Experts warn of security risks when gifting devices to young children this holiday season

Many children have some sort of device on their holiday wish list, but security experts warn there are some risks.

“While it may not be my favorite thing, it is a reality in our life and in our world,” Leah Oye said.

As the mother of a 6 and 7-year-old, Oye is no stranger to electronic devices, but even though her kids have asked Santa for phones this year, James and Emerson probably won’t find them under the Christmas tree.

“There is so much information out there particularly about social media or different apps for communicating with different other people, strangers or even friends,” Benjamin Brooks, of Beryllium Infosec Collaborative said. “It’s a scary thing.”

Information security experts say smart phones, tablets and video game consoles can expose children to a variety of unexpected risks. They can open the door to pop-up ads, in-app purchases and, in the case of online games like Fortnite that allow children to communicate with other gamers, cyberbullying.

"We don't want them to think they can purchase anything they want online. We don't want them to feel they are safe to talk to everybody. Same rules apply if you don't know someone online you may need to ask an adult to vet them out,” Brooks said.

Security experts say the best way to prevent any problems is to talk to your child before they get a device to warn them of the potential pitfalls and lay out your expectations.

They say it’s also important to limit your kids’ screen time to keep them from overusing their devices.

“We want to enable good choices in our kids,” Brooks said. “We can’t view and stop everything that is going to happen to them. What we can do is make sure they are aware and prepared for whatever they encounter.”

Oye only allows her kids an hour of screen time on school days and they can’t buy anything on their iPads without a password. That is because, when it comes to electronic devices, Oye knows it won’t be game over any time soon.

“How do you give your kids enough freedom to become responsible adults, but keep them safe at the same time,” Oye said.