Parents want to see their children succeed, to exceed their expectations and win at the whole Life Thing. We do our best to raise them to be good people with strong morals and convictions, but are we including their increasingly connected lives in the equation?
Kids today have been coined “digital natives” by author Marc Prensky because they take to the technology that has surrounded them since birth faster than the analogue-raised “digital immigrants” of times past. Their lives can now start with the real possibility of live-streaming their birth and of having hundreds of photos of them shared across the globe before they can even talk. The connectivity only continues to grow from there.
Raising the next generation to be cyber safe individuals is an obvious priority. But how do you know if you’re raising a good digital citizen? Below are the 5 key traits of security aware kids!
A security aware kid–
1. – shares with care, because they know that the internet is forever.
It’s important to teach your children to stop and think about the implications of their online actions, and to recognize that what they share on the internet no longer belongs to them and can’t be taken back. Though their world pushes them to compulsively overshare, teach them to push back against these trends that do them way more harm than good.
Talk with them about the consequences of sharing TMI or inappropriate pics, and point out that those posts could be seen by college recruiters, future employers, their sweet grandparents, or even a potential crush somewhere down the line. Show them real-life examples of security awareness fails, and walk them through the process of making their social accounts private.
2. – treats the internet like any other public place & remains aware of their surroundings at all times.
No doubt your kid already knows that walking up to a stranger in the street and sharing personal information (like their home address or school name) is a huge NO-NO; the internet is exactly the same! Encourage them not to share or do anything online that they wouldn’t in the physical realm, especially if they’re interacting with others publicly or people they don’t know.
In fact, children should rarely–if ever–friend anyone that they don’t know personally in real life. Stranger danger is even more of a threat in the cyber world! You can never be certain who is on the other side of the conversation or game, especially since it’s so easy to fake profile images and personal data. The internet can allow you to be whoever you want to be, and unfortunately creeps exploit this to take advantage of naïve kids.
In addition, you can teach them how to turn off their location and to deselect geotagging features when uploading images to social channels. Talk about the very real dangers of identity theft, and how to avoid sharing personally identifiable information (PII – like their full name, home address, and phone number) on social media, gaming consoles, mobile devices, and websites. Make sure that you approve any app downloads, and point out whenever an app is asking for unrealistic permissions. These can be tough conversations, but necessary in our ever-connected world.
3. – makes basic cybersecurity practices daily habits.
Just like the rest of us, kids need to be familiar with how to create passwords that don’t suck, the importance of using a VPN when browsing public WiFi (or otherwise not connecting at all), common phishing scam tactics, and maintaining a healthy dose of skepticism in the face of clever social engineers.
The best way to instill these habits in your children is to make them your own! Assign cyber aware chores to each member of the family. Create and sign a home security policy (together!), then review it every few months. Allow them to see you making positive choices online, and they’ll naturally want to follow in your footsteps. Approach things from a “WE can do this” perspective instead of with a “YOU should do this” attitude; you’re in it together, as a family!
4. – is a critical thinker & empowered by their cyber choices.
Being a good digital citizen is more than just knowing how to do this or that merely by rote; it’s also the ability to participate in a global network of people with confidence and ethical backbone. Instead of trying to force-feed your kids a bullet list of things to do simply “because you said so,” teach them to use their own brains for critical thinking.
Our lives are packed with teachable moments to use for on-the-spot examples: password use on television shows, news stories on the real dangers of gaming, up-and-coming technology, new app releases, YouTube videos, and single points of failure in classic movies. Get creative and find the connections and comparisons to online dangers within the physical realm; make it a family game! Show kids any examples that come into your own inbox or pop up in your feed, and ask them to decide whether the examples are true threats or benign.
Cyberbullying is also a significant issue facing our kids. Not only should the children be coached against becoming a cyberbully themselves, it’s equally important that they know how to block bullies or kick them from a game, report any disturbances to trusted adults, and record the harassment. Let them know that it’s never okay for someone to intimidate, threaten, belittle, or humiliate them or anyone else online.
5. – is comfortable including their parents or other trusted adults in their online life.
Kids are sometimes embarrassed about their online activity, but it doesn’t always mean that they’re “up to no good” and have something to hide. A lot of the time, they’re going online just to freely explore their own interests and personalities in an accepting environment of their peers.
It’s natural to worry over who your child is talking to and what they’re doing behind your back, but you’ll never get through to them if you attempt to dictate their every action and snoop on every keystroke. We’re not suggesting that you let chaos reign and allow children to do whatever they please! Rather, that trust is a 2-way street: your children need to feel comfortable coming to you when online situations make them feel unsafe instead of remaining silent out of a fear of punishment. Even if they’ve made an ignorant mistake, try to summon the patience and understanding to approach it from the position of a mentor rather than a harsh disciplinarian.
Work to keep those lines of communication open! You want them to talk with you about their online life and friends, to share their experiences and come to you for advice. You want to cultivate their own innate ability to make well-informed decisions for themselves.
For more resources on parenting in the digital age, we recommend looking at and downloading (ISC)^2 Safe & Secure Online’s Student & Parent Safety Commitment, as well as browsing through Stop.Think.Connect.’s huge list of student resources.
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