Securing Today’s Online Kids: Education is the Key

Posted on by Lance Spitzner

As a security awareness professional and a father of three, my passion is helping organizations around the world create more secure employees and teaching kids to be safe online. On Oct. 28, I discuss what we, as parents, can do to secure kids. In previous posts I provided an overview of what we will be covering in that webcast and the challenges we face. In this post, I discuss what we can do, especially education.

Parents often have this misconception that technology alone will solve the problem.  If they install a certain app on their childs’ devices, all the risks go away.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  As we discussed in the last blog article, kids simply have too much access on too many devices for parents to control everything.  In addition, what we are attempting to solve is not a technical problem but a human problem, specifically how kids interact and behave with others online.  Its really the same dangers kids have always faced, just that the risks are amplified through technology.  Ultimately education is key to addressing these dangers.

The key to education is creating a two-way conversation.  Not only as parents do we need to be talking to kids but we need to be listening, they have to talk to us. One of my favorite ways to do this is get kids to teach us about technology, play the clueless parent. Ask them to show you what apps they are using, who they are talking to and how.  As you get them to open up, ask them what they feel the dangers are, if they have seen any scary behavior online, or if they have seen their peers make any mistakes.  As you are talking, emphasize these key points.

  • Nothing they share is private, sooner or later it will be public.  That secret text or picture you sent to just your best friends?  What happens when they are no longer your best friend?  The personal video you just posted on Instagram that just your friends can see?  What happens when the privacy options are changed, you misconfigured the privacy options, or when your friends decide to share the video for you.
  • Strangers can easily pretend to be anything they want to be.  That sweet 14 year old girl that is going through the same tough challenges at school you are is really a 46 year old man in another country.
  • Words hurt, especially on the Internet.  Teach kids not only to watch out and report bullies, but also not to be bullies themselves. 

Finally, develop what is called the “Golden Rule”.  Let your children know there are no consequences when they come and talk to you.  Perhaps your child made a mistake, such as sharing too much information online, talking to a stranger that now frightens them, or visiting websites that they know they should not have visited, but now confuses and scares them.  If they no there will be no consequences for their mistake and that they can approach you for help, they are far more likely to engage you.  Use mistakes like this as a learning opportunity for all. Ultimately its not so important what technology your kids are using but how they behave online, how they interact with others.   Be an active part of your kids online lives and you will help them navigate technology safely and securely.

Download the presentation slides.

Lance Spitzner

Director, SANS Institute

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