While many parents understand the basics of Internet privacy, kids may not be as knowledgeable . How can you protect your kids from would-be identity thieves and other dangerous individuals, like cyberbullies and predatory adults? Keep reading to find out.
- Help Kids Create Strong Passwords and Usernames
The first step in protecting your children’s identities is to teach them to create strong passwords that can’t be hacked. The strongest passwords have the following features:
- They contain a combination of symbols (like * or #), upper- and lower-case letters, and numbers.
- They don’t use easy-to-research information like a mother or grandmother’s maiden name or the name of a childhood pet.
- They’re more than 6 characters long.
Your child shouldn’t use the same password twice, or even variations on the same keyword. Since it’s hard to juggle so many passwords, you might recommend that your kids use a password tracker.
Having a strong password is only the first step, though. On social media platforms where kids don’t use their full names (for instance, on apps other than Facebook), kids need to construct safe usernames that don’t give away too much information about themselves.
For example, usernames shouldn’t include birthdates, birth years, or information commonly used in security questions, like your favorite TV show or the name of your first pet. Clever hackers and identity thieves can use the information they glean from usernames to break into accounts that contain personal information.
- Beware of “Anonymous” Apps
Some apps are popular among teens because the apps promise complete anonymity. Kids (and parents) might think these apps are, at least in some ways, safer than apps that make your identity known—but as every web user learns eventually, there’s no such thing as complete anonymity online.
For instance, Yik Yak lets users post anonymous comments. Other users can then up- or down-vote the anonymous comments. The app is location-specific: it shows every anonymous message within a ten-mile radius of the user.
However, because the “anonymous” app operates based on location, all users know that other users live nearby. If your child gets too personal on the app—talking about specific teachers or classmates or posting about where they are at a given moment—they’ll be hard to track down, but not impossible. Anonymous apps can compromise safety in a different way by contributing to cyberbullying.
If your teen uses anonymous apps, make sure they understand that their information isn’t necessarily anonymous. Similarly, discuss what they should do if they encounter cyberbullying, including who they should talk to about it, how to respond, and how to safely intervene or react when someone else is being bullied.
Other anonymous apps to caution your teen about include:
- Whisper, which lets users send and receive anonymous messages
- fm, which lets users anonymously ask and respond to questions
- Omegle, which randomly pairs two anonymous users for a one-on-one chat
Talk to your kids about the dangers of interacting with strangers online and potentially making them privy to personal information. They should also know that nothing they say online is guaranteed to stay anonymous—they shouldn’t say anything online they aren’t comfortable having repeated to them later. You may also consider approving every app your teen downloads.
- Don’t Post About Your Child
Many parents don’t think twice about sharing a picture or a cute anecdote about their child on Facebook or Instagram. And why would you be concerned when the responses you get to your picture or story are largely positive? Your friends and relatives probably adore the pictures, and you enjoy creating a digital log of your kid’s childhood.
However, the information you post about your children creates a digital footprint without their knowledge or consent. As an adult, you can approve the photos a friend has tagged you in on Facebook, or you can opt to un-tag yourself and keep the photo from appearing on your wall. In contrast, your kids can’t control the online image you create for them.
Plus, when you post about your kids, you could be giving away valuable information that predators can extort. For example, while the stories and pictures you post from your child’s birthday party delight your friends, they also tell identity thieves your child’s birthdate and age. Even more troublingly, pictures of your kids and teens can be posted to child pornography websites without your knowledge.
Does this information mean you can’t share anything about your kids on social media? Of course not. It simply means that when you do, you should go out of your way to protect your kids’ identities and information:
- Change your privacy settings on posts about (especially photos of) your young children so that only your friends can see them.
- Don’t share your child’s full name online—try using the first letter of their name or a nickname you only use online to protect them from identity thieves.
- Make your relatives and friends aware of the standards you’ve set for sharing information about your kids online. If a family friend posts a photo of your child, don’t hesitate to ask them to remove it.
- Once your children are old enough, talk to them about what you share online. What are they comfortable with you posting about them?
How have you talked to your child about protecting their information online? Do you have advice for fellow parents? Feel free to share in the comment section below!