In the late summer of 2019, Adaptive Office Solutions published a press release about the damaging effects of Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS) on children. At the time, little was known about the subject, so the publication went viral… as viral as a press release in the sleepy town of Miramichi, Canada can become.
Miramichi, also known as Atlantic Canada’s Great Outdoors, is best known as a haven for outdoor sport enthusiasts. The breathtaking natural beauty offers whitewater opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, and angling for Atlantic Salmon and Brook Trout. The warm waters of Miramichi Bay are also an ideal setting for sailing enthusiasts during summer. The snowy winters are enjoyed by cross-country skiers and snowmobilers. And, an extensive network of trails is available for hiking, cycling, birding, and nature study.
You would think, given these year-round outdoor temptations, families in Miramichi wouldn’t struggle to find ways of getting their children off devices, but they do. With the sudden rise in remote education, it’s become harder than ever for the parents in our community to manage their children’s digital activity. Kids are online more frequently than we would like, and most parents can’t always find the time – or have the resources – to keep an eye on their children’s digital activity.
That, my friends, is a dangerous state of affairs.
In this article, we’ll talk about ESS, but we’re also going to branch out into other topics, like Parental-Controls, Predators, Bullying, and Cyber Security. Difficult topics, to be sure. So, hang on… it’s going to be a wild ride!
A Reality Check
Let’s roll back the discussion a little bit and explore something very basic…children learn from their parents, right? Well, guess what… most of us grownups struggle with a serious addiction. Not only are we addicts, we also play an active role in getting our children hooked, too. Our drug of choice? Technology. And, we put it right into their little hands.
As you know, Adaptive Office Solutions is an IT provider that specializes in cyber security. So, this article isn’t intended to persuade you to abandon the world of technology, but rather to help you understand the effects technology is having on you and the children in your life. Our job is to protect your business. Your job is to protect your kids. But, how can you protect them, if you didn’t even realize they were in harm’s way?
As they say, you can’t recover from any addiction, until you acknowledge that you have a problem in the first place. A problem that is affecting your family.
From the time most children are born, they are fed a steady diet of unnatural sensory input. Studies show that when a newborn or infant is exposed to a noisy toy with a lot of lights for an extended period of time, they will become overwhelmed by the stimulation and begin to cry.
But, you would never provide such a toy, right? Wrong. Most likely, you have more than one of these toys. They are at least twenty times the size of a newborn, and they are probably connected to a booming, vibrating, cacophony of noise commonly known as… surround sound.
We’re talking about televisions.
Giant, loud, bright, cell-altering boob tubes.
Did you know that the average household keeps the telly on for an average of 3.5 hours a day?
Every day. 365 days a year.
According to a survey by pewresearch.org, they found that by the time children are 4 years old, 90% of children watch TV on a daily basis, 64% use a tablet, 49% interact with a smartphone, 12% use a computer, and 9% are already using a gaming device. By the time children are 11 years old, the figures balloon. 78% have a tablet, 67% use a smartphone, 73% operate computers, and a whopping 68% use gaming devices. Every – Single – Day.
This information isn’t intended to blame or shame the parents who live these figures, but to serve as a wake-up call. Obviously, we are big fans of technology. We also love a great steak, but it shouldn’t be the only thing your family consumes.
Electronic Screen Syndrome
Let’s get back to the press release, and why this topic is near and dear to our fearless leader’s heart. The press release said:
“The unnaturally stimulating nature of electronic screens — irrespective of the content —has ill effects on our mental and physical health, at multiple levels, and they can present in many shapes and forms in children.
Although varied, many of the effects of ESS can be grouped into symptoms related to mood, cognition, and behavior. The root of these symptoms appears to be linked to repeated stress on the nervous system, making self-regulation and stress-management less efficient.
Dysregulation can be defined as an inability to modulate one’s mood, attention, or arousal level in a manner appropriate to one’s environment. Children with ESS exhibit symptoms due to chronic hyperarousal that cause significant dysfunction in school, at home, or with peers. Typical signs and symptoms include emotional dysregulation, poor executive functioning, disruptive or maladaptive behavior, insomnia, and nonrestorative sleep.
The result of too much screen time is an inability to control one’s mood or attention, which leads to inappropriate responses to one’s environment. Here’s why… interacting with screens, shifts the nervous system into fight-or-flight mode; and the level of impact can be pronounced (like when playing a video game) or more subtle, as in texting.
The result? Disorganized, disobedient, or oppositional thinking, over-excitement, delayed maturity, narrowed interests, loss of friends, lower grades, anti-social behavior, low frustration tolerance, poor short-term memory, and much, much more.
When the increased levels of stress reach a breaking point, you’ll see dramatic mood swings, outbursts, tantrums, erratic and unpredictable behavior, addiction, and, eventually, sleep disturbances.
Because of these symptoms, more and more children are being misdiagnosed with psychiatric symptoms such as ADHD and Childhood Bipolar Disorder. The result: an ever-increasing amount of medications are prescribed to children as young as five and six years old.
At particular risk are boys with ADHD and/or autism spectrum disorders. But, the good news is, that the lion’s share of symptoms are completely reversible. How? With an “electronic fast.” This is a four-week period wherein all electronic media is off-limits.
Brett Gallant, owner of Adaptive Office Solutions, said, “As a business owner, but more importantly, as a father of five, I know first-hand what too much screen time can do to our children. We are currently going through another screen fast now and are already starting to see fewer mood swings. We have no television, YouTube, or video games. Last night we just watched the rain come down and then started playing Crazy 8’s, chess… my son even made brownies. I think sometimes taking a break is not only good for children but good for us as well.”
So, which devices have a no-go rule during the electronic fast? Televisions, computers, tablets, consoles, e-readers, etc. Smartphones should be used only for calls and a limited number of necessary, non-conversational texts. Some children can tolerate moderation after a fast, while others seem to relapse immediately if re-exposed.
Of course, not all children are affected by ESS. In that case, screen fasts are not necessary or recommended. In fact, it’s unrealistic to think that your child can live in today’s society without some electronic stimulation, but how much? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1-2 hours daily.
What can limiting or eliminating electronic stimulation do for your child? The results have proven to be: reduced aggression, better/balanced moods, increased agreeability, improved grades, better social skills, and healthy sleep patterns.
Not only will limiting electronic use have a profound effect on your child, but you’ll also see a positive shift in the entire family dynamic – including happier, healthier parents. Do yourself a favor, and just say, “That’s enough for today.” In the end, they’ll thank you for it.
***Don’t forget to limit your screen time when you’re in your children’s presence. If they have to comply, you should too!
Some Sobering Truths
According to a recent article about kids and cyber security, they wrote, “Thanks to the sudden rise in remote schooling, it’s become harder than ever for parents to manage their children’s digital activity. Kids are online more frequently than many parents would like. And most parents can’t always find the time to keep an eye on their children’s digital activity.
It’s a stressful time for parents who want to keep their kids safe. Recent research shows the enormity of the challenge. Here’s what’s going on with today’s youngsters:
- 73% of teenagers can’t imagine life without a smartphone, and half of them take their phone to bed
- 44% of kids aged 8 to 16 are online constantly, with a preference for entertainment and social media apps
- 40% of children reveal sensitive information online, including their home address
- A third of young people lie about their age online
- 37% of kids have experienced online dangers, including bullying, financial threats, and inappropriate content
As a parent, you can’t watch every single thing that your kid does on their smartphone and your laptop. Even if you could, should you? Technology will play an important role in their lives from childhood into adulthood. These early years are a chance for them a chance to develop the skills that they need to stay safe online.
The ideal approach is to educate and empower your kids so that they learn how to keep themselves safe.
Educate yourself so you can help protect your kids
If you want to keep your kids safe, you first must understand the dangers they face when they go online. When you’re fully educated, you can help steer them away from risk, so they can have fun while staying safe.
There are lots of great resources online that will explain the main threats, even if you’re not a natural techie. In general, there are three categories of threats that children face when they go online:
- Strangers: Predators do lurk on sites that attract children, such as social media and online games. These predators will often pretend to be children themselves, a technique known as Catfishing. There are also hackers and cybercriminals who will target anyone with poor security, whether they’re a child or an adult. They may also try to trick the child into sharing passwords or payment details.
- Peers: Your child may experience bullying or harassment from kids they know. This can often happen in private chats on social media and on messaging apps. Sometimes, other children may share private information about your child, which can cause great distress. If this data is sexual in nature, such as intimate pictures, this might constitute a criminal offense.
- Self: Unsupervised children are themselves a risk online. They often click buttons or install software without understanding the consequences of their actions. They might also publicly post private information, such as their date of birth or address.
Some of these are social threats, which means that they involve extortion or manipulation. Often, someone will gain your child’s trust and then take advantage of that trust. To safeguard against these threats, your child will need to know how to have safe interactions with other people.
Others are digital threats, which means that someone uses technology to access your data. This could involve malware (malicious software that steals your data) or phishing (tricking someone into visiting a fake website.) To protect against this type of danger, you need to encourage proper internet usage and install robust antivirus software.
4 essential tips for talking to kids about cybersecurity
Every child is unique. They all want different things from their online experience, and they all deal with danger in different ways. There’s no universally correct way to talk to your children about online safety. Instead, you have to find ways to engage in a conversation with them and help them understand what to do. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.
Use child-friendly educational resources
It’s often hard to talk to kids about their internet safety. It’s especially difficult with younger kids who simply don’t understand a lot of the concepts involved. How do you explain to a third-grader that there are cybercriminals and sexual predators online? More importantly, how do you explain these ideas without scaring them?
Set up some basic internet rules
The internet is a vast, confusing place. It’s good to have a few basic ground rules that help you understand how to stay safe.
Sit down with your child(ren) and agree on a few foundational rules about their internet usage. For smaller kids, you will want to keep these rules simple and easy to follow. For instance, the rules might be:
- I won’t go online without permission from an adult
- Only 30 minutes of screen time per day
- I am only allowed to use certain apps (such as YouTube with Safe Search or a filtered web browser)
- If I want to install a game, I will ask for permission
You can write these rules down somewhere and have a refresher session every now and then.
Once your child gets older, they will probably want some additional freedom. You can expand the rules a little so that they include things like:
- I will never give my real name and address online
- I won’t authorize any in-app payments without permission
- I will avoid low-quality apps
- I won’t share any private information about myself or intimate pictures
- If someone is trying to get me to do something I don’t want to, I’ll talk to an adult
As your child moves into their teenage years, you’ll need to build rules that support their digital life. With older kids, you can work with them to create rules that are helpful without being restrictive.
These are just examples of rules you might choose to implement. Each child is different and has unique needs, so you’ll need to build rules that suit them.
Focus on empowerment, not fear
The digital world doesn’t have to be scary for kids or for their parents. Instead of worrying about what might happen, focus on teaching children the skills they need to protect themselves online.
You can create a checklist and work with your children to ensure they have everything they need. Your checklist might include items like:
- I know what to do if someone makes me feel bad.
- I know what information I can tell people online and what I’m only allowed to say offline.
- I know that I should only talk to my friends, not to strangers.
- I know how to check if a website is real or fake.
- I know why I should stay away from bad websites.
- I know how to make a strong password and use my phone for two-factor authentication.
- I know that I should always ask a parent for permission before making an online payment.
- I should be careful about posting my secrets or my pictures on the internet.
- I know that if I’m ever not sure about something, I should talk to a grown-up and ask for help.
These are cybersecurity skills that adults need too. If you teach this proactive approach from an early age, you’ll help your kids develop into adults who know how to stay safe.
Create a trusting, respectful environment
In an ideal world, your kids will always come to you and ask for help when they have questions about online security. But it doesn’t always happen.
Sometimes, children may feel that they will get in trouble if they ask for help. For instance, say your child breaks one of their rules for online behavior, and during that time, they fall for a phishing or catfishing scam. Your child then faces a tricky dilemma: if they ask for your advice, they might get in trouble for breaking the rules.
That’s why it’s important to let them know that you’ll always have their back when they need you. Let your kids know that the most important thing is their safety. If something goes wrong, try to find positives that you can both learn from.
Kids might also worry that they’ve brought trouble on themselves or that you just won’t understand. This can happen with harassment and bullying – problems that can occur in both the physical schoolyard and the digital world. For issues of this kind, it’s always important to let your kids talk about their feelings and to take their concerns seriously. Even if it sounds trivial, it might be a big deal to them.
Most important of all, parents have to be great role models for their children. Make sure that your own online behavior is safe and responsible at all times. And try to limit your screen time when you’re around your kids.
Use the right tools to help keep them safe
Online security is a challenge for adults, never mind children. There are so many sophisticated threats out there that your child may run into issues even if they follow all the rules.
So, how do adults stay safe online? By using tools to help them avoid the main threats that they face when using digital services. Every device in your household should have tools such as:
Anti-virus: This is the cornerstone of internet security. It runs in the background and protects you from viruses, including trojans, spyware, and ransomware. When a malicious program tries to infect your device, your anti-virus will stop it.
Anti-phishing: Phishing is one of the most popular cybercrime techniques because it is so simple yet so devastating. You need additional protection to help prevent your or your child from accidentally clicking a phony link.
Webcam protection: If someone gains access to a webcam, they may be able to spy on you or your children. In the age of Zoom school, you can’t simply disable the webcam. Instead, you need something that will keep you safe from this hazard.
Content blocker: The best way to avoid hackers and viruses is to stay away from unsafe content. You can use content blockers to permanently prevent kids from visiting the bad part of the internet.
VPN: A VPN essentially safeguards your data when moving from one place to another. This is especially important if your child is using a public WiFi connection, like the one at school.
Password protector: Kids have a very hard time following strong password processes. A password protector will create a robust password for them and keep it safe for the next time they log in.
This kind of software can help prevent the kind of accidental danger that might befall anyone online.
How to safeguard your kids’ cybersecurity
Being a parent is the greatest responsibility any of us will face. You want to let your kids explore the world, find themselves, and seek out exciting opportunities. But you also have to make sure that they’re safe and that they avoid danger as much as possible.
That’s why it’s so scary sometimes to see your kids using an electronic device. Is that device a gateway to learning and positive growth? Or is it exposing them to worrying situations?
The tips above should help you have a productive conversation about cybersecurity with your kids. You’ll keep them safe, and you’ll help them develop the skills they need to look after their own security.
But sometimes parents need a little extra help. Such as:
- GPS tracking: Monitor your kids’ locations at all times. You can set a safe zone on your local map and receive a notification if they travel outside of it.
- Screen time controls: Automatically manage your child’s device usage. You can use this to limit the hours they spend each day on games and social media or force them to turn off their device at bedtime.
- Content filters: Protect them from unsafe content. These filters will hide unsuitable content in web searches and on YouTube. You can manage the restriction levels to suit your child.”
Brett, from Adaptive, said, “I personally use Rogers at home for our Internet and discovered they have some parental controls; albeit limited. If you would like more comprehensive protection for your children, I recommend Qustodio.
The platform can filter content and apps, monitor activity, set time limits, track calls and SMSs, locate your family, and generate detailed reports – in addition to the real-time dashboard information. If you would like to learn more about the features, check out this page.
In short, if I could teach people, especially children, just one thing about cyber security… It’s a simple thing, be extra cautious, aware, and use common sense. What I mean is, if it sounds too good to be true, if it’s really cheap, if a stranger has an urgent request, or if somebody’s asking for a special favor, we need to be really extra cautious and aware.”
At Adaptive Office Solutions, cybersecurity is our specialty. We keep cybercrimes at bay by using analysis, forensics, and reverse engineering to prevent malware attempts and patch vulnerability issues. By making an investment in multilayered cybersecurity, you can leverage our expertise to boost your defenses, mitigate risks, and protect your data with next-gen IT security solutions.
When you know your technology is being looked after, you can forget about struggling with IT issues and concentrate on running your business. By making an upfront investment in your cybersecurity, you can lower your costs through systems that are running at their prime; creating greater efficiency and preventing data loss and costly downtime.
To schedule your Cyber Security Risk Review, call the Adaptive Office Solution service hotline at 506-624-9480 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org