June is National Internet Safety Month, thanks to a resolution passed in 2005 by the U.S. Senate. The goal is to raise awareness about online safety for all, with a special focus on kids ranging from tots to teens.
Children are just as connected to the Internet as adults. According to Pew Research’s 2013 Teens and Technology report, one in four teens have a tablet. Nine in 10 kids have a computer at home. Kids fill their free time interacting on social media, sharing filtered photos, playing complex online video games, and laughing at llamas on YouTube. Research by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spend upwards of eight hours online each day. With summer vacation, they have even more time for their online activities.
This may all seem harmless, but children remain one of the top targets for malicious online criminals and thieves. You might think that without jobs, credit scores, or large sums of money in the bank, children are immune to the growing issue of identity theft. In fact, just the opposite is true. Children are targeted for identity theft 35 times more often than adults.
Children's spotless Social Security numbers and pristine credit appeal to cybercriminals and thieves, who use them to rack up credit card debt, mortgages, or auto loans that can go undetected for years. Later, when they apply for their first job, credit card, or school loan as a young adult, a victim is faced with the painful discovery that their identity has been ruined.
Children are often the weakest link against phishing scams, malware, and other malicious cyberattacks within a household. As parents, it’s important to monitor your technology, keep software and defenses updated constantly. By fostering a conversation about device safety, you can help teach your children the importance of privacy and security.
This month (and every month) we hope you revisit some of the tips and resources the Center for Identity offers, to help keep your family safe and secure online.
Start a conversation.
Create a safe, understanding environment for your children to share their stories of success and struggles with the Internet. Ask your children about the games and apps that interest them. Ask them about their favorite social media platform and their friends’ recent posts. This will allow you to know which people they interact with and what they share online. Make your child the expert. Be careful not to belittle their interests and games. If you can, talk about your own social media use.
Foster a conversation about gaming, social media, online trends, and yes, even sexting, from the beginning and keep it open. Encourage them to talk to an adult when they see anything online that is hurtful or makes them uncomfortable.
Remind them to never share their address, age, phone number, or location on social networking sites and apps, or in online game chats. Encourage them to create a creative, cryptic password, and never share it with anyone other than their parents.
Don’t forget to remind your children often that nothing on the Internet is private.
Be prepared to face difficult topics.
Talk to your teens about the heavy repercussions, both legal and personal, of sexting. Make sure your conversation is relaxed and supportive rather than accusatory. Find out which photo-sharing and other social media apps they use, and connect with them ("friend" them) to get a sense of the people with whom they're interacting online.
The Cyberbullying Research Center reports that half of all teens have experienced some form of cyberbullying, and 10 to 20 percent experience it regularly. Children who are cyberbullied often suffer in silence. As a parent, it is important to become aware of signs your child is struggling. Your child may be bullied if they unexpectedly stop using the computer or favorite mobile devices, appear uneasy about attending school or social events, become abnormally withdrawn from family and friends, or experience a drastic drop in grades.
Create safe boundaries.
If possible, keep your computer or game system in a common area of your home.
For younger children, keep rules simple, like “Ask Mom and Dad first," or “If we haven't played this game/used this app at our house, we can't do it away from home." As children get older and understand more of the issues, you can adapt your rules and discussions to their maturity level.
Consider instituting parental controls and making an agreement with your child that messages can only be sent to real-life friends. You may also consider making a social contract with your children that explains house rules and expectations.
Consider restricting app content by age. Ensure sure your kids can't download apps or make in-app purchases without parental approval.
Disable any location-sharing features on social media and online games. For online games that are played in a browser, check that browser's control settings.
Check up on your children online.
It's a good idea to create a strategy to monitor your kids' social media use. That could include making sure they add you to their contact or “friends" lists and checking text and chat logs periodically.
But don't keep the monitoring secret: Let your kids know that you're doing so and when.
Encourage your children to play “Beat the Thief.”
The Center offers a free online and tablet game called “Beat the Thief,” designed to teach kids the importance of safe online sharing.
The web-based game, designed for kids (and kids at heart), allows players to share various types of information on a simulated social media platform. If the player shares information that is safe in public, they gain points, but if the player shares unsafe information, the "thief" gets ever closer before finally stealing the character's personally identifying information (PII).
For more free resources, check out the FAQ’s and the Tools & Tips in our Protect area.