Not well, Michelle Yao, co-founder of publishing house, Cyberlite Books, says.
“Very few are actually taught the same types of risks and threats in the cyber world,” she laments.
The risk is exacerbated because children often explore the digital space through laptops or phones, in school or at home. As they are in places where they feel safe, they may not realise that “when they chat with strangers or visit unsecured websites, they are actually letting people that they don’t know into what we call their cyber bedrooms,” Michelle explains.
The need to increase awareness of these threats and boost cyber safety for children is why she and co-founder, Nina Bual, started Cyberlite Books.
Writing the Cyberlite Books story
Cyberlite Books has developed an activity book titled Ready, Get Set, Connect!, which can improve education and help parents, teachers and children start important conversations about cyber safety.
With support from the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), the Media Literacy Council and US cybersecurity company, Palo Alto Networks, Cyberlite Books has distributed over 10,000 copies of its Ready, Get Set, Connect! to primary and secondary schools in Singapore. It also runs hour-long parenting workshops for parents to understand the topics covered within the book.
While IMDA assists to connect with schools and parents in Singapore, Cyberlite Books is also working with Palo Alto Networks to reach children and families in Australia, Vietnam, and Indonesia with their books and Cyber A.C.E.S. (Activities in Cybersecurity Education for Students) programme.
Education as the first line of defence
Claribel Chai, Country Manager, Singapore, Palo Alto Networks, explains that Palo Alto Networks advocates for cyber safety education because children are increasingly exposed to technology—and in turn, cyber threats—at a very young age.
“With digital tools and online learning likely to be a mainstay in academic curriculum, fostering good cyber safety habits from a young age has become ever more pertinent,” Claribel says.
"Cybersecurity education should start from a young age and remain an ongoing conversation, even well into adulthood.”
That said, she acknowledges that talking to children about internet safety can be difficult. Although children face similar cyber risks as adults do, they need age-appropriate explanations to help them understand the topic and remain engaged with the materials, she says.
Besides collaborating with Palo Alto Networks, Cyberlite Books also runs cyber safety workshops with partners like the National Library Board (NLB).
Ready, get set, connect with kids
This ability to engage children is where Cyberlite Books excels.
Complex concepts are made simple by characters like the Fake News Faker, who offers children different articles and challenges them to look at the language, grammar and graphics to determine if the news is real or fake. There is also Miss 2FA, who as her name suggests, is an advocate of the importance of having a two-factor authentication process.
Each topic also comes with an accompanying activity for children to practice their knowledge. For example, a password legend is used to help children understand how to set strong passwords, phishing is understood through a “spot the difference” game, and grooming is explained by asking children to identify red flags in online conversations.
These activities ensure children don’t just “read and flick through” the book. Rather, they need to exercise critical thought and “make the connection between what they do in the online world and how it affects them in the physical one,” Michelle says.
After completing each topic in Ready, Get Set, Connect, students at West View Primary School work on activities like crosswords and puzzles to help them engage with the material and see its relevance in their daily lives.
Creating conversations about cyber safety and wellness
“I personally find that the book makes learning fun,” Aishwarya Durga, a teacher at West Grove Primary School, says, adding that it has also been well-received by parents, who have used it as an opportunity to broach the topic of cyber safety with their children.
These parent-child conversations are especially important because even as children increasingly use the internet for school and leisure, the average parent only spends around 46 minutes talking to them about cyber safety.
“Parents need to be able to talk to their children rather than just to give them devices and leave them unsupervised”, Aishwarya says, noting that in the long run, it is simply not sustainable to ban them from accessing apps and websites.
Rather, children need to be taught good digital habits like setting strong passwords and safeguarding their privacy. Likening these actions to brushing teeth, Nina says: “If children start doing it early enough in their digital journey, they’ll keep doing it automatically. But first, we've got to give them the skills to do it. We need to teach them to brush their teeth.”
The colourful illustrations and fun activities in Ready, Get Set, Connect!, make it easy and enjoyable for Children at West Grove Primary School to learn about cyber safety.
The right questions to ask about cyber safety
Nina encourages parents to worry less about the amount of screen time their children are having, and to focus more on ensuring there is “positive screen time”, where children are learning, socialising, and keeping their minds active.
To do this, she implores us to consider what we would say if a stranger came up to us to ask for permission to spend six hours with our children. Questions like “who are you?”, “what are you going to do?” and “why?” are likely the first things in our minds.
“We need to ask those same questions online—why is my child here? What are they getting out of it? Is it bringing them joy or anxiety, cyberbullying, fake news and phishing? We need to be in control of that conversation,” Nina states.
To her and Michelle, creating a safe cyber world is not dissimilar to any of the other changes made over the years—like developing policies about smoking or seat belts.
“We need to get all stakeholders in the room and understand how we can build features into our apps, human design that ensures that they can monitor and look after their own safety,” she concludes.
As it is important to continue the conversation on cyber safety throughout one’s growing years, Ready, Get Set, Connect! has tailored its content to be suitable for children between eight and 12 years old.
Cyberlite Books’ Ready, Get Set, Connect! is just one way of bringing the community together to build the cyber safety ecosystem. You can do your part too:
Tips to safeguard the cyber world
- Let your child log in from their own account
If your child accesses the internet using your account or device, the technology will treat them as if they are you and show them adult-related content. Avoid this by setting up their own children's accounts with parental controls enabled.
- Make privacy settings your first stop
Log on to the privacy settings each time your child downloads a new app or game to restrict the messaging, sharing, and location features.
- A family that scrolls together, stays together
A child-friendly app will still have vulnerabilities—and you’ll only know about this if you have used the app yourself. So the only way to understand the dangers is to have tried the app yourself.
- Banning is not the only solution
Children are growing up as digital natives and can easily find a way around the rules you set. Rather than giving them a reason to hide their digital lives from you, educate them on how they can protect themselves.
- The war against cyber risks is never one and done
The cyber risks that one faces at eight years old will be different during the teenage years. Keep the cyber safety conversation going so you can support your child through the challenges they meet along the way.