Vivian Susko

Digital parenting in the smart home era: 2021 Minim outlook

COVID-19 has left a massive digital footprint, transforming the way people communicate and connect with one another; screen time increased by an average of two hours per day in adolescents and young adults around the world, with reports of higher stress levels and decreased physical activity to boot. While technology allows the younger generation to stay connected, it also leaves them more susceptible to cyberbullying and malicious targeted attacks, all of which can go undetected by parents due to the growing number of devices in the smart home. 

Digital parenting in the smart home era

Although “stranger danger” is primarily associated with real-world situations, it also pertains to the world wide web. It is important for parents to teach their kids how to avoid these situations and secure the household with parental controls. Here’s why. 

Identify theft is on the rise – and kids are primary targets 

Over $370 million has been stolen via scams and frauds since January 2020. Could this have something to do with the fact that a majority of children have moved to remote learning? Well, considering that kids are 51 times more likely to be a victim of identity theft than adults, we say yes. To prevent identity theft, parents should take the following steps:  

  1. Have a conversation about keeping sensitive information – like credit card numbers and addresses away from social media sites and direct messages.  
  2. Keep all passwords updated, complex, and never recycled across platforms. A password manager is a convenient tool for keeping all your credentials securely locked away 
  3. Add a network screening tool for comprehensive whole-home security. Apps like Minim send alerts in real-time when malicious activity is detected via advanced, AI-driven technology.  

Is cyberbullying really that bad? Yes, yes, and yes.  

With online comment sections replacing school hallways, it’s no surprise cyberbullying has increased over the past twelve months, but the toxicity of social media would stun you. A recent study found a 70% increase in hate speech exchanged between kids and teens during online chats What gives?!  

Basically, the isolation and technology-dependent atmosphere of quarantine was the perfect breeding ground for an army of keyboard warriors. Most kids don’t realize that what they say online can be linked back to them, and the tense state of the world has resulted in pervasive, harmful language emerging out from behind screens. The ability to remain anonymous online has only added to what’s known as the "disinhibition effect," or the tendency to behave much differently on the web without fear of repercussions. For more information on this and other behavioral shifts, we recommend the The Cyber Effect by Dr Mary Aiken as a helpful resource.  

This rise in cyberbullying begs an important question of all parents: do you really know what your kids are saying online? Not just on their main accounts, but in the messages of their favorite chat sites or anonymous games? Parental controls can increase the confidence of that answer.  

Digital parenting in the smart home era

 

Smartphone addiction (it’s real!  

Being in school typically limits cellphone use; kids are surrounded by their friends and most connection happens face-to-face. For students who transitioned to online learning last year, however, smartphones have not only become a handy study partner, but also a lifeline to the outside world. Unfortunately, this dependency has created some major consequences for overall well-being 

And it’s not just children we need to be looking out for; 87% of smartphone users check their device within an hour of going to sleep or waking up. The stress of being constantly plugged in can have harmful effects on mental health, so establishing some reasonable boundaries on screen time can be beneficial for every member of the family.  

Internet access can be paused at dinner time, family game night, or at a certain time before bed. More advanced parental controls will allow parents to create device profiles for each user, enabling them to pick and choose which gadgets are online at which times. If the kids are having trouble focusing on their homework, for example, parents can pause those devices without interrupting their partner’s Zoom call upstairs.  

Blocking adult content: age-appropriate web surfing

With children becoming more "tech-savvy" at a younger age, it's important to protect them from pop-up ads and inappropriate content. 70% of children ages 7-18 years old have reported accidentally encountering inappropriate content online while surfing the web or even doing their homework. Even more concerning, this is rarely brought to a parent’s attention.  

The ability to pre-set content filters and enable ad blocking is an effective way to effortlessly filter what kids are consuming. Since malware can easily originate from adult sites, blocking connection to these pages will keep your network clean in every sense of the word -- scrubbed free of network infiltrations and R-rated content.  

Cybersecurity threats are on the rise amid lockdown 

As if there wasn’t enough for parents to worry about already, network hacking and system infiltrations are at an all-time high post-pandemic, especially on popular social media sites like Spotify and Tik Tok.  Even widely dependable servers like Microsoft Exchange have fallen victim to infiltrations responsible for exposing as many as 82,000 internet-facing servers. And it’s not just your main computers you have to worry about, it’s the growing number of vulnerable devices in your smart home – webcams, speakers, smart TVs, etc. Remember the infamous Silver Sparrow attack on nearly 30,000 macOS devices worldwide? One wrong click from your child on their favorite streaming website could give a hacker access to their webcam, for example. It’s scary stuff.  

Basic parental controls do a great job filtering inappropriate content, but most weren't designed to screen for network infiltrations. We recommend finding a solution with additional IoT security features and tools for the smart home (like Minim!) to ensure a safe experience on every connected device.  

Digital parenting is not one-size-fits-all  

Five kids living in the same home can all have substantially different relationships with technology. To ensure parental control use is effective and long-lasting, it’s important to take those individual needs into consideration when setting up online boundaries.  
 
For Janell Burley Hofmann, author of iRules and renowned international speaker, this means avoiding a “set it and forget it” mentality. Parental controls are meant to be as adaptive and flexible as your parenting; when a child earns a new level of trust, for example, it’s important to revisit their online monitoring needs. Likewise, it’s critical not to punish one child for the other’s actions online. For more short and long-term strategies on creating digital normalcy in a time of crisis, the Family Online Safety Institute recently released a webinar, Digital parenting in a pandemic, that serves as a great resource 

Digital parenting with Minim: Parental controls for the remote era  

Minim is on a mission to simplify smart home network security and management, which means that up-to-date parental controls are a critical facet of our platform. The Minim mobile app features tools for addressing every emerging concern of this digital agesocial media bullying, internet addiction, content exposure, privacy concerns, cybersecurity threats, etc. For more information on digital parenting and child internet usage, check out our latest infographic.


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