By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner
In the Digital Age we are spending an increasing proportion of our day in cyberspace and less time IRL (in real life). From shopping, dating and sharing, to learning, buying and teaching, our interactions with the virtual world are having a greater and greater influence on how we and others see ourselves, how we think and how we see the world and our place in it. Regrettably, there is not a virtual justice system ensuring that those who use the Internet for good are rewarded and that those who do otherwise face appropriate consequences.
As parents, we need to help our children grow up understanding that, as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times put it, “the internet is an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information, where they need to bring skepticism and critical thinking to everything they read and basic civic decency to everything they write.” Friedman cited a Stanford Graduate School of Education study published in November 2016 that found “a dismaying inability by students to reason about information they see on the internet.
So, what’s a parent to do?
Savvy Cyber Kids, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to enable youth, families and school communities to be powered by technology, recognizes that children may be ‘Digital Natives’ but they are also ‘Digital Naives,’ who, without intervention, completely lack an understanding of the implications of their digital actions. Founded in 2007 by Internet security expert, noted speaker and author Ben Halpert, Savvy Cyber Kids provides cyber ethics resources for parents and teachers to educate children as they grow up in a world surrounded by technology.
Here are Ben’s Top Ten Parent Tips for Cyber Safety:
#1 BE INVOLVED
Do you know your child’s favorite game, app, or social media community (and it changes often!)? If not, ask them! Children love talking about what they do with technology. Now that you know their favorite app, game or social media community, ask your child who they interact with in those digital spaces. Just as you ask about who your child plays with at school, you should ask who your children’s friends are online.
#2 HAVE THE “TECH TALK”
Much like the “sex talk,” the first time you introduce the “tech talk” is an important parenting hallmark. Since giving your child access to an Internet-enabled device is like taking the front door off your house and inviting in strangers, children need to understand that the virtual world can be a dangerous place and that they need to take steps to keep themselves safe. Help your child learn to distinguish between the physical world and the virtual world. Explain to your children that the physical world includes their home, friends they play with in their neighborhood, at school and on sports teams they play on. Teach your children to see strangers as strangers. As your children get older, the “tech talk” continues to evolve and delves into greater detail the inherent dangers of cyberspace. Start the talk — and don’t stop talking.
#3 BE A SAFE RESOURCE FOR YOUR CHILD
Let your children know they can approach you if something upsets them online, if they realize that they made a mistake, and that you are always available for them to help them understand what they are experiencing. Ask your child if they had ever seen anything online or in a game that made them feel uncomfortable or strange. Or if anyone has said anything strange to them in an app or a game. Ask them if anything online has made them feel funny, hurt their feelings or confused them. If they make a mistake, resist the urge to have a merely punitive approach. Help them to make better choices and sustain their willingness to communicate with you.
#4 ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILDREN TO STOP. THINK. CONNECT. TM
Encourage your children to use critical thinking skills and pause when they are about update social media or take any action on one—then think about what they are about to do, before potentially posting or forwarding something mean or suggestive. As a rule of thumb, have them answer a question like: What would my mother think about this? Help your children to understand why authorship, sources and sponsorship can influence the truthfulness of what they see on the Internet. Challenge them to not believe everything they see and to search for proof before accepting information.
#5 TEACH THAT STRANGERS ARE FOREVER.
To your children, anyone that reaches out to them via an app, game, or social media community seems like a good person just wanting to chat. Yet anyone that your child meets online is a stranger, FOREVER. You can’t definitively know who this person is, if they are misrepresenting themselves or if they are safe to engage with. Ask your children if they have ever received a message from someone in a game or an app that they don’t know in the physical world. Talk to your children about the concept of privacy and how they should not share personal information like names, addresses or phone numbers, if their parents are home, family schedules, or what school they attend. Make sure your children understand that they should NEVER meet someone they met online, through an app, game or social media community in the physical world. NOT EVER.
#6 UPDATE EVERYTHING.
It is important for you and your children to update all devices and software on a regular basis and when notified by the manufacturer or creator. Anytime an update (often called a patch) is available, a fix was made to a known problem with that device or software. Perhaps there is a way for someone to remove all the information off a computer or device. Maybe there’s a way for someone to remotely turn on the video camera on your device and take inappropriate videos. In addition to keeping up with the latest patches, install (and keep updated) an antivirus product. Antivirus products can protect you from certain attacks. And yes, even Mac computers should have antivirus software too.
#7 UNDERSTAND TECHNOLOGY.
#8 SET SECURITY FREEZES FOR THE ENTIRE FAMILY.
The reality is that credit monitoring services are not enough. Someone can still open an account in your name and ruin your credit history. Encourage all of your family members to contact each of the three credit reporting agency’s (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) and place a security freeze on your credit files. With the security freeze on your credit file, no one can open a new account (take out a mortgage, a car loan or other financial commitment on your behalf) unless they have your secret pin.
#9 ENABLE 2-STEP VERIFICATION.
Every account you and your grandchildren use is secured by user ID, such as a nickname or email address, and the password. This is done to prove that you are the person that is supposed to be accessing the account you were attempting to log into. Due to the increasing number security breaches, encourage your family members to take an additional step, beyond a complex password. Enable 2-step verification, a security measure that typically involves a text message being sent to your phone, a one-time code sent to your email, a call to your phone and/or the use of a verification app (sometimes called an authenticator app).
#10 CREATE A PARTNERSHIP WITH YOUR SCHOOLS
Encourage your children’s schools to support your digital parenting by merging cyber ethics lessons across all learning disciplines and offering age-appropriate cyber ethics programming for students, parents and educators.
Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.