With the world having gone completely digital there’s very little we can’t do online and through our smartphones or tablets. Without question, it adds a new level of convenience to our lives. Our kids, too, are living much of their lives online as they interact with friends, do schoolwork, play games, stream content, and more online. In many cases, in fact, it’s fair to say kids spend more time on their phones and laptops than their parents.
With that convenience, though, comes responsibility – responsibility to behave safely and appropriately in a digital society. As parents, we have an inherent responsibility to protect our children, and how, that extends into the digital world. It has to – there’s too much malicious activity and cyber crime that could impact your entire family.
So, the theory is, if your kids are old enough to be online, they are old enough to be taught how to do it safely. Here are some tips for helping to keep your kids (and the rest of your family) safe in a digital world.
Set ground rules – Maybe the first thing to do is set ground rules for online activity. However old your kids are, make sure they understand your expectations. That might mean setting digital curfews in the evening, no phones at the dining table, limits on non-schoolwork usage, permission to download apps or games, and more. Some devices and applications allow you to set limits on certain apps, which can help. Mobile carriers also offer family safety apps that can help monitor and track usage. As a parent, you shouldn’t feel bad about monitoring your children’s online activity – their friend lists, applications, search or chat history, and other data – to make sure they are building safe habits.
Security – Perhaps the most important thing for your kids to understand is security. The moment they start interacting online, your kids will potentially be exposed to millions of cyber threats, which also put your home network, and all devices attached to it, at risk. Make sure you install appropriate security software on each device and keep it updated, and be sure your kids understand they are not to disable or uninstall them. It’s also best to enable multi-factor authentication for all apps that offer the option (most do these days), to make it harder for accounts to be hacked. Finally, understand that many apps request access to data that isn’t needed for the apps to function. Make sure you look at those permissions carefully and only allow access to information that is absolutely necessary. You may want to require parental approval for downloading and installing any new apps, especially for younger children.
Passwords – Teach your kids to use the same safe password guidelines you do. They should avoid using the same password on multiple sites; they should change passwords regularly and monitor accounts for fraudulent activity; and importantly, they should never share account information with others.
Privacy – Kids tend to document their lives through photo and video. Remind them to respect others’ privacy when posting and that they should only post photos or videos they don’t mind being in the public domain. Also make sure automatic geo-tagging is turned off for photos and videos. In fact, it’s a good idea to disable location access to all apps, then enable them for specific apps that need it, like tracking apps that help you keep tabs on their location.
Social media – Social media can be overwhelming, and many adults don’t even think before posting. When your kids are old enough to have their own social media accounts, talk to them about using good judgment and common sense on these apps. Remind them that once they post something, it’s impossible to take it back. Also make sure they understand the risks of connecting with people they don’t know on social media. Kids often see social media as a popularity contest – the more follower or likes, the better. Teach them that’s not the case and that the safest policy is to only accept friend or follow requests from people they actually know.
Safe habits – Teach your kids about phishing scams and help them understand how to identify potentially malicious emails, text messages, pop-ups, emails, and links that are designed to get them to share personal information. Educating your kids early will help them recognize potential threats early and develop safe digital habits. If you get a phishing message, use it as a teaching moment by showing your kids and explaining to them why it’s suspicious and how to handle it.
File sharing – At some point, your kids are likely to start exchanging files with friends, and possibly even using P2P file sharing applications. Make sure they understand there are risks with P2P networks, like potentially malicious code embedded in flies from unknown sources, which could your network and files to others. There’s also the issue of downloading copyrighted content illegally. If they need share files with others, make sure they are using legitimate software that has been properly installed with appropriate settings to ensure no private information is shared. Also make sure any files they receive from others are scanned by their security software before use.
At some point, it becomes impossible to keep children from becoming part of the digital society, especially once they start needing to access online tools for school. The fact is, many of the applications websites, and services available today provide unique social and educational opportunities that can be helpful. Your goal should be to help your children understand the risks and develop habits that will reduce those risks while allowing them to be part of the online world. While there are no guarantees, following these guidelines can help.
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