Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Dec. 3, 2013

Online Safety, Security, and Privacy: Talking to Kids about the Basics

Project Administrator, Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI)

This blog post first appeared on DrGreene.com. Read the original post here.

Cross the road without looking and you might get hit by a car. Touch a hot stove and it might really hurt. Kids are taught the basics of common sense early.

But are we teaching them to apply the same common sense and critical thinking skills when they get online? Just as in the real world, it’s important to help them understand the basics so they can avoid accidents or getting burned.

Here are some easy ways to help kids see why offline rules apply online, and some tips to help you keep them safer and more secure when they power-on:

You don’t give everyone in the neighborhood a house key:

That’s obvious, right? If you did, anyone could come into your house. (You wouldn’t leave a spare key on the porch either because then anyone could find it and use it to get in.)

When it comes to online accounts, the same rule applies.

It’s important to teach kids to use strong passwords – they are the virtual keys to their accounts. And like real keys, they shouldn’t be shared with anyone but a parent and shouldn’t be easy to find or figure out. (That means no using “password” or the dog’s name. It’s the digital equivalent to leaving the key under the mat or in one of those fake rocks.)

Everyone has to go to the doctor:

While they may not like it, kids know that everyone has to go to the doctor for regular check-ups. It’s something we do often so we can catch a problem early or solve one before it gets too bad.

Security updates are our computer’s check-ups. Talk to kids about the importance of running security scans and updating software – they are the immunization shots that protect us from nasty bugs, viruses, and other threats that can happen online.

Mom would never hand her credit card to a stranger and ask them to hold it:

I’m willing to bet that no child has ever watched their parent take out a credit card in the grocery line and hand it to a stranger for safekeeping. They learn from our interactions and behaviors that some things – especially things with personal or financial information – should not be shared.

It’s the same online.

Make sure kids understand that some information should not be shared and teach them to think critically when it comes to websites they visit or files they download. Unfortunately, not every site can be trusted.

We have to wear pants in public:

Duh! Right? It’s obvious that there are things we need to keep private when we are in public.

It’s no different on social media or other websites kids use. Some things just aren't meant to be on display in public and they need to understand that.

While most sites offer privacy settings to help control who can see what, it’s important to remind kids that their privacy is also in the hands of everybody they interact with online. That means, the more friends and interactions they have, the less control they have over the information people can share or see about them.

Online, the common-sense learning curve can be steep. However, it’s easier when kids can apply lessons they’ve already learned offline from parents, teachers, and friends. Let’s be there to guide them and help them tackle the climb.

What are some other examples of how kids can apply offline common sense and critical thinking skills, online?