October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month which means that not only is it a good idea for individuals to make sure they have good cyber habits (like strong passwords), but it’s also an ideal opportunity for parents to set aside time to teach their children good digital habits.
Alarmingly, the Children’s Internet Usage Study conducted by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education discovered that 30% of children ages 8-14 use the internet in a way they know their parents wouldn’t approve. Today’s children have grown up with the internet, however, many parents lack the technical confidence to address cyber topics or underestimate the level of danger in today’s digital world. Here are a few recommendations to help parents protect their children online.
1. Understand Your Child’s Online Activities
Are you familiar with these popular social media applications? Do you even have an active account?
If you are not familiar with these applications, then you need start learning about them and actually using them yourself. Many applications have age requirements but the Children’s Internet Usage Study found that 30% of children lie about their age in order to use Facebook, for example. Once you have your own account, you should “follow” or “friend” all of your children’s online accounts. If they don’t include you in their circle, then they don’t get to use that application. This allows you to monitor the type of content they post online.
In additional to social media, chat rooms are as popular as ever. And, with names like these, they are easy to find:
Many chatrooms don’t require any type of formal registration. Just enter a name, click a few links and you can start chatting one-on-one or in a group thread. They are rarely moderated and frequently include video webcam functionality. One of the main features that draws people to chat rooms is that they allow participants to be anonymous. Children should be instructed to never give out personal information like cell phone numbers or home address and definitely do not agree to meet a digital friend in person.
Today’s video games look nothing like the ones you may have played growing up. Most adults do not realize that predators and bullies can target their children through computer games. These games frequently include live chatting and the ability to make in-game purchases regardless if they are played with a computer, mobile device or gaming console system. Be aware that teen and adult games can include disturbing subject matter such as graphic violence and nudity. Therefore, become familiar with the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) system used to rate games in much the same way that movies are rated. Even games designed for children can include chatting functionality and in-game purchases so you need to be vigilant with all of the games being played by your children.
2. Set Age and Maturity Appropriate Boundaries
There can be too much of a good thing so limit time spent online, especially at night. Computers should be located in an open area of the home. If they must be used in a home office or bedroom, have the screen face the door and keep the door open if possible when the computer is in use.
Cover the webcam when it is not being used. You can buy a special cover that slides back and forth or simply place a piece of tape or a Band-Aid over it. One practice that I used at home was to set up a power strip on at the end of the kitchen counter. My kids would plug in all of their devices before going to bed. That way, I knew they would not be using them all night and they were freshly recharged by morning.
Use the built-in access controls and parental controls found in most devices and applications. Security and privacy features often come turned OFF by default to make the device and applications easier to use. Restrict the ability to download and install new applications plus block the ability to make online and in-game purchases on mobile devices and computer systems. Look on the website of the device manufacturer or application developer for helpful information.
YouTube has a wealth of information with helpful videos that walk you through step by step how to implement security and privacy controls. You can also check the with your Internet Service Provider to see if they offer both free and fee based privacy, monitoring and other security controls.
3. Keep an Open Dialogue
Talk to your kids about topics like sexting and cyberbullying. If you see warning signs or changes in your child’s behavior, then conduct a detailed review of the history of their online activities. Create a home environment where your child feels safe talking to you about disturbing online activity.
Social media applications like Twitter have procedures for reporting unwanted behavior and controls to block select users and activities. Don’t be afraid to involve school officials or law enforcement if inappropriate online activities continue or escalate.
Save the threatening and offending emails, texts, posts and pictures. Don’t reply to them and don’t delete them. Above all, don’t ignore the problem and hope it will just go away. Seek help.
Communication is the key to keeping your children safe online. Warn them about the dangers. Stress that anything they share online will stay online forever. Teach them good digital security and privacy habits. Lastly, don’t wait until next October to talk again to your children about cybersecurity. Make it a regular part of your family life.
Brian Wrozek is a managing executive director in the Office of the CISO at Optiv. In this role, Wrozek works closely with security executives to provide C-Suite advisory services to define cyber strategy, roadmaps and solutions to meet clients’ security objectives.
Wrozek is the former chief security officer (CSO) for Alliance Data where he had enterprise responsibility for information security and physical security. Prior to Alliance Data, he was the IT security and privacy director at Texas Instruments where he managed all facets of electronic data and system security worldwide.
Wrozek earned his Bachelor of Science in computer science from Michigan Technological University. He earned his MBA and Cybersecurity Certification from the University of Dallas. Wrozek is an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas teaching graduate-level cybersecurity courses in the Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business.