Internet Safety for Kids: A Parent’s Cheat Sheet

By Living Security

June is National Internet Safety Month, making it the perfect time to educate yourself on how to keep your kids safe online.

From cyberbullying and cyber predators to phishing and malware, there are many ways bad actors prey on youth digitally. 

Just like it’s a parent’s responsibility to teach your kid(s) to look both ways before crossing the street, it’s also your job to encourage them to STOP & THINK before they connect.

Here are a few ways to encourage your kids to practice better internet safety, as well as a few tricks for taking their online safety into your own hands…

1. Talk to your children about inappropriate conduct, contact and content— without inducing fear.

When socializing and communicating online, make sure you’re explaining to your children the three “C’s:” conduct, contact and content:

  • Inappropriate conduct. Spell out clear “do” and “don’ts” for what inappropriate means to you. Explain how cyberbullying works and what it looks like with real examples, encouraging your family to take ownership of their actions online. See page 11 of the linked resource from CISA for more.
  • Inappropriate contact. Break down how social engineers, catfishers, scammers and online predators operate. Be sure to explain it in simplistic terms, detailing a few clear red flags.
  • Inappropriate content. Talk to your children about the way they communicate both online and off— and to avoid pornography, violence or hate speech at all costs. 

While sharing, be careful to not scare or threaten your family into following your rules, which could cause resentment, thinking you mistrust them. It’s important to create a supportive, open environment where your kids feel safe coming to you with questions or concerns about their online behavior, without fear of negative consequences. Instead, focus on educating and encouraging them to think before they interact and conducting themselves in a way they’d be proud of. 

2. Use or encourage children to use privacy settings online.

Most social networking websites, chat rooms, forums, etc. have customizable privacy settings. Remind your family to never trust the default settings, which often make most content public. See who can view their profile, posts, pictures, personal info, etc. and talk to them about the best settings, together. 

3. Educate your children on using strong usernames and passwords and protecting them.

Bad actors often gain access to private digital data by guessing or using password cracking software to easily access social media accounts and other systems. Talk to your children about:

  • Using longer passwords with special characters and capitalization. Short character passwords are simply easier to crack. By adding numbers, characters and capitalization, you make it harder for bad actors to guess.
  • Using passphrases. If you or your child is afraid they can’t remember a long password, tell them to think of a passphrase like a song lyric and add special characters— for instance, “S0mewhere 0ver the R@inb0w.” Notice how the “o’s” are actually zeroes and the “a” is an @ sign.
  • Don’t use content that’s publicly accessible for security questions. A hacker with your children’s email address may attempt to access their social login by answering security questions to reset a password. Remind kids to never use things accessible on their public profile like their date of birth or where they live.
  • Writing passwords down and not sharing! Instead of saving passwords in a note on their phone that could be accessed if their device was hacked, ask kids to write passwords down and not share them with anyone (except you!), including their friends. 

4. Have backup home security in place.

Despite your best efforts to educate your children on internet safety, you can’t control their every move. Whether they just don’t listen or naively make a mistake, you need to know your home network is properly protected against bad actors.

  • Be diligent with your antivirus software. Make sure it’s active, that it’s the newest version and that you’re performing frequent updates and installing security patches. Talk to your kids about the importance of leaving it “on” at all times or keep them barred from making administrative changes. Firewalls or spam blockers for your internet browser are also a must!
  • Secure your WiFi network. Your wireless router is a doorway into all your connected devices at home. Never use the factory-set default password for your network and use our password advice above to create a stronger username and password. Read the National Security Agency’s Cybersecurity Information page for more WiFi safety tips.
  • Protect and back up your files. If your child accidentally lets a back actor into your home network, they could seize your files or use them for ill will. Sensitive information including banking information, social numbers, etc. should be saved in password-protected files or uploaded to private external hard drives that only you have access to. It’s also smart to backup your data on the Cloud, in case your children accidentally delete information on a shared device. 

5. Follow online parenting safety tip resources.

There are a few governing bodies that provide excellent advice for improving your family’s safety online. Be sure to subscribe to their content or download helpful resources to review and share with your children:

Family Always Comes First

Here at Living Security, we know internet safety starts at home. That’s why we developed our Family First content, including free tools and resources for families to keep children safe online.

Explore our educational training videos, webinars and more for creating a family-safe digital environment.