Teaching Kids to Stay Safe and Secure Online
By Charlie Kerwin
Vice President, Senior Network Administrator
As an Internet technology specialist for INB and father of five, this topic has been an important one in my household and professional life for many years, and it is a conversation that is constantly evolving based on new technology that emerges.
When it comes to our kids, we can teach safety and security measures like in “the real world.” Just as in the real world, there are good things out there and things we need to be careful about. For example, hackers are similar to a criminal who breaks into your house, but through the computer instead of a window. Or, don’t open unsolicited email attachments just like you wouldn’t take a gift from a stranger.
Here are some rules we have set for our own family and other suggestions I have for keeping your children safe online and helping them to understand the extreme importance of online and mobile security…
- Start discussing online security – and why is it important – at an early age. Use computers with your kids and show them how we set and use passwords, how we protect against viruses, and more.
- Be aware of all of your kids’ passwords. I know the passcodes and passwords on my kids’ devices so I can check on them if I need to. I also follow or favorite any of my oldest daughter’s social media accounts so I know when she’s posted something. As a child shows responsibility, you can increase their Internet privileges.
- Don’t just list rules, but take the time to show them what you mean and explain why. Keep the lines of communication open, so they feel comfortable asking questions or telling you when they have gotten to an area they shouldn’t be in.
- Teach your kids that one of the best “rules” to follow while using the Internet is: Act online how you would act in person.
- Keep any screen in the more public areas of your home. In our family, we don’t allow mobile devices, laptops, or computers in our kids’ rooms. That way, any browsing is done in an open area of the house where we can see it.
- The online world cannot be erased and lives on forever. Even though some apps and programs claim that photos or posts are “erased,” we can all assume that anything online is permanent.
- For more exposure, get your kids involved in technology programs. There are international programs focused on technology, like CoderDoJo. CoderDoJo is a programming club for kids ages 7 to 17 where they learn to code, build a website, create an app or game and explore technology. Another program called CyberPatriot teaches junior high and high school kids about cybersecurity skills.
Programs like Disney’s Circle and FamilyTime are built to monitor and restrict a user’s time and access to content. PC Magazine also lists more resources in its list of “Best parental control software of 2017.”
OpenDNS is a tool that you can point your home router to, and it offers basic web filtering, such as blocking malicious sites, blocking adult content and more. Safe and Secure Online is a professional organization that maintains my security certificate; their page dedicated to parents/guardians is especially helpful.
Recently, Google released a classroom curriculum and computer game to teach children about online safety and security. The program is called “Be Internet Awesome” and is part of Google’s effort to encourage young people to be good Internet citizens. Google’s online game, called Interland, invites players to travel around four floating island worlds that offer challenges, puzzles and quizzes related to online safety. (The game is free and accessible on all Web browsers.)
The Federal Trade Commission also offers numerous resources about the various topics related to kids and online safety, from mobile phones to social media.
Online security can be a difficult topic because many fantastic programs and new technology components are continually released, and we want our kids to learn and explore these new things. However, you’ll find just as many harmful, dark corners of the Internet, and we don’t want an online presence to replace real-life relationships. As parents, it’s our job to be vigilant and aware of the dangers, while offering carefully monitored use so that our kids can learn from the latest technology.