Kids and Cyber Safety

“The web is the primary way our children will learn, work, and interact with the world around them,” says Kevin Lavelle, web and social media expert and Director of Web and Media for the Office of University Communications at Xavier University. “Helping our children learn, ask questions and grow in a positive, appropriate manner is the best way to balance our children’s desire to be online and keep them safe.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), one of the most important safeguards kids should learn is how to protect their personal information – including name, address, school name, telephone number, photo, social security number, and usernames and passwords. This information should never be given to anyone, even friends. Parents can help their kids develop strong email passwords, which should include upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.

Even without knowing personal information, hackers can still find their way into your home computer through seemingly benign websites. The FTC warns kids to “watch out for free stuff,” such as free games or ring tones where malware may be hiding. Before downloading anything, double-check the source and scan it with security software.

“Criminals frequently target children and teens because they often lack the context and experience necessary to avoid online crime or scams,” says Lavelle. He suggests creating a separate computer profile for a child and using parental controls to block certain websites. Install security software and a pop-up blocker. Most importantly, develop positive web usage practices with your children, such as not clicking on unknown links or providing personal information. “Children should never be involved with financial transactions of any kind online. All financial transactions should be handled directly by an adult.”

There are some red flags parents can watch for to detect malicious websites. Some websites may mirror the appearance of a well-known, safe site, but can be distinguished by a slightly different web address. In general, .org and .edu websites are considered reputable. As a general rule, stick to known entities and brands, says Lavelle, such as Disney and PBS Kids. Allowing children the freedom to explore safe sites like these will provide them an environment in which it’s safe to ask questions and explore the internet.

“I think it’s healthy for everyone, children and adults alike, to be cautious online,” he says. The internet is a powerful learning and communication tool, and hands-on experience and guidance from parents will help children grow into responsible users. With billions of websites and pieces of online content, learning how to discern between good and bad information is a skill children must develop through experience, guided by the wisdom of their parents.

“My advice for parents to help balance safety with their children’s desire to be online is to take an active and ongoing role in their child’s technological development,” says Lavelle. “The internet is a constantly, quickly evolving space for everyone – children and adults. It’s particularly important for parents to be actively engaged in educating their children about appropriate online behavior, best practices and safety concerns.”

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