School is back in session (you can stop blasting Alice Cooper!), and your kids are hitting the books again. We know they’re thinking about math, science, English, history, and other subjects (hopefully computer science) during the school day, but are they being taught the importance of protecting their online presence? If not, your child’s privacy and safety are at risk.

Any information they share or post on social media or other digital platforms, if done carelessly, can have unintended consequences for their future.

How do you make cyber safety for kids a healthy habit for your whole family? Follow these tips and best practices to keep your kids safe online throughout the entire year.

Protecting Personal Information

Social media has conditioned us all to overshare. Do a Google search of Twitter’s Main Character (hint: it’s not a desirable title) for just a few examples of the overwhelming backlash careless words can generate. People tend to share sensitive details without a second thought—and that can have grave consequences.

In general, we advise against sharing your child’s sensitive details. Keep their full name, birthdate, school name, and current location away from public social media platforms. Why? Cybercriminals constantly comb these platforms in the hopes of finding information to use for identity theft, scams, and even to do physical harm. Staying circumspect on social media reduces these risks.

Think Twice Before Posting Photos

What’s the harm in sharing a back-to-school photo? We get you’re excited to show your child growing up (it happens so fast), but there can be consequences to sharing those photos too. Criminals can use tiny details like school uniforms, classroom schedules, or home addresses in the background of these pictures to jeopardize your children (EXIF – Information stored in the photo itself that you may not know about such as location, date, time taken, etc.).

Hackers can do a lot more with a lot less—in 2017, people used flight patterns and star charts to locate and swap out a flag Shia LaBeouf hung on a streaming video of only the flagpole and sky—so you have to be extra cautious.

Be sure to configure privacy settings across every social platform, restricting photo access to your close friends and family members only. If you can, use features that require your approval before anyone can tag you or your kids in photos, empowering you to control your whole family’s digital footprint.

Raise Awareness with Your Kids

You warn your kids about talking to people they don’t know in person, but it still feels like the majority of parents are catching up with how to discuss best practices for online privacy and responsible internet use.

One key part of teaching cyber safety to kids is emphasizing that not everyone they talk to on social media platforms and the internet has their best interests in mind. And even if an interaction feels safe at first, there are certain red flags that should stop your kids in their tracks and shut down a conversation, such as someone:

  • Asking about or sharing their current location.
  • Requesting personally identifying information.
  • Sending links without any context.

If you take the time to talk about these red flags, you can help them grasp the risk of oversharing personal information, training them to make smart decisions when you’re not there.

Use Strong Passwords

The best offense is a strong defense, and online, that means airtight passwords. Teaching your kids (and taking your own advice) about strong and unique passwords for their school or extracurricular activities can make it harder for cybercriminals to compromise their information.

Rather than telling them to stop using 012345 or 9@$$w04d, provide them with easy-to-understand tips. Breach Secure Now has recommended guidelines to lead the conversation and xkcd has a funny and memorable comic strip to make password generation all the easier. Use a combination of both to help them stay secure.

Stay Informed About Apps and Websites

Kids in the U.S. are spending more and more time interacting with screens for entertainment. Common Sense Media found tweens spend 5 hours and 33 minutes and teens spend 8 hours and 39 minutes of their time on screen-time entertainment. Even toddlers are plopped down with Cocomelon and YouTube Kids to distract them. Taking their safety on faith, especially when much of that time is unsupervised, is a risk you can’t afford to take.

Test and learn about the applications, social media platforms, and websites your children want to use before they use them. It’s even important to learn about how those apps and websites collect personal information, because there are many questionable privacy practices that could jeopardize your children.

Better yet, have regular open conversations with your kids about what they experience online. Talk about their interactions, their website usage, and app experiences to coach them on how to stay safe. The conversation should come from a place of trust rather than admonishment, encouraging them to feel comfortable discussing any uncomfortable situations with you.

Bonus content: Did you know that if your child uses Snapchat, they can share their live location with their friends? While this is a cool feature to kids, it’s a nightmare when it comes to the security of your child and where they are. While Snapchat claims the data is secure, you never know and frankly, if a bad actor got into someone’s account on that friend group, or even worse stole data from Snapchat containing historical location information, a history of where your child does ANYTHING could be accessible. Have a conversation with your kid about turning this feature on or off. For additional details, take a look at this link.

We’ve covered cyber safety for kids, but how are your employees’ cybersecurity habits? Take our security awareness training to find out where you’re the most vulnerable.

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