Once upon a time, parents were more concerned with skinned knees and bad grades than worrying that their children’s social security numbers might be commandeered by a middle-aged man named Keith in New Mexico. Oh, how the times have changed. With over two billion people using the Internet now (that’s more than a 500% increase in the last ten years, according to WFS.org), and more and more of our leisure time being spent online, parenting in the digital era isn’t something to be taken lightly.
The Internet might be a lot like the Wild West right now with identity theft outlaws, but that doesn’t mean your family should be given free rein to do as they please. It’s dangerous out there, and we’re just starting to breach the tip of the consequence-iceberg.
Start With The Basics
According to the Pew Internet Project, only about half of parents take consistent action in monitoring and patrolling their children’s Internet behavior. They may think of it as a trust issue, but it’s more of a safety issue than anything else. You wouldn’t let your child wander around a big city alone after dark. Although the Internet doesn’t pose the same physical threats, it is a giant, scary virtual city that can wreak psychological havoc on their impressionable young minds.
Teaching your kids the basics of Internet usage, and following up on monitoring is essential to their well-being. A good start is to encourage them to use it as a source of inspiration that they can apply to the real world, instead of letting their little brains wither away on social media for hours, then have nothing to show for it. If they love dinosaurs, steer them towards dino-tastic sites they can share on social media; that way, you can help them blend their positive, real-world interests into the digital vortex.
Keep One Eye Open, Keep Suspicious Tabs Closed
The dangers of strangers online are at an all-time high, and the bad news is that they’re probably only going to multiply. According to Lifelock, children are the newest and most preferred targets for identity theft, which makes ID theft education that much more important. To an identity thief, a child has no risk of former bankruptcies or bad credit, and they have almost no reason to ever check their credit score — a thief can go years without getting caught.
When your children are old enough to browse and interact on the Internet, it’s time to talk to them about the importance of cybersecurity and how to best protect themselves. They should never give out personal information to anyone online. If it’s a friend or classmate, they can wait for the information until they see them in person. Teach children how to defend against cyberbullying and the importance of reporting it. If they’re active on forums or comment threads, make sure they only use a screen name or a nickname, and let them know that even a harmless tidbit like your ZIP code and your team’s final score in the soccer match can help bad guys find out who you are and where you live. There’s no reason to be paranoid, but they should always take precautions.
Sharon is a concert pianist, barista and single mom for her awesome son, Kyle. She writes about her adventures as a busy mom and how to care for special needs kids.
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