When it comes to picking a new device for your child, it's often difficult to know where to start.
Whether you're looking for a smartphone, a laptop, a gaming device or something else, or even just signing up for an account online, you want to make sure your kids are protected. It's important to get the basics right, and you also want to be able to set parental controls, leaving little room for your child end up in online destinations you don’t want them going.
Of course, setting controls shouldn’t be a be-all and end-all. Nothing can replace having good and open communication with your kids.
Today's generation of kids and teens consider their devices and the Internet as extensions of their lives. So it's really important to talk to them about how they should use their devices responsibly, what they should and shouldn’t be doing online, and how they should be treating other people.
So without further ado, let’s dive into what we should be teaching our kids about Internet safety and what we can do to enforce these teachings.
C O N T E N T S
- Keep your online accounts secure
- Respect your privacy
- Capture and share with care
- Take care of your data
- Take care of your device
- Be wary of certain sites and content online
- Be kind
7 Internet safety tips
1. Keep your online accounts secure
Whether your child needs their own personal email address, an account for school, or a social media login, the advice is largely the same. Show them these tips:
Never use the same password twice
It seems like we can't go a week—or even a day sometimes—without hearing about an online service being breached.
After a breach, cybercriminals often sell and re-sell the stolen data. And if your child uses the same password across multiple accounts, when one gets breached they are all vulnerable.
This is where a password manager comes in.
As parents and carers, you can introduce your kids to this nifty tool. Not only can it create lengthy and complex passwords, it remembers them all for you. Many of them auto-populate the login fields when you attempt to access an online account, so you know you are on the correct site and not an imitation site that's phishing you.
Use strong passwords
You need to make sure the passwords your kids use are strong, and by today's standard, this means they should have a decent amount of length.
Some websites cap the length of the characters one can use in a password. Some welcome a level of complexity you can bake into a password. What you should be considering is a site should have a set minimum password length of 8-characters. Anything below that...you might want to reconsider ever joining at all.
A strong password is one that nobody else knows, and is extremely hard (for a powerful computer) to guess. Make sure your child uses the maximum length with the maximum level of complexity a site can offer. For example, if a site only allows passwords that are 18 characters long and a combination of numbers and big or small letters, then create a password that has all these elements.
Your password manager can help with this. Just make sure you choose a super-strong password for the manager itself.
Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA)
Passwords alone just aren't enough these days. You need to put in as much friction as possible in order to protect your kids' accounts. Multi-factor authentication is a great step to add in on every service that offers it.
MFA provides an additional layer of identity confirmation. Once your child has entered their username and password, they'll need to prove they are the account holder by using another method of verification. This could be a one-time login code sent via text, a code on an authenticator app, or a push notification, among others.
Make sure your child takes advantage of this feature when available, and if a site your child would like to try doesn’t have MFA, perhaps the better question to ask is: Security-wise, should they even be using it?
2. Respect your privacy
In our Malwarebytes 2019 Privacy Survey we found that younger generations of Internet users are actually quite privacy-conscious. However, one thing we learned is that when it comes to potentially identifiable information (PII), younger people tend to have different opinions from older generations on what counts as personal data and what doesn’t.
Various states, countries, and organizations also have their own list of what data should and shouldn’t be considered PII. The European Union, for example, considers an IP address as personal data, but under the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) an IP address is only "sometimes" classed as PII.
Clearly it's confusing. But teach your kids to, at the very least, carefully consider not sharing:
- their full name
- the school they’re currently attending
- their personal contact number
- their personal email address
- their Social Security Number (SSN)
- your home address
- your home phone number/landline (if you still use one)
- email addresses of relatives and/or friends
- information about relatives and friends, such as where they work.
Telling your kids what they can share and what they shouldn’t is a good first step to taking their privacy seriously.
From here, carefully look through your child's browser privacy and security settings to make sure they're as tight as they can be. Do this on all the devices they use, including their smartphones.
You might also want to install some privacy- and security-enhancing extensions for the browser. If you don't know where to start, Pieter Arntz, Malware Intelligence Researcher and regular contributor to the Malwarebytes Labs blog, has shared the six brilliant Chrome extensions he personally uses.
Bonus points if you can encourage your kid into using a browser that is already optimized for privacy and security.
Lastly, don’t just stop at browsers. Your child’s social media platform of choice may need its privacy and security settings tinkering with as well.
3. Capture and share with care
If your kid respects their own privacy, then they should respect other people's privacy, too.
Thanks to smartphones, we've found in ourselves our inner shutterbug. While being creative is good, snapping images here and there and sharing them online with nary a though is not. This is also true for video, of course.
Tell your kids that if they plan to share online photos and videos of other people in the background, they should take the time to edit out the faces, or other elements in them that might give away locations they frequent.
And they should always ask permission first from the people in the photo or video before posting them online.
4. Take care of your data
Securing your child’s data is one of the biggest concerns of parents today. With stories of ransomware targeting and successfully hitting schools, not to mention the many other data breaches, parents and carers might feel that there is nothing they can do to protect their child’s data.
Far from it.
Securing your kid's online accounts is the first step (see above), but there are other steps you can take to secure your child’s data.
Be careful with files and links. Cybercriminals use files and malicious links to get their malware into devices. So teach your kids to treat files and links with caution. Although criminals used to send unsolicited private messages to random recipients, things have moved on. Now they create fake social media profiles of celebrities or people your kid knows, or even compromise legitimate accounts to spread their malware.
If your child is messaged privately by a friend, classmate, relative, or anyone they might know containing a link or a file, encourage your child to contact the person via a separate method to ask if they have indeed sent that message.
Make sure all software is updated. One way for cybercriminals to infiltrate systems is to find weaknesses in software and then exploit them. Think of it like a door that anyone can open without alerting those already in the house. Make sure that door in your child’s computer is sealed, and apply updates as soon as they're available.
Be careful when connecting to public Wi-Fi. Your child’s school Wi-Fi isn’t the only hotspot they can connect to. When they’re out with friends or at a classmate’s house, they’re bound to connect to other Wi-Fi networks. Remind your kids that they shouldn’t allow their devices to connect to Wi-Fi that doesn’t use a password. And even then, they should also be picky about what they do online or what accounts they are accessing.
If connecting to a public Wi-Fi can’t be avoided, advise them to use a virtual public network (VPN).
Don't share passwords with anyone. And we mean, anyone—including friends. If your kid does this, it not only puts their data at risk, but also opens the door for abuse. They might be a close friend at school, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't try pulling a prank using your kid's account, for example. Better safe than sorry, right?
Install an antivirus (AV) you trust. Accidents happen. Many people have clicked a dodgy link or opened a questionable email attachment at some point. And when accidents like this happen to your kids, its good to have an AV installed to stop malicious code from downloading or running before it could wreak havoc on your device. It could also prevent you from seeing potentially malicious sites, such as phishing sites, when you click a questionable link.
Back up data. Even if you do everything you can to protect your kid's data, you could still end up as one of the unlucky ones. This is why it’s good practice to back up your data. This is the process of creating at least one copy of (usually) important files that we can’t afford losing. Ever.
5. Take care of your device
How your kids look after their computing devices is just as important as how they take care of the data stored in them. One form of data compromise your kids should avoid is device theft.
Lock down the device after a certain time of idleness. This way, if your child takes their eyes off their device for a bit when in a public space, the device won't be able to be quickly accessed by anyone else.
Secure their laptop to an object. If your child is prone to spending time in public places to work on their laptop, it’s a good idea to suggest using a security cable to physically secure their laptop onto a chair or desk in case they need to leave the device for a while. Security cables can be bought online or in computer hardware shops.
Speaking of theft, it’s also good to install anti-theft or tracking software in your child’s phone and other mobile devices, such as a laptop, that they bring with them to school or anywhere.
Password protect the device. For mobile devices, this could either be a PIN or a pattern. For laptops and desktop computers, this could be a local user password, a physical security key, or a picture code to name a few.
Update your child’s device’s firmware. Just like any software that's installed on their devices, it is equally important to update firmware. Firmware can have vulnerabilities like any regular software, and so updates should be installed as soon as possible.
6. Be wary of certain sites and content online
The Internet is a place where misinformation, fake news, and scams spread if people aren't careful enough. Not every site on the Internet is a safe place to visit, and this is something to gently drill in your child's mind.
Indeed, there are so many social media platforms right now that a lot of us parents cannot keep up. It's great that your child has a number of options to choose from, but in this case ask them to be picky.
If your child has a Facebook account, perhaps it’s a good idea to talk to them about fake news and how to identify it.
They need to be wary of everyone they are talking to online. Omegle, for example, is a social site where investigators found predators encouraging young boys to expose themselves on camera. Usually, these people claim to be the same age as their victims but they are, in fact, evil grown-ups taking advantage of kids. And it's not just boys at risk, recent research found 11-13 year old girls are the most likely targets of predators.
When it comes to picking which sites they should join or content to consume, your child could be as confused as you are. And most of the time, they follow the herd, their friends, and what’s trendy at the moment. They might need your guidance here, so prepare to learn the ropes together.
7. Be kind
Online abuse could happen to anyone. Cyberbullying, cyberstalking, threats of physical violence, flaming, non-contact sexual abuse—this includes flashing, forcing a child to perform sexual acts or take part in sexual conversations, and showing pornography among others—and other forms of abuse continue to affect many for life, with some destroying the lives of their targets and those close to them.
Instil in your child the kindness, understanding, and patience you would want others to approach them with. Having a healthy communication between children and parents or carers becomes significant here. Talking about any or all of these topics doesn’t just happen once. As you help them navigate through life—both in the real and the digital one—such conversations should be expected to come up and (hopefully) the topics are tackled with care, respect, and zero judgement.
If you want your kids to be kind to others online, show, don’t just tell.
Yes, your kids can be kind to themselves, too. Being online all the time, could be really fun and entertaining at first. But after a while, this could take a toll on them mentally and emotionally. Your kids could feel anxious, stressed, or tired because they’re absorbing and processing everything they see and read about.
This is why it’s advisable that they disconnect from the digital world often and reconnect with family, friends, and even with themselves. When was the last time they picked up a hobby that doesn’t involve a computer or phone? Or perhaps…when was the last time your child actually picked up a book to read for pleasure?
Should you accept this challenge...
The Internet is both a good and bad place. A good approach is to spend little to no time on sites that do not give your child a positive and learning experience. And when it comes to Internet safety for kids and teens, the best approach is for parents and carers to be involved in their child’s digital life.
I don’t mean micromanaging their digital life or making all their online decisions for them. If only that was possible!
Being involved means taking interest in your child’s online activities. It means becoming a presence when they need to understand, be reassured, be guided, be confident in what they do online. Being involved also means allowing them to decide for themselves and make mistakes—even after repeated warnings—but always on the ready to be a confidante or sounding board when things get rough.
Internet safety should start from the home. So raise your digital native to not only be smart about staying secure online and respectful of their (and other people's) privacy, but also a force of good in the digital realm. This is a challenge every modern parent must recognize and take to heart.