Teaching Cyber Security to Kids

My oldest son begins kindergarten the Tuesday after Labor Day and I thought it would be great to put together a blog post discussing teaching cyber security to kids.  As a cybersecurity practitioner, I have thought quite a bit about what I would like to teach my kids about cybersecurity and the internet as they grow up. I want to insure that they use the internet and information technology safely, especially when they are already adept with using my IPAD and computers at school and at home.

My kids love to play with the Apps on my IPAD and watch videos and run educational software on the computer. What they don’t know is information about viruses, online privacy, phishing, social networking, and other internet safety and security issues that we constantly have to deal with as adults. These are some of my recommendations with respect to teaching kids about cyber security:

  • Start discussing online safety at an early age. If the kids are doing anything involving the internet, parents should start the process of discussing online safety. I suggest as they start learning about computers, parents should take the time to work with the kids on the computer and highlight the fact that the online world parallels the real world, and there are both safe and unsafe things that kids should be aware of.
  • For the older kids, the parents may want to discuss the tools that are used to protect them such as passwords, and internet security protections tools and the importance of using different passwords for each account and the consequences of not doing so.
  • Kids should be taught that if they wouldn’t do it face to face, they shouldn’t do it online. For example, if they wouldn’t be abusive to friends or strangers face to face, then they shouldn’t do it online either. They should understand that just because they seem to be protected by the apparent distance communicating via the internet, what happens online will catch up with them in the real world.
  • Kids need to be taught by their parents that everything they do over the web is captured forever and could come back to haunt them. Sometimes it’s difficult to teach this to adults, let alone kids. But, kids aren’t aware of how the internet works and thus need to understand this point. Kids should be careful of what they saying about things on the internet which may hurt someone or hurt themselves.
  • Kid’s sense of curiosity is far more developed and their sense of caution far less mature. Just like they must be taught to not open a mail package if they don’t know who sent it, they shouldn’t open unsolicited email messages and attachments. In a similar way, they should be aware of strangers bearing gifts much like they should in the physical world.
  • No matter if kids are on a smartphone, Tablet, computers, or other gadgets, they all need to be protected.  The applications and services that the kids use also need to be protected so that others can’t see their information. Passwords and security protections are key.
  • I would recommend not letting kids browse the internet unaccompanied by an adult. This can easily be done by setting the devices that the kids use to forget the wifi access code so that they cannot connect without a parent present.  It is the parent’s responsibility to have blocks on the sites that are considered risky.  Keep an eye on security settings and make a judgement on whether it’s safe and appropriate for kids to use. Parents will need to relinquish some control and cannot enforce those safety boundaries in the same way as the kids get older, but if the security settings are in place the the kids understand why they are in place, they won’t be as resistant to following secure practices.
  • Educate kids early and often. Kids should be taught of the dangers of the internet as soon as they start browsing, and regularly reminded on safe online behavior. The number and contacts of friends sometimes becomes a popularity contest with kids, so they need to be educated to not accept friend requests from people they don’t know. Because of this fact, the bad people will try to contact the kids to try to get into the kids inner circle. Kids should be taught to never agree on a private chat with a stranger, and never post personal information online including phone numbers or home addresses.
  • As with any other things with kids and parents, communication is important. Talk to your kids about how they use their computers and smartphones and ask about any concerns they might have. Parents should be prepared to answer questions, and if they don’t know the answers, they need to educate themselves also so they can discuss these points with their kids. Parents should spend time with their kids and explain to them the online threats instead of just telling them the rules to follow.
  • The kids should be taught to follow the same rules that they would in the real world. If they aren’t sure of anything or something unusual happens while they are on the computer or smartphone, they should ask the parents or some other responsible adult.
  • For older kids who use social media, I would recommend parents be-friend their kids on all their social media apps such as Facebook or Instagram. Kids should be given advice that any picture or comment that they don’t think would be approved by the parents should not be put in the public domain at all.  Kids may resist this, but I hear many parents are making this as one of the conditions for them to allow kids access to the internet.

StaySafeOnline.Org also offers the following information on cyber security for parents when dealing with their children:

  • Remain positively engaged: Pay attention to and know the online environments your children use. Surf the Internet with them. Appreciate your children’s participation in their online communities and show interest in their friends. Try to react constructively when they encounter inappropriate material. Make it a teachable moment.
  • Support their good choices: Expand your children’s online experience and their autonomy when developmentally appropriate, as they demonstrate competence in safe and secure online behavior and good decision making.
  • Keep a clean machine: Safety and security start with protecting all family computers with a security suite (anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall) that is set to update automatically. Keep your operating system, web browsers, and other software current as well, and back up computer files on a regular basis.
  • Know the protection features of the websites and software your children use: All major Internet service providers (ISPs) have tools to help you manage young children’s online experience (e.g., selecting approved websites, monitoring the amount of time they spend online, or limiting the people who can contact them) and may have other security features, such as pop-up blockers. Third-party tools are also available. But remember that your home isn’t the only place they can go online.
  • Review privacy settings: Look at the privacy settings available on social networking sites, cell phones, and other social tools your children use. Decide together which settings provide the appropriate amount of protection for each child.
  • Teach critical thinking: Help your children identify safe, credible Web sites and other digital content, and be cautious about clicking on, downloading, posting, and uploading content.
  • Explain the implications: Help your children understand the public nature of the Internet and its risks as well as benefits. Be sure they know that any digital info they share, such as emails, photos, or videos, can easily be copied and pasted elsewhere, and is almost impossible to take back. Things that could damage their reputation, friendships, or future prospects should not be shared electronically.
  • Help them be good digital citizens: Remind your children to be good “digital friends” by respecting personal information of friends and family and not sharing anything about others that is potentially embarrassing or hurtful.
  • Just saying “no” rarely works: Teach your children how to interact safely with people they “meet” online. Though it’s preferable they make no in-person contact with online-only acquaintances, young people may not always follow this rule. So talk about maximizing safe conditions: meeting only in well-lit public places, always taking at least one friend, and telling a trusted adult about any plans they make – including the time, place, and acquaintance’s contact information (at least a name and cell phone number). Remind them to limit sharing personal information with new friends.
  • Empower your children to handle issues: Your children may deal with situations online such as bullying, unwanted contact, or hurtful comments. Work with them on strategies for when problems arise, such as talking to a trusted adult, not retaliating, calmly talking with the person, blocking the person, or filing a complaint. Agree on steps to take if the strategy fails.
  • Encourage your children to be “digital leaders:” Help ensure they master the safety and security techniques of all technology they use. Support their positive and safe engagement in online communities. Encourage them to help others accomplish their goals. Urge them to help if friends are making poor choices or being harmed.
  • Keep your home computer in a central and open location: If your computer is in the open, you can physically monitor your children while they are online.
  • Be aware of all the ways people connect to the Internet: Young people have many options to connect to the Internet beyond a home computer. Phones, tablets, gaming systems and even TVs have become connected. Be aware of all the ways and devices (including what they do at friend’s houses) your children are using and be sure they know how to use them safely and responsibly.
  • Talk to other parents: When and how you decide to let your children use the Internet is a personal parenting decision. Knowing what other parents are thinking and allowing their children to do is important and can be helpful for making decisions about what your children do online.
  • Know the rules: Not all online services are for kids. Even some of the most popular social networking services and other sites are meant only for use by people 13 and older. There are many terrific sites designed specifically for younger children that provide a safer, more secure and age-appropriate environment.
  • Stay current. Keep pace with new ways to stay safe online: The online world is ever changing. New services with great features continually emerge. Knowing about them and how young people use them can help you better understand the digital life your children experience as well as any concerns you may have for your children.
  • Consider separate accounts on your computer: Most operating systems allow you to create a different account for each user. Separate accounts can lessen the chance that your child might accidentally access, modify, change settings and/or delete your files.  You can set up certain privileges (the things that can and can’t be done) for each account.

Our kids should be taught about cybersecurity as soon as they start working on computers and other smart devices. I know as a Cyber Security professional I will be doing what I can to keep my kids safe online.  There is a host of cyber security related material online on how to educate kids about cyber security which I will gather and put on a page dedicated to cyber security and kids. Please keep an eye out for that as I continue to work on updating the website.

Jeff (Homecybersifu)

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