In today’s world, children are exposed to technology and the internet from a young age. Today’s technology allows us to connect with others in ways that were only imagined a few years ago. Parents and nannies may live feed their child’s activities so far away friends and family can also experience them. They may use internet access to check on their child throughout the day. Even children’s toys are evolving, and many interactive toys are linked to the internet. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, almost 50% of American children ages three and four access the internet from their homes.
Why is this a concern? Cyber-attacks are nothing new, but many people are unaware of the increase in hackers targeting children. Many children have easy access to the internet through their phones, computers, and laptops. Children do not have bank accounts, so what is the attraction? They tend to be naïve and have minimal knowledge about the risks. They may not know the precautions needed to protect themselves and their identity. They also have clean credit histories that are desirable to certain hackers. According to a 2019 estimate by Experian, 25% of American youth will experience fraud or identity theft before the age of 18.
Children play games, watch TV, and chat with their friends online. The majority are unaware that digital dangers exist. They are not aware that they or their families can be hurt by online behavior. Children may also become the targets of cyberbullying. Teaching children cybersecurity can help insulate them from the worst effects of cyber harassment — including doxing and threats. Doxxing is an internet-based practice of researching and publicly broadcasting private or identifying information about an individual or organization.
Children are also at risk of sexual exploitation on the internet. According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, a little more than 10% of young people experience online solicitation, while up to 20% of American youth may be exposed to unwanted online sexually explicit material.
Just like teaching a child to read or ride a bike, teaching cybersecurity must be done in an age-appropriate manner. Parents and caregivers can start by modeling good cybersecurity. Then, children can learn to keep their personal information and identity safe. Explaining how their actions impact online security is crucial to develop their understanding of the critical importance of online security and to help them create the necessary cybersecurity habits.
Children should know that it is not just their security at risk. Explain how something as simple as a toy can impact the security of the entire household. These toys connect to the internet and have minimal or no security measures. They can be used by hackers to spy on the children and family members and even track the child’s location.
How do we protect children and teach them to better protect themselves? Let children know that not all websites and apps are safe. When children are young and vulnerable, it is up to the parents and caregivers to ensure their safety. Any toys that access the internet should be thoroughly vetted and all safety precautions should be enabled. When toddlers play games or watch YouTube videos, a parent or caregiver should be close by to make sure the child cannot begin pressing buttons and get to inappropriate sites. Parental controls should always be used to block inappropriate sites.
Once the child is old enough to begin logging on, remembering passwords, and interacting on their own – cybersecurity lessons should begin. Children need to understand a few basics beginning with usernames and passwords. When creating an online profile or opening an account online, you are usually required to enter a username. Creating a unique and unusual username that is not connected to your real name is a good way to protect your identity. It makes it more difficult for strangers online to who you are. Help children create their own unique usernames and teach them how this can protect them.
Passwords are a key element in cybersecurity.
Passwords are designed to keep our accounts and information safe. All children should be taught to use anonymous screen names and strong passwords. You have already seen the common tips for better passwords, but here they are as a reminder:
- A long password is better (8-14 characters or more)
- Intersperse upper- and lower-case letters with symbols and numbers
- Do not use names – yours or anyone else’s
- Do not use words – mix letters and numbers and symbols into a nonsensical stream
- Change your password often and do not use the same one for all your accounts
Children must also learn and understand the importance of being selective about what they share online. Just like they should not tell a stranger personal information (like where you live or go to school), they should know that this is not advisable online either. Children must understand that just as there are good and bad people in the real world, there are good and bad people online. People of questionable character may find it easy to hide behind a screen. Children see playmates as friends and should understand that online ‘playmates’ may not be who they seem to be.
Children should also be taught to be wary of uninitiated contact. This can be in the form of chat room conversations for online games or unsolicited emails or texts. They should understand that offers of ‘free’ stuff or announcements that they have ‘won’ something are usually traps. The trap could be an attempt to gain personal information, install malware, or even lure a child into physical danger.
Teach children that people on the internet may misrepresent themselves and are not always who they say they are. Make sure they know to tell a parent or caregiver know immediately if they receive a message and they do not recognize the sender’s username, or the subject line does not make sense. They should also let an adult know if a message contains grammatical errors, is asking for personal information or contains links to other websites. Make sure they know NOT to click on any embedded links.
As children get older and more involved with social media and blogs and videos, make sure they follow safe protocols when they make posts. Children often do not understand the concept of forever and that once they put something online it can never be fully deleted. As parents and caregivers, we may worry about the impact of postings on a child’s future, but the child does not really think that far ahead. Youths and teens should be taught what things are appropriate to post and what are not.
A child’s cybersecurity is the responsibility of the parents and caregivers. Adults should know and understand any apps, games, or social networks that are frequented by the children in their care. Parental controls should be optimized, and children’s activities should be monitored. When toys that connect to the internet are used, the adults must understand the risks and how to protect the child. Any connected device purchased for a child should have instructions on how to change the default password – this should be done before the first use. By the child. Parents and caregivers should also ensure that the WiFi network accessed by the child is secure.
Kids can soak up basic cybersecurity skills as rapidly as they pick up new technologies. We owe it to them to make that possible. By teaching children cybersecurity basics — including both the why and how — adults can prepare them for the risks they face and what to do when they encounter them. Plus, kids who grow up with a strong foundation in these practices can even begin to fill the cybersecurity skills shortage and help keep everyone safe.
Nannies can learn more by enrolling in the Supporting eLearning course which is part of the eLearning Facilitator program at the US Nanny Institute.