top of page

Teaching School-Age Children About Internet Security

When your child starts using the Internet, security is the most important piece of information to educate them about. As with anything else, the Internet comes with risks, and if one is not educated, they have a higher chance of encountering them. It’s important that both you and your children know about Internet security, so you can avoid any mishaps and trouble that could come with using it.

Teaching children about Internet security can be simple, but first you’ll need to know about some of the security issues lurking around the net, as well as some of the more important topics to cover when you’re teaching your children about the Internet.

Privacy The main security threat on the Internet is one toward your privacy. Companies are commonly picking up on and collecting your personal information, and many sell these details to others so that they can target advertisements to you based on your interests. Besides companies selling your information, there’s also the issue of hackers collecting your data and committing identify theft. Another excellent app to download to your device is a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN connects your devices to a remote server via an encrypted connection that hides your (and your child’s) location. As with anti-virus programs, there are many different VPNs available, though you can’t get a free VPN that offers the same level of quality as a free anti-virus program does. However, they don’t cost much (less than $15 per month), and they keep your devices and users safe from hackers and other predators. Just remember not to substitute these programs for education. We’ll get to that in a minute. Email & Social Networks Chances are your child may have access to social media long before they qualify for the terms of service (which is often 13+). It’s important to monitor them whether they’re using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or email. Teaching them that they should never disclose any personal information over the Internet is another important step for you to take. It’s easy for children to fall victim to online predators, so if you are unable to monitor them when they are using sites that involve interacting with others, it’s best to install parental controls. Parental controls will prevent your child from viewing websites that they shouldn’t by blocking specific URLs and keywords, and there are many apps available to ensure that your child is able to safely use the Internet on a mobile device as well. Be wary of your phone’s camera, as many children take pictures of themselves that could end up on social media. For older children who are utilizing your PC as well, there are many different parental control services available. I would recommend FoxFilter, which is an add-on offered for the web browser Mozilla Firefox (and now Google Chrome!). It’s easy to use and offers a great deal of filtering features for free, as well as the option to pay for premium features.

Common Security Mistakes When teaching your child about internet security, it’s wise to cover some common security mistakes. Online security mistakes can happen at any age, but as long as your child is aware of them, they should be able to avoid them. For starters, creating a “weak” password can be a problem.

See the Cyber Civics Password Lesson! A weak password is any password that is under eight characters long and does not include uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as numbers. Some websites will allow you to use symbols when creating your password too, which will add an extra layer of security. It’s wise to avoid using the same password for multiple accounts and using any personal information (name, birthdate, address, etc.) as your password. Just as you should teach your child that they shouldn’t share personal information (such as their full name, address, phone number, school they attend, etc.), you should also teach them that they should never give out their passwords or login information. Depending on their age, it might be best for you to log in to their accounts for them when they use the Internet, though you can still teach them not to share their information. Besides weak passwords, another common security mistake is clicking on unfamiliar hyperlinks. If you’re visiting a trusted website, it’s probably okay to do; unless it’s an ad disguised as a legitimate message. These will typically appear saying something such as “You’ve won,” “You have a message” or “Click here to make your computer run faster,” etc. Some hyperlinks are best left unclicked. Sometimes you could receive an email, a text message, or other form of social media update from a familiar contact, but if their account has been hacked, the hyperlink they are sending might be from a hacker or malware. You can hover over the hyperlink with your mouse to view the URL without clicking on it, but overall, it’s wise to avoid any sort of suspicious hyperlinks since they could lead you (or your child) to a malicious website. Downloads It’s easy to find yourself downloading untrustworthy software, whether you’re a child or an adult. Clickbait is commonly found online, and sometimes it’s easy to mistake websites offering downloads as legitimate. It’s best to teach your child to avoid downloading anything without asking you first. Most importantly, you should keep an open line of communication with your child and pay attention to what they are downloading and viewing online. If you keep that open line of communication between you and your child, it’s more likely that they will feel comfortable notifying you if something goes wrong. Not everyone can watch their child every second that they spend on the internet and parental controls do work, but depending on the age of your child, they might be able to find ways around them. You also have to consider that the parental controls aren’t guaranteed to block malicious websites, and sometimes even inappropriate content can slip through the cracks.

Risks We all know that hackers and viruses are common risks to look out for when using the Internet, but there’s also another that children especially need to be aware of before using the net: cyberbullying. Cyberbullying commonly occurs amongst teenagers, but it can happen at any age. The Internet is an open pool with billions of users, and there are some who enjoy using it as a place to out their frustrations and behave in a way that is not accepted offline. Just as in the offline world, there are nefarious folks online as well. Let your child know that these types of people are also online, and just as they shouldn’t trust strangers offline, they shouldn’t online either. Avoiding posting personal information can help some, especially when it comes to cyberbullying, because the less information listed online about your child, the better. As the parent, your job is to monitor their online accounts to ensure that they aren’t experiencing anything they shouldn’t. Even if you can’t always watch them as they are using the Internet, you can take a look at their accounts afterwards. Knowing their passwords is a good idea too and speaking with them about their online activity is important. You can also check the browsing history to see which websites they have been using. Remember to keep an eye on all of the devices they use to connect to the internet as well. It’s easy to forget that mobile phones have similar security risks compared to computers, but the truth is, any device that connects to the Internet comes with security risks. Internet Security When it comes to internet security, education is a great tool to minimize risks that come with using the net. Security software is always a wise choice as well, but it can’t protect internet users from everything. Letting your child know about the risks they might encounter online can prevent them from falling victim to many security threats, but besides education, communication is the key to keeping them safe. Overall, if your child feels that they can speak with you about problems online without getting in trouble, you have a better chance of protecting them. Using education along with communication is the best way to keep your child safe not only online, but in all areas of life.

Cassie is a mother who worries about her child’s future internet use and privacy. She has been educating herself on the best ways to keep her daughter safe online and enjoys sharing the knowledge with other parents.

bottom of page