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The Oregon Trail. Carmen Sandiego. Minesweeper.

More than 20 years ago, a kid really couldn’t get into much trouble on a computer. For youngsters, the computer essentially served as an electronic hub for gaming and learning.

Today, a large percentage of American children between the ages of three and 18 have access to home internet. The built-in vulnerability of youth combined with the ease of access makes kids an easy target for cyber criminals.

Here are the four things you need to teach your kids about cybersecurity to keep them safe. (Note: Many of these concepts should serve as good reminders for you, too!)

  1. We Need to Talk … Social Media

Sit down and talk to your children about the potential repercussions of social media posts, such as cyberbullying and capturing the attention of cyber predators.

Cyberbullying is the use of cell phones, instant messaging, email, chat rooms, or social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to harass, threaten, or intimidate someone.

Cyber predators are people who use the internet to exploit usually younger people for sexual and other purposes.

Make sure they know once something is posted on the internet, it’s PUBLISHED FOR ANYONE TO SEE. Get them in the habit to ask themselves before they post: “What would my parents think if they read my post?” — “Would I want a stranger reading this post?

Discuss with them what to do if they get a message from someone they don’t know. Here’s where it’s important that you’ve established an open line of communication with your children about internet use. Make sure they feel comfortable coming to you in these situations. Your advice to them should be: 1. Never respond to people you don’t know on the internet; and 2. Never accept an invitation to connect online with someone you don’t know.

Also, social media platforms generally have ways to report individuals, if you believe a situation warrants it.   

  1. “You’ve Won Money!” No you haven’t, DELETE

Emails come in various forms; many are deceiving.

Cyber criminals use various tactics in subject lines to entice receivers to open (i.e. “Claim Your $1,000,000 Grand Prize”). They may use a time-sensitive, high-pressure ploy (i.e. “Update Your Information Today or Your Account Will Be Deactivated!”). Tell your kids: “Don’t fall for it!”

Tell them if they don’t know the sender, they shouldn’t open the email. If they do open the email, they should delete it. Have them look for the common signs of fraudulent emails, such as misspellings and poor grammar.

Most important, if they open an email from an unknown sender, they absolutely should NOT CLICK ON ANY LINKS WITHIN THE EMAIL.

As you know with children, accidents happen. If they do click on a malicious link, they need to tell you immediately. Then, you should guide them through the same protocols you’d follow – change all potentially compromised passwords, closely monitor accounts, and report the incident to appropriate authorities (i.e. FBI via their Internet Crime Complaint Center and/or the FTC).

  1. Keep Your Technology Close and Your Credit Card Closer

This is where your children’s access to technology and a credit or debit card comes into play. They need to know which sources for downloading music, applications, programs, and games are and are not safe.  

Generally, applications downloaded directly from an app store (i.e. iPhone App Store or Google Play Store) are safe from malware, scams, and viruses. That said, downloading new apps does present some risk. You may end up paying for an app without realizing what the purchase is for, or your kids may download an app that you later realize you didn’t want. That’s why it’s in your best interest to set boundaries with your children about downloading or purchasing something online with your credit card without your permission.

Again, links from unknown sources in emails or websites are not appropriate places to download from.

  1.  Your Information Belongs to You; Protect It

Tell your children to not share their full name, address, phone number, SSN, birthday, passwords, name of school, or any other personally identifying information on the internet. Be very careful about photo sharing.

Teach them about the importance of creating strong passwords and have them think about passphrases. A passphrase should be a phrase or saying that makes sense to them in a meaningful way. A strong password should have multi-word phrases with capitals, punctuation, and at least 12 characters. It may be difficult to expect them to memorize multiple passwords, so consider a password manager. (Passphrase example: I drink one Pepsi a day = Id1PepsiADay!!

Also, make sure they’re following the same security precautions you follow on your devices – turn on Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), make sure network defenders are updated on all devices, and turn on automatic software updates when they’re available.

Bonus Round

If you’re still reading, congratulations – you’ve made it to bonus security content!

Here are a few more noteworthy tips for keeping your children safe on the web:

  • Make sure your children (and you for that matter) are set up with the right safety tools, such as anti-virus software, anti-spam software, webcam protection, content blockers, virtual private network (VPN), and a password protector.
  • Monitor their online activities.
  • Keep dialogue open and non-threatening. Let them know if they make a mistake online, it’s OK; they just need to let you know so you can fix it.
  • We’ve already touched on a few of these, but it’s important to set rules within your house:
    • Age-appropriate screen times
    • Don’t download anything without parental permission
    • Only use social media with parental permission
    • Don’t give out any personal information


Let’s Get to Next, safely