internet safety for children
When we bring our kids to the mall or any unfamiliar place, we always keep a firm grip and a close eye. But the internet is bigger than any mall, and the criminals are harder to spot.
Jay Wennington via Unsplash

10 ways to protect yourself, your kids from scammers, sexual predators and hackers

Jing Castañeda (Philstar.com) - March 1, 2021 - 1:49pm

As a broadcast journalist for ABS-CBN, I did several stories on people who were scammed on the internet. I've changed their names to protect their privacy, but these are all true stories.

Karen attends an exclusive girl's school. For several weeks, she'd been chatting with one of her schoolmates, who later asked if they could meet up.  She and her parents agreed, because they "knew" each other.

But during one chat, her friend said something that felt "off." Karen was suspicious, and started asking around—only to find out that the person she thought she was talking to had moved abroad. Someone had hacked into her account and was using it to lure her to a place—and who knows what would've happened if she hadn't noticed the problem, or trusted her instincts.

John and Brian were two teenage boys—and boys being boys, were very happy when a pretty, older girl befriended them in a chatroom. Then the girl said, "If you send me your nude photos, I'll send you mine."

They sent the pictures, and were blackmailed. "Kung hindi kayo magpadala ng pera, ipapakalat ko ang nude pictures ninyo sa internet." Terrified, John sent his laptop, cell phone and camera; Brian eventually told his parents. They contacted the NBI, who traced the message—which led them to a syndicate in Pampanga. 

But it's not just kids who get scammed. One lola's internet boyfriend earned her trust, then ran off with P3 million—her life's savings.  

How to stay safe in a strange, big world

When we bring our kids to the mall or any unfamiliar place, we always keep a firm grip and a close eye. We know there can be criminals, kidnappers, snatchers. 

But the internet is bigger than any mall, and the criminals are harder to spot. They disguise themselves as friends, and can talk to our child anytime and anywhere. We could be just three meters away from our kids, and not know that he's already being victimized. As the former Program Director of Bantay Bata 163, I have seen this happen many, many times.

We live in the internet age, and we enjoy its benefits too. But how can we keep ourselves and our kids safe online?  Since February is Safer internet Month, I invited UNICEF Safety Officer RA Villafranca and youth leader Jefferson Escalada (from the Ideas Positive Alumni Community, Western Visayas) to share important tips on how to keep our children – and ourselves – safe online.

1. Teach your kids about Stranger Danger

"When I was a kid, I had to walk to my tutor's house down the street. My parents warned me to never talk to strangers," recalls RA.

Today, we chat with strangers everyday: online forums, Messenger groups, social media comments. We can meet people who share our interests, and join fun online communities. The internet connects us—but it also makes us forget that we don't really know anything about our online "friends."

"You have to treat all online people as strangers, no matter how long you've been chatting with them," says Jeff. Remember, they can take on fake identities and may have malicious intentions.

So, never share important personal information that can be used for cybercrime and scams. This includes: your full name, age, location, school/office, mobile number, travel plans or family schedules. 

Parents should also follow their kids' social media accounts, so you can warn them if they're oversharing, or step in if you notice any suspicious conversation. "Explain that you're not punishing them, you're protecting them," says Jeff.

2. Follow your instincts

If any conversation makes you feel uncomfortable, it's okay to stop talking to that person or even block him completely.

3. Avoid doomscrolling

internet algorithms will always suggest articles and ads based on what you previously clicked. So if you keep reading negative news or following "toxic" accounts, you'll be barraged by similar content—and it can heighten feelings of stress, depression and helplessness.

Online criminals disguise themselves as friends, and can talk to our child anytime and anywhere. We could be just three meters away from our kids, and not know that he's already being victimized.

Don't get sucked into the negativity. Youtube and Google allow you to select "I don't like this content" (click on the three dots at the upper corner of the recommended post) so you can curate your feed.

And step away from any "hate posts" you see in the comments section. Don't feed the trolls.

4. Surround yourself with positive, empowering content

Just like you pick your friends in real life, pick the "relationships" you form online—whether it be the social media accounts you follow, the forums you join, or the news sites you trust.

Remember, you are giving your time and energy to them, and you have every right to be picky about what shows up on your feeds. Ask yourself: does this make me stronger, happier, more confident? Does it give me information that can help improve my life and make good choices? Pay attention to how you feel after reading it.

You also need to help your child process what he reads, and tell them that they can talk to you any time if a post or comment bothers them. Over dinner, you can also encourage family members to share what they've read online—both good and bad.

RA Villafranca (UNICEF Child Protection Officer) and youth leader Jeff Escalada (Ideas Positive Alumni Community, Western Visayas) emphasize the importance of teaching our kids NEVER to talk to strangers, whether online or offline.

5. Put in online safety measures

RA recommends changing privacy settings of social media accounts. Many platforms like Tiktok and YouTube also allow parental controls for accounts of minors, which will help them filter out any content that is not age-appropriate. Chat apps like Messenger Kids also protect them from being contacted by strangers.

Of course, that won't stop kids from opening their own accounts without your knowledge, so don't just police them—educate them. Talk to them about why online safety is important, and set ground rules for internet use.

6. Choose kindness

Together, we can make the internet a more positive, empowering place. Compliment someone for an inspiring post, pause before making any negative comment, and be careful about your wording—even a joke can be taken the wrong way, since posts don't have the context of body language.

7. Stay present and connected in real life

Online relationships shouldn't replace real relationships—but unfortunately, studies show that the youth have become less sociable. It can also affect their ability to learn important communication and people skills.

In an article How Using Social Media Affects Teenagers, researchers say that online chats and text messages are stripped of the more personal (and understandably, intimidating) aspects of communication. You don't read body language, you can wait until you reply, and you don't see the effect of your reply on the other person. "No wonder kids say calling someone on the phone is "too intense"—it requires more direct communication, and if you aren't used to that, it may, well, feel scary."

So create opportunities for children to engage with people in real life. Turn off mobile phones during meal times. Spend one afternoon a week with no gadgets—even if it may initially feel awkward to sit around and be bored together, it teaches kids how to start a conversation.

8. Be careful with cams, links and emails

Zoom with caution. "Turn off cameras if it's not necessary for a class or meeting, and position your camera so it doesn't reveal too much about your home," says Jeff. He also cautions people from clicking on suspicious links, which can cause their information to be hacked. This is especially true of Facebook games, which are very popular among the youth.

Invest in a good security program that can block suspicious links and websites. Create an email account for signing up for newsletters or apps—the address shouldn't contain your full name, and you shouldn't use it for work, banking transactions, or personal communication with friends and family.

9. Think before you share

You're proud that your child got honors—but don't post his report card, which will reveal his name and his school. Any government document like passport, IDs, etc should never be posted online.

Be just as careful about announcing plans to travel, sharing pictures of your home, or even revealing too much about where you work. A stranger can look at your bio, lift your photo and job details, and use that to make a fake ID.

10. Report suspicious activity to authorities

Do you feel that you've been a victim of scams, identity theft, or internet fraud? Contact the authorities!

Take screenshots that you can use as evidence. Block the user, and report suspicious Facebook accounts or abusive Twitter accounts.

If you feel your child has been victimized by a bully or internet predator, call Bantay Bata's hotline 1-6-3. You can get advice from social workers, and free counseling from psychologists. They can also help you contact the police or the local government unit, if needed.

internet safety is especially important today, since we all spend more time online because of distance learning or remote work. Next week, I'll be talking about how to keep social media accounts more secure—so do stay tuned to our series on online safety, security and well-being.

For the other details, you can watch the highlights of our interview on my YouTube Channel.


I'd love to hear from you! Share your stories and tips or suggest topics atjingcastaneda21@gmail.com. You can also follow my social media accounts: Instagram,Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Kumu.

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