Cyber Security: Special Issues for Young Children

Children may be particularly at risk online because they’re not always aware of the risks associated with what they’re doing. For that reason, children need close supervision when using digital devices and also need to be taught basic cyber security skills as early as possible.

Preschoolers (2-5 years)

Preschoolers are one of the fastest-growing groups of computer users, particularly with the arrival of touch-screen devices such as the iPad and iPhone. Recent American research has found that half of five-year-olds go online every day, along with a quarter of three-year-olds. [1] In addition, small children are also the fastest-growing group of video game players. [2]

One of the main issues facing children this age is making in-game purchases without understanding what they are doing: one child managed to spend $1400 in the Smurfs Village game in 2011. [3] While both game and tablet makers say that they have made it more difficult for children to make unapproved purchases, if children are playing games online or on tablets the following precautions should be taken:

  • When making a purchase on a child’s behalf, either use a prepaid credit card or turn the device on and off afterwards, to make sure no credit card information remains in the device’s memory.
  • If the child is playing on a mobile device, set it to “Airplane mode” to turn off its wireless connection.
  • Talk to children about in-game purchases and make sure they understand that these cost real money.

School-aged kids (5-12)

Children in this age range increasingly use the Internet to socialize with other children. Children’s virtual worlds such as Club Penguin and Poptropica are popular with kids at the younger end, while older kids may start using email or texting and are likely to be using the Internet for schoolwork.

  • Spam, some of which includes scam messages, becomes an issue for children at this age in several different contexts: through email, through texts and through the chat functions of games and virtual worlds. Kids need to be taught to never reply to spam and to never follow unknown links.
  • Both typosquatting and mousetrapping can lead kids to inappropriate and unpleasant places on the Web. Bookmarking favourite websites and asking for help when navigating anywhere new, are two ways to avoid this: and telling kids to go to an adult can help mitigate problems if they land anywhere unexpected.

[1] Gutnick, A. L., Robb, M., Takeuchi, L., & Kotler, J. Always connected: The new digital media habits of young children. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.
[2] Kids and Gaming 2011, The NPD Group, October 11, 2011.
[3] Chalk, Andy. “Eight Year Old Girl Blows $1400 on Smurfberries.” The Escapist, February 9, 2011.