As grown-ups we hear people talking about online security or Cyber security all the time. It happens to us more frequently than we realize with constant mentions of security at work or in the news (mainly at work). Why? Because it is important. The Internet is an amazing place. It offers an infinite amount of resources and knowledge that we all can tap into. Millions of us spend countless hours every day being online. From checking email, reading the news, opening Facebook or LinkedIn, working to watching your favorite TV show on Netflix. If you are doing one of those activities, chances are that you are using the Internet. I like to say that you are “online” or “connected”.
The bad guys have realized that the Internet offers them unlimited access and opportunity to do wrong. Most of them actually prefer doing Cybercrimes versus the alternative face-to-face crimes. For example – it is a lot easier to impersonate someone and use the distance the Internet offers as protection and to your advantage than to physically confront someone and steal or hurt them. I am sure you can think of all the news about cyber bullying, harassment or virtual stalking. Of course most of you reading this article are fully aware of the dangers the Internet offers, but what about your kids? Do you think they are ready to safely navigate the deep waters of the Internet?
Perhaps the bigger question is: Are YOU prepared to teach your kids about the dangers of the Internet? Do you know how to promote good online habits, and how to ultimately be safer while using the Internet?
As responsible adults and parents we have to at least try to educate our kids and give them a good foundation in life that they can later build on. I believe this is true for everything, including online behavior and cyber security. Naturally we want the best of our kids and we want to see them succeed. That is why we send our kids to school, right? There they learn about the things that surround them and make up our world (math, science, social studies etc.). One thing that is not widely taught in our schools today is proper and safer use of the Internet. Yes, most school do have computer labs and kids get to spend time learning how to type or do research, but not enough time (if any at all) is spent on Cyber security. The school system has not caught up with the technological advances and the way technology affects and influences our lives. One day, soon I hope, our schools will teach or offer Cyber security classes.
Until that time comes, we have to take things into our own hands and make sure our kids are aware and prepared. Below you find high-level Do’s and Don’ts that I think are crucial to our children’s online safety education. As a father of two great kids (9 yrs. and 5 yrs. old), I can tell you it won’t be easy, but if you follow my advice your chance for success will drastically increase.
What to DO as a parent:
- It all starts with awareness. Start talking to your kids about the Internet and talk to them often. Find a way to introduce the concept of online security at an early age. Every kid is different but it is not uncommon for a three or four-year old to be using a connected device. In some cases we see kids using mom’s or dad’s smartphone as early as two years old. The minute you allow your kids to use your smartphone or tablet, they are “exposed” and you need to find a way to talk to them about security.
- Keep it simple and use real life examples. Remember who your audience is and tailor your speech. Do not use highly technical terms or jargon.
- Help your children get online. Be there when they first attempt to log in and create a profile. Help them understand the concept of having passwords and most importantly, teach them how to create strong passwords.
- Teach them good Cyber Hygiene and how to establish good online habits. They need to understand two very important things:
- Nothing ever gets deleted or forgotten from the Internet!
- The Internet needs to be treated as real life and online people are strangers!
- Block web sites, search engines and apps that you believe are inappropriate for your kid’s age. There are many tools available that will get the job done. You can start with a product that is free or has a free trial. Only purchase the paid version if you like it. I recommend products that can be applied to the entire home network and use them as an umbrella for all connected devices. Most modern wireless routers will have features and options you can use to block sites. If that is not an option then take a look at Cloud based products like OpenDNS.
What NOT to do as a parent:
- Do not attempt explaining everything at once. Take baby steps. Children can easily become overwhelmed and overloaded with information and lose interest. Keep them entertained while you teach them. This is especially true for those of you who are dealing with young kids. Typically 5-10 minutes a day is enough. Sometimes you may need more time and you will have to stop or slow down. Remember, you are NOT talking to adults.
- Do not allow unsupervised browsing (at least not in the beginning). Try to be close to your kids when they are using a connected device. I am not saying that you should police them or look over their shoulders all the time. Quite the opposite – make them aware of your presence, educate them, guide them through issues and be there for them in general. It is important that you establish a good and clear line of communication. This will help your kids understand that they can trust you and talk to you when they feel the need. Kids should feel safe telling you if something or someone makes them uncomfortable.
- Do not talk to them once and think that your job is done. Kids will not remember everything you tell them. At first they may even have a hard time understanding what you are telling them. This should be an ongoing process and you as the parent should stay on top of it. It will help to change, rotate and update your topics.
- Do not get mad or punish your kids when you find out they did something wrong. Take it as an opportunity to teach them how not to make the same mistake again. Highlight the threats or possible consequences of their unsafe behavior.
- Do not simply lay out the rules. Provide them with examples they can relate to. Engage them in a meaningful conversation rather than doing a monologue. HINT: when kids ask questions you know they are engaged and interested in learning. Listening to what they have to say is also very important because it can often provide you with the “missing piece of the puzzle”.
I truly hope that this article helps you in your journey towards your kids’ online security. Feel free to share with other parents or suggest your own Dos and Don’ts.