Parenting in an online worldWith apologies to Prince, the title of this post sums up some of the biggest concerns parents have when it comes to their kids going online. Let’s face it, as great as the Internet is, there’s some stuff out there we’d all like to shield our kids from. But curiosity is one of the strongest forces in nature, right up there with hormones, and kids and teenagers have ample of both. There’s really only two approaches you can take when it comes to protecting your children from the darker corners of the web. The first approach is to embrace the Luddite movement, and go off the grid. The second approach is to think about your children like you do your users, and help them to protect themselves. In this post, we’re going to focus on the latter.

Communication is key

First and foremost, you need to talk to your kids, just as you need to talk to your users. This isn’t a Dr. Phil moment, it’s just the simple truth. Laying down arbitrary rules without any explanation of the reasons behind it just leads to people, whether child or adult, looking to rebel for the sake of rebellion. You don’t have to justify your concerns or your authority, but you do want to make sure your kids understand why you are concerned and why you are setting boundaries.

Education

Again, as with end users so with your own kids, you need to educate them on what is going on. Explain to them things like security and privacy, and why it’s not okay to post personal details like addresses and phone number where anyone can view them. Teach them the importance of:

  1. Good password security,
  2. How to use different credentials on different systems,
  3. And the importance of logging out when done.

Make sure they understand the legal ramifications of posting certain content online and how that content can stick around forever. Explain to them that putting something in an email, or a snapchat, or anything else they think is personal still relies on the person at the other end protecting their privacy, and that they cannot count on anything remaining private once it is online.

Ensure they know to come to you in the case of cyberbullying, or when someone pressures them online to do something they know they should not, and that if something does happen, it is better to tell you than to hide it.

Finally, make sure they understand the ramifications of digital piracy and copyright, because they will be overwhelmed by the abundance of “free stuff” available online, and need to know that just because it’s free doesn’t mean it is okay to take.

Awareness

Situational awareness is critical to online safety, and anyone who is going to use a computer, tablet or smart phone with Internet access needs to have that situational awareness. Help your kids recognize phishing and spam for what they are, and make sure that they know if there’s any doubt at all, to come to you for guidance. Teach them how to tell if a link is legitimate, and why they should never share their credentials with anyone – even their BFF or SO.

Encourage them to keep their social profiles private… sharing only with people they truly know, and even then, not to post details like when the family is going on vacation until after they get back. Explain to them how stalkers, thieves and worse can use information posted online to take advantage of them.

Keeping things out in the open

You will know when your kids are old enough to know better, but until they do, let them use the family computer and keep it out in the open, where you can easily see what is going on. By the time your kids are old enough to want their privacy, they will be old enough to understand the lessons above. Until then, better to keep them under careful watch and surf with them, so you can start providing good examples.

Restricting rights

Don’t let your kids have admin rights on any computer, even if they have their own. Unless it is exploiting an unpatched vulnerability, most malware can only run with the same rights as the user, and if the kids cannot install anything, it will be much harder for dodgy software to make it onto your PC.

Antivirus software

No matter what, make sure you have up to date antivirus software running on every system that;

  1. Checks for updates daily,
  2. Runs real-time scans,
  3. Runs full scans at least weekly,
  4. Cannot be turned off by the kids.

Patching and updates

Just as important, make sure you keep every computer fully up to date. Patch the operating system, patch third-party applications, and keep them patched. It’s at least as important to keep everything up to date at home as it is at work.

If you are a major techie, and want to run web-filtering software on your Internet gateway at home, by all means do. Just make sure you help your neighbors to lock down their Wi-Fi first, or, like me, you may find your teenage son figuring out how to bypass the proxy by simply squatting on the open Wi-Fi from across the street! But if you make sure that your kids are aware of the risks, know what their boundaries are, and help to ensure that your systems are protected, you will be keeping them as safe as you can while still providing them access to all the good that is on the web.

Do you have any tips or tricks that work for you at home? Or maybe you have a different view on how to keep your children safe on the internet? Either way, leave a comment and let us know what you think. We can all benefit from one another’s’ views and experiences, and we want to hear from you.