I think most of us would agree that this has been a crazy year… and if you have school age children then it is even crazier and there seem to be more questions than answers on how our children are (if they are) going to attend school, how will they stay safe, and hundreds of other issues. One thing that we can do is to make sure we protect our children as much as possible from the ever-increasing number of cyberthreats and cyber-thieves. What follows is a hodgepodge of items from security websites like SANs, CERT, ISACA, as well as a lot of personal experience. Hopefully, some of these items will be useful for you and your children. Even if this email is all things you already know (or don’t want to know), it might create an opportunity to talk about online safety with your children (or grandchildren).
First, it’s important to make sure you foster good open communication with your children. Far too often parents get caught up in the technology required to block content or what mobile apps are good or bad. No parental control technology is perfect, and some have privacy concerns due to the data they collect. Ultimately this is not a technology problem but a behavior and values problem. Teach your children to behave online as you would in the real world. A good place to start is to create a list of expectations with your children. Here are some to consider (these rules should evolve as children get older):
- Times when they can or cannot go online and for how long. (Screen time limits)
- Types of websites and/or games they can access and why they are or are not appropriate.
- What information they can share and with whom. Children often do not realize what they post is permanent and public, or that their friends may share their secret with the world.
- Who they should report problems to, such as strange pop-ups, scary websites, or if someone online is being creepy or a bully?
- Treat others online as they would want to be treated themselves.
- People online may not be who they claim to be, and not all information is accurate or truthful.
- Detail what can be purchased online and by whom, including in-game purchases (Roblox, etc.)
Consider tying these rules to their academic grades, completion of chores, or how they treat others. Once you decide on the rules, post them in the house. Even better, have them review and sign the document; that way, everyone is in full agreement. The earlier you start talking to your children about your expectations, the better. Not sure how to start the conversation? Ask them what apps they are using and how they work. Put your child in the role of teacher and have them show you what they are doing online. Keeping communication open and active is the best way to help children stay safe in today’s digital world.
For mobile devices, consider a central charging station somewhere in your house. Before your children go to bed at night, have all mobile devices placed at the charging station, so your children are not tempted to use them when they should be sleeping.
Security Technologies and Parental Controls
There are security technologies and parental controls you can use to monitor and help protect your children. They typically provide capabilities to enforce usage limits or hours as well as content protections. These solutions tend to work best for younger children. Older children not only need more access to the Internet but often use devices that you do not control or cannot monitor, such as those issued by school, gaming consoles, or devices at a friend’s or relative’s house. This is why communicating with your children about your expectations and the dangers that exist on the internet is so important.
Leading by Example
Set a good example as parents or guardians. When your children talk to you, put your own digital device down and look them in the eye. Consider not using digital devices at the dinner table and never text while driving. Finally, when children make mistakes, treat each one as an experience to learn from instead of engaging in an immediate disciplinary action. Make sure they feel comfortable approaching you when they experience anything uncomfortable online or realize they themselves have done something wrong.