The time is right for getting hacked or worse, having the contents of your computer held hostage by ransomware. For a couple of carefree and extreme data-consuming months, kids everywhere will be doing whatever they want online even if you’ve tried to control them.
In other words, be very afraid.
Only you know if it is time to have “the talk” with your child about online security. But before you sheepishly clear your throat in their doorway, have you had the talk with yourself?
No amount of whistling in the dark will keep you safe from the crazed clicking of an unthinking child. It’s crucial to remember that safe online habits aren’t an innate skill; they need to be taught. That said, there are many parenting styles when it comes to all things online. Some parents choose to be hands-off about it, and if that’s working for you, more power to you.
Actually, I take that back. There are countless pitfalls, pratfalls and worse awaiting your child — and with that your entire family — as well as anyone else unlucky enough to be connected to your home network.
Whether you’re a helicopter parent or more laissez-faire, we have some words of wisdom to offer. Here are four subjects to broach when talking online security with your children.
1. Stay Alert
Online security and threats threats are fluid. You can be completely on top of your game one day and get hacked the next because you aren’t prepared. The goal should be to become security-minded. While it helps to know about the most recent exploits and threats, it’s better to get into the mindset of those old Highlights Magazine exercises and think, “What’s wrong with this picture?” The moment you think you’ve got everything under control, you become an easier target. Stay alert. (If you believe you’ve been the victim of identity theft, don’t shrug it off. You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)
2. Use Better Passwords
Increasingly, people are turning to password managers to keep their accounts safe, since it can be difficult to remember a large number of long and strong passwords. These managers generate random passwords and allow you to manage the process with a single master password. If you are not using a manager, make sure everyone in the house is using sufficiently complex passwords that are unique to the key accounts in your home, and never let your kids use any of your passwords!
3. Monitor Them
No one likes the specter of Big Brother, but your kids aren’t your siblings, they are your wards. While many advocates of internet privacy will say that a child’s travels online should be protected, even from parents, I think of monitoring online behavior in the same way I do a trip to the pediatrician — it’s my duty as a parent to know and protect all of my child’s sensitive personal information.
The same goes for internet history and app usage. You need to know what they’re doing. While bullying, compromising pictures and other activities you may find could make a different conversation necessary, your job is online safety.
4. Establish Ground Rules
The best way to keep your family safe from the wandering clicks of a child is to start teaching a secure mindset right away. Tell them to look for secure HTML, which can be found in the URL of your browser, where you will see a padlock symbol or the letters HTTPS (instead of HTTP) or both.
Have rules about app shopping. Encourage your kid to check with you if they are unsure about a site or an app. Pick an app store that you know won’t carry shady app developers. Teach your kids about phishing scams, how they work and what to do when they think one arrives in their email or messaging apps. But most important, let the subject of online security be an ongoing discussion.
These are some big-picture considerations and a few on-the-ground concerns to help you start thinking about online security. Only you can figure out the best way to tell your child to keep their online travels safe and protect your whole family.