Staying safe on the internet: What single parents need to know
Being a single parent is hard. It is estimated there are currently 22 million children being raised by single parents in the United States. The responsibility to provide and protect falls solely on the shoulders of one person instead of two. While juggling all of the responsibilities that come with being a single parent, monitoring your child’s online presence and activities may fall through the cracks. But it shouldn’t.
Children are more connected to the internet than ever before. One study revealed 90% of children have at least one device that allows them to access the internet. And unless their online activities are heavily monitored or restricted, they have access to just about any website out there.
The same study showed 40% of children have interacted with at least one stranger online, often divulging personal information or contact details. And a shocking 15% of children revealed they had tried to meet with a stranger they met online.
Monitoring a child’s online activities is a serious matter, and it’s twice as hard for a single parent to take on. Single parents have a lot on the line when it comes to keeping their personal information safe online. There is more personal information being stored online than ever before. Social security numbers, banking details, personal information and contact details — these are only a few examples of the information out there that can easily fall into the wrong hands online.
A Clark School study at the University of Maryland showed there is a hacker attack every 39 seconds. Hackers don’t discriminate when it comes to what accounts they’re hacking, or the devices they’re hacking into. If you have any personal or sensitive information stored somewhere on the internet, there is a chance a hacker may get access to it.
Cybercrime is a lucrative business. So much so that it has become more profitable than the global illegal drug trade. And 72% of Americans say having their personal, credit card or financial information stolen by computer hackers is their biggest fear. If the sensitive information of a single parent falls into the wrong hands, it is not only the parent that is affected, but their children too.
Ways for single parents to keep their kids safe online
Keeping your kids safe online goes way beyond teaching them the concept of “stranger danger.” Luckily, there are many ways for single parents to lay a solid foundation when it comes to keeping their children safe online. The less any single parent has to worry about online safety, the more time they’ll have to take care of everything else.
First, it’s important to keep track of your child’s online activity, whether it's on their mobile or any other device. You need to know what they are watching, what games they are playing, which social media platforms they are using, and who they’re talking to.
When it comes to children and the internet, online safety is so much more than protecting them against identity theft, fraud and scams. You’re also protecting them from the wrath of cyberbullies and from disturbing, violent or adult content they’re too young to understand.
There are other dark dangers lurking on the internet: predators. Online predators prey on the trusting innocence of children. It’s easy for traffickers or abusive criminals to hide behind a screen while gaining the trust of their next victim.
Luckily, there is an impressive arsenal of safety precautions single parents can turn to to help them keep their kids safe online:
- Keep the laptop or computer in an open and public area. Not only will this help parents keep an eye on what their child is looking at online, but it will also help reduce the child’s temptation to do things they’ve been warned not to.
- Monitor computer activity. Keep an eye on your child's computer screen. You can accomplish this by sitting nearby, or reviewing the device's viewing history at a later time. Be transparent about your monitoring activities upfront, so they know to expect it.
- Limit screen time. Children are growing up in a digital era. It’s important for them to know how to navigate technology, but it’s also important for them to have screen-free time. The less time they're spending online, the less time they have to engage in unsafe online activities.
- Educate your child on data literacy. Teach your child how to identify the difference between reputable and reliable sources of online information, online advertisements, and clickbait content.
- Add parental controls where you can. Most platforms offer parental controls and settings. Use these. Be aware content meant for adults can slip through the settings though, so don’t rely on these controls entirely.
- Make sure you have access to your child’s accounts. For safety, it's important for parents to have complete access to their child's devices. Learn their passwords, and if you don’t, get your child to share them with you.
Respect and open communication
There is a 29% chance your child is using the internet in a way you wouldn't approve of, yet only 43% of parents regularly talk to their children about their online behavior. Children need boundaries to keep them safe. Any single parents who don’t have a partner to consult should reach out to friends or support groups to learn about what boundaries other people set to keep their kids safe online.
It’s important for a child to understand why you’re putting boundaries and restrictions into place. They need to understand what you’re protecting them from, so discuss the reasons you're monitoring their online activity openly with them. Explain the dangers of everything from malware to cyberbullies.
Children don't inherently understand the dangers of posting images of themselves on social media or talking to strangers online. You need to communicate with your child about the dangers and keep those communication channels open.
Create a safe space for them to approach you with any questions, concerns or problems they may have. The last thing you want is for your child to keep silent about a threat because they’re scared they’ll get into trouble when they tell you.
How single parents can stay secure online
As a single parent, you are your child’s first and main line of defense. In order to protect them, you have to protect yourself. This means keeping your information safe and secure online. There are over 715,000 cybersecurity experts employed in the U.S., but unless you’re one of them, you need to educate yourself on how to stay safe online.
Luckily, there are many ways to protect yourself online:
- Create strong and unique passwords. The stronger your password, the more difficult it will be for someone to hack into your account. Make sure you don’t use the same password for all of your accounts. Consider making your password a short sentence that's at least 12 characters long.
- Don’t save your financial information on websites. If you are prompted to enter your credit card details, be sure to check the site’s Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate. And never save your credit card information, shipping address and other personal details on shopping websites. Even with an SSL certificate enabled, if your information is saved somewhere, it's vulnerable to being hacked.
- Enable 2-factor authentication. This is an added layer of authentication on top of your password. Common examples are biometric fingerprint readers or a one-time code that gets sent to your email or phone.
- Use a firewall. A firewall is your first line of defense in network security. Most operating systems have them preinstalled so all you need to do is make sure it’s enabled.
- Keep up to date with the latest scams. Fraudsters and scam artists are creative. They are constantly coming up with new scams, so stay up to date on the latest ones.
A look at services that can keep you secure online
By subscribing to and installing simple, effective online security programs, single parents can rest easier when it comes to their internet security. Single parents have enough on their plates as it is, so the peace of mind these services provide is invaluable.
Think of a password manager as a digital vault that keeps all of your passwords safe and secure in one place.
There are many password managers to choose from, but what you want to look for is the price and whether it’s compatible with your operating system. A single parent can easily get by with a free version of these services. You can also opt to pay between $10 to $120 per year, depending on the service, to unlock other features, such as sharing passwords with others or being able to access your “vault” on multiple devices.
Password managers have the ability to store unique and strong passwords for all of your accounts, so you don't have to remember them all or have them recorded somewhere that's potentially vulnerable to hackers.
Virtual private network (VPN)
A VPN protects your online activity from prying eyes. It encrypts everything you do, so internet service providers, public networks or hackers can’t “read” about what you are doing online. It also hides your IP address. Every device you use to access the internet has an IP address. Anyone who has access to your IP address may as well have your home address or the location of where you are using your device.
Like password managers, the cost of virtual private networks varies. Expect to pay anything between $50 to $70 per year. Many VPN providers have (limited) free versions and free trials. The amount you pay for a VPN depends on the level of protection you want.
Surprisingly, only around 5% of people in the U.S. use VPNs to protect their online activity. Getting a VPN is a very good idea for single parents. Not only does it protect your online activity, but it also protects the online activity of your child.
Single parents and online dating
Online dating has never been more popular. In fact, it's estimated that 40% of people in the U.S. use online dating apps or websites. Unfortunately, online dating also has the potential of being very dangerous, if the proper precautions aren't taken into consideration. One of the biggest dangers is online predators, who take advantage of single parents using online dating programs to get to their children.
Cyber safety is incredibly important when you are meeting someone online who you may introduce to your children at some stage. Always be suspicious and wary — no matter how wonderful the person on the other side of the screen may seem. There are many resources available to guide single parents on how to approach online dating in a safe way.
The most important things to remember are to never post any images of your children on your dating profile, and to never disclose any information about them — be it their sex, their age or their hobbies. Regardless of their intentions, no stranger needs to know that information.
Services single parents can use to protect themselves and their kids online
Let’s look at some simple and effective tips and services single parents can use to protect themselves and their kids online.
Download virus protection software
Virus protection software is a must for single parents. Viruses can infiltrate any device you or your children use. When a virus “hijacks” your device, it puts your device and all the information stored on it at risk.
Virus protection software is programmed to recognize threats and block them from contaminating your device. It also warns you if you are about to enter an unsecured website that may potentially send viruses your way.
As with other protective services, you can sign up for free versions or trials. Free versions are often limited though, so it may be worth investing in a paid option. Prices for paid versions of virus protection software vary, but are generally between $30 and $350.
Anti-virus software does not only protect you. If your child is using a device, they probably won’t see the warning signs of websites or ads that are most likely unsafe clickbait. Single parents can rest easy that the software will keep them, their devices, and their children safe when they’re not keeping an eye on their kids.
Here are some of the best virus protection software options available:
Parental control apps and devices
A parental control app or device can be a single parent’s best friend. These apps and devices are designed with the sole purpose of keeping children safe online. They put safe boundaries and restrictions in place to control what your child can and cannot do or see online.
Among other features, these apps and devices control screen time limits, limit access to certain websites, block certain apps, allow you to track or locate your child’s device, and apply safe search and content filters.
Most apps have a limited free version, but for peace of mind, a single parent may want to invest in a plan that unlocks more features. Apps are the cheaper way to go, costing only a few dollars to unlock. The parental control devices are more expensive, but they are also more reliable in most cases. Be prepared to pay between $50 and $200 for one of these devices.
Parental control apps:
Parental control devices:
- eero Secure
- Gryphon Smart Mesh Router and Parental Control System
- Syfer Smart VPN Router Parental Control Device
Online safety is important
The children of today are growing up in a technological era. They need to learn how to use and navigate technology, but they also need to learn how to do so safely.
Single parents often don’t have the luxury of taking a tag-team approach to keeping their children safe online. They are solely responsible to keep their kids safe and to teach them about the dangers of the digital world. Luckily, there are a host of programs, resources and services at their disposal to help guide them through the process.
Between educating their children about online safety, and putting precautionary measures into place, single parents can take the stress of online safety off of their shoulders. A parent’s job is to protect and provide, and in this technological era, that protection must include online safety measures.