smartphone or social media. One way they can earn a device is by showing that they are capable of doing the non-negotiables regularly and consistently. It includes sleep, exercise, homework, socialising, eating healthy, and wakeful resting periods.

What are effective strategies for establishing open communication with your kid regarding the use of their device and online safety?

Encourage open communication from the outset. Engage your kid in conversations about their online experiences, ensuring they feel safe to share both the good and the bad experiences. You can ask questions like:

• Have you come across anything confusing or something you didn't understand while online?

• Do you ever chat or play games with people you haven't met in person? What's that like?

• Are there any new apps or websites that you've discovered and enjoy using? Can you show me?

Stay up to date with the latest digital trends and threats as well as high-profile cyberbullying or data breaches. Share this information with your kid in a way they'd understand. For example, if you learn about a new online challenge or trend, ask your kid’s opinion on it and use it as a teachable moment. You can learn latest cybersecurity news via reliable cybersecurity vendors’ blogs.

Talk about the permanence of online actions. This includes how things shared online stay there indefinitely and can affect their reputation and future opportunities. They should be especially careful about information they share about themselves. For example, kids should never give out their address, geolocation or login credentials and password in a chat window. Additionally, they should avoid using user IDs that consist of their real names, as these can be potential clues for attackers to discover their other social media accounts. Help them understand the concept of privacy and the potential risks of sharing too much information.

Teach your kid that accepting friend requests from unfamiliar individuals in real life should be avoided. It is crucial to explain that if someone they do not know is persistently trying to learn personal information about them or their parents, it is a cause for concern. Your kid should not feel they are being rude or impolite if they do not respond to a request for friendship. In social networks, just like in life, there should be privacy.

By having such conversations and educating them about online risks in a non-confrontational manner, you raise your kids to being more likely to approach you when they encounter something questionable. You should make sure they maintain a stance of curiosity and not judgment or fear. Your reactions will determine how open they feel about sharing in the future.

Digital parenting apps serve as valuable tools, enabling parents to monitor your kid’s online searches and activity, ensuring a safer online experience for them.

What are the main potential risks you should tell your kid about?

In our digital age, kids are vulnerable to cybercriminals, often because they're unfamiliar with essential cybersecurity principles and common scam tactics. It's our duty as guardians to educate them on these matters before they inadvertently fall prey to them.

For instance, guide your kid in identifying deceptive commercials, bogus survey requests, counterfeit lotteries, and other schemes that can jeopardise their personal data. Help them grasp the reality that, while it might be tempting to download a Barbie movie ahead of its official release, offers like these could be ploys by cybercriminals aiming to pilfer data or even siphon money from their parents' cards. Modern reliable security solutions can detect and block any phishing websites or any malicious software.

Instil the habit of being critical and cautious when online in your kid. Teach them pause before engaging with dubious links, unfamiliar email attachments or messages from unknown entities. Discuss the appropriate permissions apps should have on their devices. For example, there's no valid reason for a Calculator app to request geolocation access.

Make conversations about cybersecurity more enjoyable and interesting by discussing the topic with your kid through games and other entertaining formats. Most importantly, instil confidence in them to approach a trusted adult when faced with unsettling or suspicious situations online.

Seifallah Jedidi, Head of Consumer Channel at Kaspersky

“Parents need to realise that, if used correctly, a gadget can really help the family,” says Seifallah Jedidi, Head of Consumer Channel at Kaspersky. “These devices can be instrumental in helping kids learn and grow. However, this can only happen if the kid knows when and how to alert parents about any online threats they come across. Whether they are receiving strange messages from adults, encountering threats, requests for personal information, or stumbling upon phishing sites, it is crucial for the kid to be aware and communicate these incidents to their parents.”