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Cybersecurity Quick Tips

A Parents’ Guide to Cybersecurity for Kids

It is no secret that technology is entwined in every facet of our lives today. From our homes to our cars to our offices and everywhere in between, there seems to be no escaping technology. This is of course the case for adults, but it is also growing more and more popular with every generation of children. A survey conducted by the Erikson Institute found that most parents – 85 percent of those surveyed – allow their children under age 6 to use technology at home. In fact, it is not uncommon to see a toddler using an iPad or smartphone with a higher rate of success than many adults today.

It is not just in the home that children will encounter technology. Most elementary schools today have evolved from the computer labs we once knew to providing children with laptops of their own to use for the school year. Even for those schools that do not provide this equipment to students, access to a computer is nearly always required in regards to homework and also as a way for parents to keep track of of grades and keep in contact with teachers. The pandemic saw a complete shift for a few years in how kids interacted with their teachers, peers, friends, and family. While this was (thankfully) temporary, it has highlighted how important technology is in the lives of all of us, regardless of age and it’s safe to say that kids today cannot really avoid technology being a major part of their lives. While technology can be an amazing asset to the youth of today, it does also pose some concerns for many parents who are aware of the dangers of the online world – particularly when it comes time to go back to school, as was the case for schools across the country this month.

Technology is all around us today and it is important to be informed of some of the ways you can help your children navigate in this world safely and confidently. Below we’ll take a look at some of the actions you can take to help set your child up for success as they head back to school!

Communication is Key

Your kids will hear about the world of tech in one way or another, so it is best for you to teach them about it first so they know your standards and rules for navigating the Internet. It is important to set clear guidelines for what works best for your and your family when it comes to technology. Be sure to set boundaries including types of content that they are allowed to access and the amount of time they can be using devices. Do not limit this step to a one-time conversation, rather be sure you are constantly communicating with your children in a way which makes them feel comfortable coming to you with any questions or concerns they may have. Once you have established what types of content are and are not appropriate for your child, emphasize that they should come to you with anything that they are concerned about or that is unfamiliar to them.

For some families, communicating boundaries may also come with the added step of introducing parental controls as a tool in the family’s cybersecurity plan. Parental controls can consist of setting password protected time limits on different apps or the devices altogether. They can also be content driven, meaning that you set limiting boundaries on the devices themselves so that your child cannot navigate to the types of content you have deemed as being unsuitable for them. These restrictions can provide some parents with peace of mind when it comes to their child operating in an online space.

Parental controls do not have a time frame or age limit, however, these can be more like the training wheels for introducing cybersecurity to your kids – your children will not have parental controls forever, so whether or not you choose to incorporate parental controls into your family’s cybersecurity approach, be sure to emphasize what boundaries you have for them and why they are in place so that your child can confidently navigate any device.

Teach Them Password Hygiene

Having strong, unique passwords for every login is the most basic building block when it comes to cybersecurity and should be among the first things you teach your child in regards to online safety. This is especially important for kids as they get older and have more and more logins like those for school sites, social media, and gaming platforms. If they have an easily guessable password or use the same one for every site, they put themselves at risk of having their private data stolen including their name, passwords, any financial data tied to the site, and even things like their birthdate or home address, if the site has that information. It can be hard for any of us to keep up with unique passwords for every single site and app that asks us for a unique login, however there are tools to make this a more manageable feat and something easily doable for Internet users of all ages.

There are many free password managers out there which act as mini-databases for users to store their login credentials in; when using a password manager, you simply store all of your logins in that app/site and then have to remember the one complex password for the password manager rather than remembering every single login. This way, you have access to your passwords in one place without having to become a whiz at remembering everything overnight.

Social Media Safety

Most social media sites have an age restriction of 13 years old and up. Even still, many children younger than this are able to create social media accounts by entering false information into the account set up pages. For some kids, they may not have their own social media, but they like to scroll through your accounts while using your phone. Regardless of your child’s age, keeping them safe on social media is an incredibly important step in comprehensive cyber education. Be sure to teach your children to not add strangers to their friends list and to only interact with individuals they know. Inform them of the importance of not comparing their lives with those they see on social media – people almost always post only the positives to social media and comparing your whole life to the good in theirs is no way to live. This can be hard for teenagers in particular, so be sure to limit their screen time so that they do not obsess over the false lives they see on social media. There are also a few apps in particular that worry parents quite a bit.

Many parents are understandably wary of sites like TikTok and Instagram due to all of the videos, pictures, and posts they may come across while on these sites; these apps can have content ranging from cute and cuddly to very inappropriate, all intermingled together. Additionally, TikTok’s security risks have recently come under fire as being very unsafe for users. Another app that many parents take issue with is Snapchat because it is set up in a way that the photos are only temporarily visible to the recipient and then are essentially gone.

The best thing you can do with social media is to both monitor your child when they use it and limit their screen time for each app – which can be done in the Settings of your phone and restricted with a password. Additionally, apps like TikTok have introduced restricted mode where mature content is filtered out. For parents who are particularly worried about TikTok, be sure to check out this Parents’ Guide created by Common Sense Media. Just this month, Snapchat introduced parental controls in the form of a ‘Family Center’ which allows parents access to who their children have been talking to over the last 7 days without the parent being able to view the messages themselves. Though this may not be the solution all parents want, it is a better set up than the app previously had. If you find that your kids are talking to folks who they do not know or you do not trust, be sure to have a conversation with them.

Real World Awareness

Personal Safety

Not only should our kids know about how and why they should safely navigate their devices, but they also need to know the importance of balancing being safe in the real world while using technology. Think of a teenager crossing the street – too many times have we seen a young person blindly walk into a crosswalk or across a parking lot without looking up from their phone to check and see if cars are coming. The person is so engrossed their phone that they fail to pay attention to the world around them.

These devices can be almost addictive and it can be hard to focus on things in your physical surroundings when what is happening on your phone seems so much more enticing. It is incredibly important that you have conversations with your kids about putting their phone down when they are out in the real world. For parents of young drivers, be sure to teach them that the text or message they receive while they are driving can be addressed once they get to their destination. Not only should these teachings come across in a conversation, but you as their parent need to show your kids by example, as this is the best way for them to learn how to navigate safely in the real world while also using technology.

Cyberbullying

One of parents’ greatest concerns when it comes to their kids being online is cyberbullying. In the past, bullies were confined to the schoolyard, but now they can follow your children home in the form of their smart phone or computer. What’s scary too is that kids are not only bullied by their peers at school, but also random users on the Internet. This is an area that has real world impact because so many young people develop depression and anxiety due to being bullied. Though physical bullying is terrible and should not exist, cyberbullying is often perceived by victims as being worse because things on the Internet last forever. 

It is important to again, talk with your kids, about this issue. This is a particularly difficult conversation to have, but it is also very important. Be sure to let your children know that they can come to you, without judgement, if they ever are concerned with how they are being treated online. Watch for mood changes or signs that your child may be down and bring it up to them in a gentle way. The website stopBullying.gov can be a good resource to help guide you with this conversation. Additionally, it is important to talk to your child about how they speak to others online so that they do not become a cyber bully themselves.

Raising kids in this age of ever-evolving technology is no easy feat, but be sure to communicate with them, intervene where necessary, and always advocate for your children and their cyber safety.

Image by our-team for Freepik.