As National Cyber Security Awareness Month draws to a close, your children need protection from a threat more dangerous than mere Halloween goblins.
There are digital dangers all over the Internet that responsible parents should be aware of.
Children of all ages are texting, posting video, building online profiles, sending photos and broadcasting their day-to-day activities to friends online whom they may not regularly see in person – or at all in some cases. The anonymous and quick nature of online activity can contribute to kids forgetting that they are still accountable for their actions on the Internet.
Hackers, scammers, predators, pornography and hate speech can all be accessed whether or not the effort is intentional.
Here are some ways to reduce the risks:
• Get involved and engaged in your children’s use of the Internet.
Talk to your kids in supportive and positive ways about using the Internet. Visit some favorite websites together. Be interested in their opinions and consider their feelings, while educating them about precautions and safeguards. Lecturing without listening can create distance between you and your child and be less constructive.
• Educate yourself about the protective features of the websites your child uses.
Using your computer’s parental settings to block sites from your children is a good option. But consider the fact that your child may not always be online on that particular device. That’s why it is best to take the time required to teach your child how to recognize an inappropriate website.
• Review privacy settings for your child on social media sites. Explain what those settings mean and discuss with them what level of privacy protection they need.
• Explain the risks and benefits of posting information on the Internet.
Your child may not realize that e-mails, photos, videos or other items posted can be copied and pasted anywhere. What is posted on the Internet is theoretically there forever. Encourage them to think about the language they use online as well. Future employers, college admissions officers, coaches, teachers and the police may all have access to what is posted years from now.
Here are situations that you should consider telling your child to report to you immediately:
• A website asks them for financial information. Don’t let your child post bank account info, credit or debit card numbers or Social Security numbers.
• A website asks for other personal information like names, e-mail addresses or phone numbers.
• Anyone sends them inappropriate pictures, uses inappropriate language or wants a face-to-face meeting. Kids may not know how dangerous such things can be.
• Your child wants to post their photo online. Be aware of exactly what image they want to post, at least until you think they are old enough to be trusted with such decisions.
• Bullying or harassment takes place. Whether on a social networking site, in an instant message or in an e-mail, be sure your child knows to show you at once.
• A “friend” request from an unknown person. Hackers and predators get information about children through this method.
• Any “free” online service they want to sign up for. “Free” almost never is, even if it seems harmless, like a daily joke message or a ringtone.
Be sure that your computer’s security software is up to date. Do a weekly scan for malware and install every operating system and program update, as these often fix security vulnerabilities.
Peer pressure and popular culture are constantly pushing your children toward online activity. Involve yourself and educate your child to be sure that scammers and predators are not haunting them as well.