After two long months of computer games and ice pops, it’s time to head back to school. And with the new school year comes new gadgets, new friends and new past times. So this is the perfect time to speak to your kids about staying safe online.
Today’s hyper-connected environment presents amazing opportunities for kids to explore ideas they would never be able to otherwise, but it also presents many dangers. The more tools you have for keeping your kids safe, the better.
Here are 7 steps for keeping your kids safer online.
1. Get Parental Controls – Because parents can’t be everywhere
As a parent, it probably didn’t take you long to learn that you can’t be everywhere all the time. The same principal applies when it comes to online safety. That’s why Parental Controls are so important.
Parental Controls are a way of childproofing your PC. They filter out inappropriate content so kids can surf in safety. Parental Controls don’t eliminate all the dangers posed by the internet, but they certainly make it safer for curious young minds to explore.
With ZoneAlarm’s Parental Controls, you can choose which types of sites are inaccessible to your child. This means you can block inappropriate content before it reaches your child. You can also limit the amount of time your child spends online, and define the times of day in which your child can surf.
2. Teach social smarts – Starting in the sandbox and all the way to the social media playground
When your kids were young, you probably taught them basic social skills before they hit the playground. Be nice to others. Share your snacks. Don’t bud in line. Just as kids in the playground need tips on appropriate behavior, so do children on the internet. And just because your kids aren’t toddlers anymore doesn’t mean they are old enough to know how to behave in every situation. This is especially true when you consider how many types of situations arise on the internet.
According to a recent study be Pew Research Center, 92% of teens in the USA go online daily and 24% are “almost constantly” online. As you can imagine, the majority of these youngsters are on social media. Facebook is the most popular social network among teens, with more than 70% of teens using it. This is followed by Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter.
There are lots of amazing things young people can do on social media. They can play games, share photos, invite friends to hang out, consult about homework and a whole lot more. Of course, there are also significant dangers. Teaching your kids a few simple social media tips can help prevent a whole lot of embarrassment and potential danger.
3. Tell your kids: “Oversharing isn’t cool.”
It’s easy to get carried away in the tell-all atmosphere for which social media is known. But when kids share TMI (too much information) with their friends on social media, they are essentially sharing it with the world. Prying eyes can find out where a child goes to school, who they are friends with, and where they will be hanging out.
Even if your child only shares a post with their friends, there is no telling with whom their friends might share that information. Once something is posted on social media, it’s in the public domain, whether or not that was the intention.
4. Tell your kids: “Never EVER accept friend requests from strangers.”
Your child knows better than to talk to creepy strangers on the street. Unfortunately, it’s frighteningly easy for creepy people to disguise themselves as cool teens on social media.
Think about it – how hard would it be for a mal-intentioned adult to create a profile of an innocent teenager? Not hard at all. In fact, it happens all the time. According to a report from thenextweb.com, between 5.5 and 11.2 percent of all Facebook accounts are fake.
It’s a bad idea for anyone to accept a friend request from someone they don’t know. Even if that person seems to have a wide circle of friends and a well-developed timeline, there’s a very real possibility they aren’t legitimate. So teach your kids to be wary and let them know they can consult with you if they are ever suspicious about someone online.
By the way, Facebook has some pretty strong privacy settings which help limit who sees what information. By clicking the padlock icon on the upper right hand corner of your child’s Facebook profile, you’ll see a detailed list of options to help make sure they are only sharing posts with people they trust (or at the very least, people they know).
5. Teach smart email and texting practices
Email is a great way for kids to keep up with far-off friends and relatives. And if your child has a smartphone, it’s likely that he or she engages in texting on a very regular basis. In fact, they might not even know that once upon a time, people didn’t use their thumbs to communicate (other than for a display of approval or disgust, or to hitch a ride).
Despite being second nature, texting and email have their own host of perils. Make sure your kids know and follow these basic rules:
• Never send photos or messages that ridicule someone else.
• Never send inappropriate photos.
• Never send messages or photos that could embarrass someone.
• Do save messages that upset you and show them to an adult that you trust.
Remind your children that there is no such thing as a private email or text message. It only takes a click for that so-called private message to be shared with one person, a group of people, or an entire class.
6. Watch out for phishing emails, surveys, and other sketchy emails
Remember the last time you got an email from a crown prince containing a heartfelt plea for help transferring a huge amount of money into a Swiss bank account? Chances are you deleted it as soon as it landed in your inbox. But what would your child do if they got that email?
Those sketchy emails are called phishing emails, and they are a common tactic in which scammers pretend to be a trusted entity in order to acquire information. In fact, according to wired.com, 91% of all information breaches start with phishing attacks. These attacks, which often come in the form of emails and online surveys, prompt recipients to divulge all kinds of information, including dates of birth and social security numbers.
Unfortunately, children make the perfect targets for such scams. They tend to be very trusting and love to get free stuff. What kid wouldn’t want 100 ringtones just for answering a few (highly invasive) questions in an online questionnaire? Who wouldn’t want to help abandoned baby koalas by typing in a parent’s credit card number?
Children need to know that legitimate companies NEVER send emails asking to divulge passwords or any other sensitive information. These emails may look like they come from a known online entity, but your children need to know that if an email asks for password verification or account numbers, it’s a fake.
Let your kids know that they should never trust anybody on the internet. There is no such thing as a free lunch and most people asking for personal information on the internet have really, really bad intentions.
7. Never EVER open emails with suspicious-looking links
Some emails contain links with viruses and other sorts of malware. When an infected link is clicked, the malicious code starts to download itself onto the unfortunate computer. It can corrupt files and make life miserable, or it can sit quietly at the back of a computer and collect information about browsing habits and more. Kids should understand the dangers of opening links in emails, and be instructed never to open links unless they are certain they know who it’s from, and that the link is safe. Make sure that the computer your child is using is protected with a good antivirus that scans emails with attachments before they are downloaded.
Staying safe online – It’s a long-term assignment
Helping your kids stay safe online is an ongoing job. It’s not as simple as teaching your kids how to cross the road (look both ways first) or how to stay at home alone (never open the door to strangers). When it comes to the internet, the dangers are changing all the time. As a parent, that means your eyes must always be open. And yes, it helps if you have a pair on the back of your head.
As a parent, your job is to help your child navigate the digital world they think they know so well. And make sure they know that if they are ever in doubt about a site they’ve visited, an email they’ve opened, or an odd text message they’ve received, they can talk to you about it. You may get a bit of eye-rolling at first, but it’s worth it in the end.
How do you keep your kids safe online?