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Cyber Education for Our Kids is Much Like Learning to Cross the Road

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The internet can be a scary place, especially for younger children but I strongly believe it really doesn’t have to be. Kids can communicate and be contacted by people outside of their parent’s sphere of influence at any time without their parent’s knowledge. As a result, we need to empower them with the knowledge of how to identify ‘stranger danger’ online and self-manage their own personal safety from scams, sexual predators, cyber bullies and everything else that the internet comes with. This is especially important given their sense of curiosity is much stronger at a young age and their sense of caution far less mature – a dangerous combination.

Benefits them, benefits us...

Many parents know that educating our little ones on using the internet safely is a must have for their own protection and you’d be right. But what is often forgotten is that it is also essential for our own security too. A recent study by security firm Norton found that children are often the weak link in family security, often being the ones unwittingly downloading viruses, clicking malicious links and sharing passwords without knowing the full impact. As a result, cyber criminals are increasingly targeting children devices in order to get access to the more sensitive data held by their parents.

So, it is in both ours and their own best interests to learn what the common pit falls are and what to look out for. In many respects it is much like cross the road. Kids need to learn that;

  • Roads (or the internet) can be dangerous if you’re not careful
  • They need to be shown how to cross roads the first few times
  • Eventually they’re going to need to cross the road on their own at some point

In this article, I share with you some tips on how to deliver that message so that it isn’t too much of a chore for either you or your child! If you’re interested in finding out what the specific risks are to kids, then you can find these out here.

Multiple Techniques, Find One That Works!

Different approaches will work for different kids so please take what you like and trial it out for yourself. Not everything will work for you but you will find something that does! Whatever you choose to try, one thing is for sure, the following sentiment by famous American historian Carter Woodson has never been more apt;

“the mere imparting of information is not education”.

We need a varied approach where not only do we tell our kids stuff they don’t know, but we also lead by example, act as both a teacher and student, act as a confidant and try to engage in regular conversations around the subject.

Establish the Ground Rules

Without any rules or guiding principles to abide by how are our kids able to distinguish good from bad? Set some simple rules about how and when they are allowed to use technology and ensure they understand the reasons why!

These might be a simple list like;

1) Stranger Danger – tell mummy and daddy whenever someone you don’t know contacts you online
2) Mobiles at the Dinner Table – no devices when we’re eating!
3) Passwords – never share passwords with your friends.
4) Nasty Links – never click on text message or email links from unknown people. Just delete!
5) Etc.

One idea that some parents have very good success with is drafting a Social Media & Internet Contract. The idea is obviously a little tongue in cheek but can be great for empowering younger kids with the responsibility of what surfing the web and using social media brings. It helps give them a sense of ownership, responsibility and to feel ‘grown up’ by signing the contract. The contract just sets out a short number of guiding principles for using the internet and social media. See the following website for a good example; www.imom.com/printable/social-media-contract-for-kids/

Educate early and often

Make conversations around internet safety part of normal everyday life. Discuss news stories with them on the way to school. Ask them to read a snippet you found from a magazine and ask what they think of it. Don’t just tell them what is right and wrong, make it a two-way conversation. Ask them about any aspects they find scary.

Parent-as-teacher

Start an ongoing dialogue with your children around cyber and the risks it brings. Use some (not too unintimidating!) real world examples to bring the risks to life for them.

Parent-as-confidant

Try and position yourself as the person they can come to when things go wrong online. Easier said than done but this is incredibly important and should be the goal – don’t rule with an iron fist, trust your kids and empower them with respect and knowledge of the risks so they can learn how to identify them for themselves. One of the biggest risks your child faces is the feeling of feeling isolated and on their own – this is exactly what sexual predators try and engineer.

Parent-as-security-expert

A research paper found that children have a rather short-sighted view of internet risks as they interpret risk as a measure of how much something bothers them (i.e. makes them feel uncomfortable or upset). As their brains are still developing, they are unable to assimilate the full scale of impact fairly seemingly innocuous interactions can have so it is our role as parents to help them understand the full level of risk. Parents need to have an understanding of cyber security risks themselves in order to help their children bridge this gap.

You reading this article is a great first step in educating yourself but it can’t stop here. Become accustomed to the social media sites and phone apps your kids use and familiarise yourself with how they work. Supplement your knowledge gained from this book with some quick googling of specific risks associated with their favourite sites, games and apps – the threats are constantly evolving so parents need to be informed and educated on how to manage them.

Parent-as-student

One great technique to adopt is reversing the typical roles as parent-as-teacher…become the student yourself and ask your kids to teach you! It’s commonly known in education circles that people learn more when they explain or teach a concept to someone else, it’s called the protégé effect . Be inquisitive about the social media they use, how they keep their accounts secure and how they identify suspicious activity or communications. Don’t ask leading questions as this only defaults the role back to parent-as-teacher again, so be genuine in your questions and supportive in their responses.

Graduate Your Kids from Cyber Academy

A virtual cyber academies I’d recommend is the Carnegie Cyber Academy. It is essentially an online game specifically designed to make learning cyber security fun for kids. The game is aimed at kids 9 – 12 year olds and is loosely based on Harry Potter. New cadets complete missions in Cyberspace to become defenders of the internet, have a dorm room to personalise, badges to win and secret quests to run!

Other Resources

There is a plethora of resources, online and offline you can use to build your own knowledge base and help educate your little ones about the world of cyber. Some of my favourites are contained below;

o Tutorials, videos and presentations from NetSmartz, a program of the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)
o Guidance on becoming a good ‘digital parent’ from the Family Online Safety Institute
o Access eBooks, events, articles, and more from ConnectSafely, iKeepSafe and Savvy Cyber Kids.
o Safekids.com has a good set of online rules for parents and children to use.

School Resources: ask your school what they’re doing around cyber security and internet safety. Every school should be doing something for both the kids and parents alike.

Hopefully now you feel like you have a few weapons in your arsenal to start the conversation with your kids. Whichever approach you use, it doesn’t need to be burdensome and don’t put too much pressure on yourself! Much like cross the road, you don’t need to bang on about it every minute of each day but you do need to remind them of the key things to remember when the time is right!

I hope you found this useful.

 

Jonny

Founder of www.SimpleCyberLife.com. Cyber security expert, public speaker and entrepreneur.

www.jonnypelter.com

jonny@simplecyberlife.com

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