Fareedah Shaheed has a corporate background in cybersecurity and threat intelligence—and she’s been an avid gamer since the age of 13, so it’s no wonder she goes by the nickname CyberFareedah! She has a unique perspective of what it means to be a kid in the age of the internet, and today, she shares her expertise as the CEO and founder of Sekuva and Safe Kids Movement.
With her holistic approach to digital safety, she creates accessible, easy-to-understand resources and content to help parents connect with children and protect them online. We sat down with Fareedah to learn more about how parents can create a strong foundation for online safety with their kids.
What is Sekuva?
Sekuva is something that I started to give awareness, education, resources—and most importantly, internal and external support. The name “Sekuva” means a “well of security knowledge,” and the intention is that families can keep coming back to the resources that I provide to help them understand security and safety. But you don't have to be tech-savvy to benefit. It's just a place where people feel comfortable asking questions without feeling embarrassed for not knowing or doing enough.
I talk about things like therapy and connecting with yourself, your kid and your own healing journey. I believe that is the foundation of protecting kids online. You can't protect kids online unless you are focusing on building a strong parent-child bond.
What's the biggest change you've seen since you started this work? Does digital parenting look the same as it did a few years ago?
The pandemic threw everyone for a loop. There are more parents online and working from home, more kids online—and screen time limits don’t exist anymore. And for certain marginalized communities, they are more impacted when their kids are online. Even the types of devices they're using, and the security and safety of those devices are not the same. If you're in any marginalized category, the access to resources and support is not there.
The second is that online crimes against children have skyrocketed. We've seen FBI reports about predators contacting kids through online games, and the rates of predators preying on or grooming kids has gone up drastically. Common Sense Media did a study, and more eight-year-olds are online than ever right now. That means that the need for safety and security is that much more important.
We’ve seen massive changes in the way kids are interacting with technology, especially as a result of the pandemic. Do you think that the conversation around screen time is going to change as a result?
Absolutely. It's already changing. A lot of people threw screen time limits out the window because it didn’t work for the dynamic in their family. I don't like to say “balancing screen time.” I like to say “harmonizing” it. That’s because sometimes, when we believe in balance, we say, “if they had four hours of schoolwork, then let me give them this amount of screen time.” But it's not really about that. It's about your particular child, your situation, your stress levels, their stress levels and their reaction to being online so much.
The recent changes to the screen time conversation allowed us to leave space for other people and other people's experiences. Now, more people are realizing that this isn’t easy. It’s not “one way or the highway.”
When it comes to parenting in the digital age, what are the biggest concerns that we should be aware of?
The digital age is changing every day. There are so many things that are emerging that we have not talked about—and it’s my mission to talk about them. We're talking about virtual reality, augmented reality, deep fakes. And of course, you have misinformation and disinformation. All of those things are conversations that will make digital parenting a little bit more complex.
However, because technology is moving at a quicker rate, there are tools and resources that parents did not have a year ago or two years ago.
But the thing I want parents to focus on is how they can ground themselves. It's important to have that connection to yourself and your own healing and to understand your triggers: why are you upset by certain things? Why do you dislike certain things? Investigate your thoughts, feelings and anxieties. Talk with yourself, talk to a therapist, go to counseling, go on a healing journey—all of those things help you protect your kids online.
If you think about safety and security as a general thing, not just online, we need safety and security within ourselves first in order to understand how to create and cultivate a safe environment in our household. Because the more that we're connected to ourselves, the more we can connect with our kids. When our kids are going through an issue or they do something online, we're able to handle that situation with better tools. You have the emotional understanding to handle the situation the best you can.
And when I make a mistake, not if, but when I make a mistake, I know I can apologize to my kid and I can give grace and room for myself to grow. That allows your kid to see that people can make mistakes. Parents make mistakes. They have a blueprint in their head. When they're going out in the world and having conversations with other people, they know how to handle themselves emotionally, have emotional intelligence and have the understanding of how to protect themselves.
What else can parents do to help their children thrive online?
I always say connections over controls. Connecting with your kids' love of the internet even though we may not understand why they like to watch an unboxing video on YouTube. But just because I don't get it doesn't mean it's invalid. What’s important to them is important. So how can you open those lines of communication so that when it's time to talk about something that's scary, you’re not using fear as a motivator, you’re using different tools so they can empower themselves to protect themselves? Because at the end of the day, we're not just protecting kids. We're giving them the tools to grow up in a world where they have to understand how to protect themselves.
You open the line of communication so they can come to you with something that's difficult to say, and they’re not afraid that you are going to get upset. You say to them, “I promise you that I will not get upset with you. I might be scared. I may be afraid, but I want us to have an open relationship where you can come and tell me anything, and we'll solve it together.”
What are the most common misconceptions parents have about their children’s online safety?
A common myth is stranger danger. The idea is that if someone's a stranger, they're a bad person, but it doesn't work very well online. The people that your children are talking to, they don't view them as strangers at a certain point. It's very hard for someone to ask them to send a picture in a first message. They're connecting over a game or meme, or their shared love of a certain influencer. Those types of things where it's really innocuous. They don't really think much about it, but then a couple of texts later or a couple of days later when they feel more comfortable, they might add something tiny like, “what does your room look like?”
They have a conversation that slowly gets more personal and then they might say, “take a picture of your clothes. So once they're in those moments, your kids don't think of that person as a stranger. So “stranger danger” doesn't work that way because they've already built a relationship over hours, days, weeks, or even months.
And another reason “stranger danger” doesn't work well online is because a lot of predators have hacking skills. That means they can hack into another person's account and impersonate someone that your child does actually know in person.
Another myth is that parental controls or monitoring apps can't be hacked. Recently, a cybersecurity research paper stated that 40+ popular parental control apps didn't have proper security, and therefore made it easier for a hacker or predator to get into. These are serious problems we need to start paying attention to.
What advice would give to parents with younger children?
When you have younger kids, you're in the managing role. The connection is extremely important, but you will have to be more hands-on than you would be if your child is 13 plus.
I've heard stories of three- or four-year-olds buying thousands of dollars of something on Amazon. So locking it down is most important. If they're always on the iPad, lock down the iPad. If they're always on your phone, lock down your phone. Make sure that you don't have any applications open where they randomly can click things.
What kinds of conversations should parents have with their children when they go online?
Besides connecting with them as individuals, I would especially connect with what they love about the internet. If you have a kid that's really fascinated by gaming or looking at pictures on social media, then connect with them through that.
And you can also help them understand that they don't have to be the nicest person in the world. If someone says or does something that's uncomfortable, they can report or block them.
I would also encourage parents to start to teach and remind their kids to limit what they share online. And once you have this conversation, make sure that you're doing the same. Because what you post about your children can be just as damaging as what they post about themselves.
One way you can start having internet safety conversations is by asking them questions about their experiences online and listening with the goal to understand. Not every conversation about the online world has to be about internet safety, but it's important to bring it up when it fits the moment. And little moments of safety reminders are better than one big internet safety conversation.
And of course, make sure they know that you're on their side, and if anything happens, you will approach it with the "us vs the problem" mindset and that they won't be in trouble. Because the most impactful conversations are open, safe and non-judgmental.
What online issues do you think kids are most concerned about?
Cyberbullying and misinformation. And also the lack of understanding from parents and society about their experiences online and what is important to them.
What are some positive ways that you see kids using technology?
They’re building a lot of businesses, becoming influencers, fighting injustice and raising awareness. The internet can help them hone their skills, and obviously, that's going to make their confidence skyrocket.
I see them building community with other people that are similar to them, and connecting with other people that understand them, make space for them and make them feel seen, heard and loved for who they are. That has a huge impact when it comes to confidence and self-awareness.
They're also being exposed to new ideas, cultures, understanding and resources that they haven't before. And there's a positive and negative to that, but I believe it’s overwhelmingly positive. And I believe that we should pay attention to that.