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The Top 10 Ways to Keep your Kids Safe Online
The internet helps our kids grow and learn like no other tool in history. According to research by UNICEF, children who use the internet have more learning opportunities and deeper skill sets than their peers. But as with any tool, kids need to learn to use the web safely to get the most of it; they need to learn to defend against very real hazards.
Below, you'll find the top expert-backed tips for how to keep your kids safe online, including best practices for passwords and posting habits, and ways to avoid phishing attacks. Keep reading to learn how to get your kids up to speed with online safety, and instill good habits to protect them for years to come.
1. Teach them to set strong passwords
Despite stronger protections like two-factor authentication and biometrics, many sites, apps, and services still go by the old 8 to 15 character password. Sadly, many internet users opt for easy words like 12345678, password, or iloveyou.
Those passwords are easy to crack. Keeping kids safe online starts with smarter passkey choices. A strong password is at least 16 characters, complex, and made up of a string of random numbers, special characters like @#%&*, and both upper and lowercase letters.
“But passwords like that are too hard to remember,” said every kid, ever. No problem. Use an automated password vault like LastPass, 1Password, or Dashlane. Those password manager apps will help your kids stay safe online with stronger passwords, and help them change their passwords more often.
Finally, stress the importance of never sharing passwords. About 34% of adults share passwords with coworkers, according to a 2019 survey of over 1,500 internet users. Pew Research found that statistic mirrored in children, with kids sharing passwords as a show of affection.
Learn more about how to set strong passwords at Canada's Get Cyber Safe strong passwords page.
2. Tell them posting is forever
Some kids already know more about this than many adults, but anything you put online will stay there forever. Even if you delete something, it's archived in the Wayback Machine, and strangers can download and/or screenshot anything you post. Smart kids know that anything they put online is public for all eternity.
One big reason to think twice before you post or share? Posting less-than-savoury pics or thoughts can affect your college admissions chances, as 35% of admissions officers screen applicants' social media profiles. Scholarship judges use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to make decisions too, and 42% say what they find has a negative impact on some students' chances.
3. Use strong protections
If passwords are passé in many ways, it's because new protections are much stronger. One of the best ways to keep children safe on the internet is by teaching them about other online shields like two-factor authentication and biometrics. Two-factor authentication uses passwords plus a pin or other proof of identity.
By far the most secure type of two-factor authentication is that one-time code you get when you log into your online banking or Amazon account. Teach your kids to use those codes with services that demand security, like banks and online shopping portals. Many services use biometrics too, like requiring you to scan your fingerprint to make an online purchase.
The biggest takeaway here is to get them to use multi-factor authentication, biometrics, and one-time codes when they have the option.
Learn more about keeping kids safe online at Canada's Get Cyber Safe multi-factor authentication page.
4. Don't let them chat with strangers
Chatting online seems innocent – until it isn't. Kids may think they met a new friend their age on Facebook, and in-game chats can get pretty chummy, too. But do Katie or Kevin really know who they're chatting with? To keep your child safe online, make sure your kids know only to communicate with people they've met in the real world.
Also, educate your kids to tell an adult if someone they met online tries to strike up a conversation. It's important because 30% of teen girls admit to meeting strangers from the web in flesh and blood situations. And a 17-year-old football hero in a nearby town may actually be an adult predator looking for his next victim.
Teach your kids to Google-search people they meet online, and to use tools like Social Searcher to scan their social media presence. Teens can also see if a profile pic was stolen from another page by using TinEye to do a reverse image search.
5. Teach them to fact check
“It's true. I read it on the internet.” Your kids can fall into other traps on the internet besides being hacked or tricked. Too often, well-meaning web users are taken in by fake news or misguided “facts” on social media. Worse, the threat of fake news can make children less likely to believe trusted sources.
Arm your kids with fact-checking weapons like Google Fact Check. To keep your kids safe online from misinformation, make sure they also check any “facts” they come across with reputable sources like the CBC, Statistics Canada, and The Globe and Mail. Before they repost anything, they should check and double-check to make sure it's the truth.
6. Protect them from phishing
There are 350,000 new pieces of malware found every day, and Canada is the most-frequently-targeted country. In fact, more than 50% of all phishing attacks are aimed at Canadian web users. But phishing can't harm your children if they don't click the links that open black-hat programs.
Yet 30% of all phishing emails get opened, and today's cybercriminals use fraud sites and even fake customer service numbers to reel in victims. Keeping kids safe online from phishing starts with teaching them never to open a link or call a number in an inbound message. If the phish doesn't bite the hook, the attack ends there.
7. Set ground rules
Set your kids up for web success by drawing clear boundaries up front. For preschoolers, sit with them while they use the internet. Set screen time limits early for apps, websites, and games. iOS and Microsoft Windows have dedicated screen time limit settings. For Android, use a parental control app like Google Family Link.
Another way to keep your kids safe online is to keep everything out in the open. Set up computers in common areas and set rules for mobile devices to keep them out from behind closed doors. Monitoring internet use isn't spying, any more than going with a minor to a closed-door meeting with a teacher, doctor, or other adult.
8. Use parental controls
You can't always be there to help your kids make smart choices. Thankfully, dozens of great parental control apps have popped up in the last few years for keeping kids safe online. Start with the free and excellent Google Family Link to set screen time limits, block dangerous content and apps, and even track your child's location in the real world.
Other apps like Safe Lagoon go one step further to let you monitor your kids' IMs, texts, and YouTube usage histories. Don't forget to use device-specific parental controls in their home devices like Amazon Echo's Alexa, Xbox, and Roku.
9. Choose the safest gear
Software only goes so far when it comes to keeping your kids safe online. When shopping for a laptop for your child, make sure your pick has hardware controls like a privacy webcam kill switch to block out snooping eyes, a SureView screen to stop people from looking over your kid's shoulder, and biometrics like the fingerprint reader in the HP Spectre x360.
Look for other commercial-grade security features like HP Sure Start self-healing BIOS, which automatically restores your kid's computer to a safe state if it's ever attacked. HP Sure Click defends Hazel or Andrew from websites infected with malicious code. And HP Sure Sense uses deep AI to spot and zap malware before it gets a toehold.
10. Talk to your kids
The best defense by far is an educated, communicative child. Chat with your kids about internet safety. What do they already know? What have they heard? What have they seen? Kids know a surprising amount already, and you can't protect them from what you don't know.
Talking about the dangers early and often is one of the surest ways to keep your child safe online. Ask for stories about children they've heard about who got into trouble, and be honest about your own mistakes. Share best practices too, like how you handle passwords and curate your online presence.
Keeping kids safe online is easy when you teach them to set strong passwords, think before they post, use two-factor authentication, and stick to chatting with people they've met in real life. Quick lessons in fact-checking and phishing are invaluable too.
Finally, set ground rules, give them safe devices, and consider using a parental control app to guide them as they find their way. Above all, talk to your kids, because a strong relationship is the best protection in all areas of life.
About the Author:Tom Gerencer is a contributing writer forHP® Tech Takes.Tom is an ASJA journalist, career expert at Zety.com, and a regular contributor to Boys' Life and Scouting magazines. His work is featured in Costco Connection, FastCompany, and many more.