Now more than any time in history, we must teach our children about the importance of safety, both online and in the real world. The coronavirus has forced millions of families from across the globe to adopt social distancing and rely on their Internet-enabled devices to communicate with the outside world. This means children who may have already been spending hours online are now getting even more screentime.

With schools contemplating distance education for the fall semester, students must be prepared for online classes and other means of communication with their classmates. It’s not just parents who need to adapt to the new work-from-home environment and threat landscape. Kids must also now traverse the online world and know how to stay safe.

The Internet can provide a wide range of educational activities for children but, as kids spend more time online, their digital profiles can easily become a target for cybercriminals and bad actors.

Cyber Security – It’s Never Too Early To Learn

Learning the basics of good cyber hygiene should not have an age limit, much like good personal hygiene isn’t just for adults. While you monitor what apps and games your youngest kids engage with, it might be harder to keep an eye on teens who are naturally more prone to sharing everything with their parents.

More screen time comes with a price. It is necessary to teach your children about their digital profile and how they can stay safe while perusing the web.

Studies have shown that three in five children use Internet-based devices in their homes, and it’s estimated that children between 8 and 18 spend about 45 hours per week online. We can only imagine what these figures look like with schools, theatres, and most activities shut down due to the coronavirus.

To Post or Not To Post

It’s a tough question.

We live in the social media era. Adults and children alike post their daily activities, from their likes and dislikes to their opinions, potentially revealing selfies and videos.

At first glance, posting or sharing something online may seem harmless to children. Everyone else is doing it and really, dad, how many people actually get hurt? However, it is your job to explain how the digital world works. We tend to forget, adults included, that once a picture is online, it remains online forever. Advise your children to be cautious about what they share on social media. Demonstrate how they can tweak their profile settings so that only their friends can view their profile. Also, don’t forget to explain why this is important. Just telling them to do something will likely go in one ear and out the other. Back up your reasoning with examples and facts.

Stranger Danger Returns – Now in Digital Form

Online popularity and an extensive friends’ list have become the new symbol of social status, especially for teenagers. However, the anonymity provided by the digital world is often abused by cybercriminals who may pose as a trustworthy individual or friend.

It is essential that you teach your children to spot red flags in any online communication. It’s too easy to obfuscate one’s identity on the internet. The best course of action for dealing with messages from an unknown sender would be to ignore the message request. However, it’s all too easy to overlook this step. Advise your children to be cautious about whom they befriend and speak with. Detail some of the risks they expose themselves to by providing information and pictures.

A study from the Center for Cyber Safety and Education uncovered that 40% of children in grades 4-8 have talked to a stranger online. Even more troubling is that 53% provided their phone number, 30% texted and 15% tried to meet up with the unknown individual.

Cyberbullying

Bullying is no longer just the stuff of schoolyards. Cyberbullying has serious psychological effects on a child. Common tactics for cyberbullies today include posting mean comments, spreading rumors, threatening, and even impersonating someone using a fake account to damage their online reputation.

Social media bullies can cause excessive harm and distress, and your child should feel comfortable enough to talk with you about any individual that might be harassing them online. Make sure you clearly and repeatedly let your child know if they are having an issue online they must speak up. Help your child be mindful of their approach, and immediately report bullies to online platforms or local authorities.

Oversharing and Cyber Theft

It’s not just online social media accounts that your child needs to worry about. If you have given your child permission to make purchases online it is essential they know how to stay safe. Make sure they shop responsibly and know how to identify trusted websites. Teaching them how to identify a potential scam can save them, and you, from becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud.

Advise teenagers not to store credit card or PayPal information when shopping online. This includes in-game purchases as we’ve seen a rise in gaming in recent years and especially during the pandemic. If your teen has access to his or her Social Security number, urge them NEVER to provide this personally identifiable information (PII) online.

Child identity theft is laughing matter. According to a 2017 study conducted by Javelin Research, more than 1 million children have had their identities stolen. 66% of the victims were under the age of 8. While we may think that cybercriminals would want to target adults only, a child’s identity is even more valuable. Why? It allows criminals to open new lines of credit that could go unchecked for years. By the time the child is an adult and is ready for that first credit card or needs a student loan, they may run into trouble due to terrible credit.

Securing Online Accounts

Email accounts are free and can be quickly obtained without any parental approval. You are likely aware of the dangers of phishing emails and how important it is to protect your personal information. Explain the dangers of phishing and other email scams to your child. Encourage them not to click on suspicious links or open attachments they receive from unfamiliar email addresses.

As the dad, it is your job to not just protect your child’s account info, but also to assure that no malicious code infects a device that other family members might be using.

Explaining the importance of a strong password is a good first step when discussing account security. Most children play online games and set up accounts, allowing them to engage with other players. However, the dangers of data breaches are not limited to financial accounts. In recent years we’ve seen hacks at non-financial institutions, such as retailers. Any user database is useful for cyber thieves, this includes Xbox Live and similar accounts.

When possible encourage your child to enable a two-factor authentication method. Remind them that good password hygiene includes regular changes to keep bad actors out.

As a father protecting your child’s online identity is just as important as looking after their physical safety. Becoming a digitally-minded family requires effort and participation from everyone. However, the long-term benefits are worth the effort. Share your wisdom with your family, make updating software a monthly activity, and work to make online safety habits second nature.

Author

Sports spectator, cicerone in my dreams, and dad of two amazing kids. I've been known to mess around with some PHP, SQL, R, and other alphabet soup-esque languages.

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