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Online Safety Basics for Kids

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Spring 2012 — Security News and Advice


Kids today have more exposure to the Internet than any generation before them. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is important to take the time to talk to them about appropriate behaviors and ground rules so that their online experiences are safe and positive.

First, they must understand the risks associated with going online, as well as the benefits. Risks include not only accidentally infecting your computer or mobile device with viruses or other malware, but also the sharing of sensitive personal information. Most kids understand that the Internet is a public place but they may not realize how the information they post and share can lead to dangerous consequences, such as cyberbullying or identity theft. They may also need to learn the ground rules for ethical online behavior and how to interact with people that they meet online.

To help you begin the conversation and establish some online rules, we have put together the following tips:

  • Encourage your kids to share their online experiences— Ask them about the activities they do online and encourage them to share any questions or concerns they may have. By fostering open communication, they’ll be more likely to talk to you about any potential problems they face online.
  • Teach them not to share personal information and to be cautious—Let them know that information such as your address, phone number and passwords should be kept private and why it is risky to share them. Once they understand the risks of oversharing, teach them to be cautious, not just with giving out personal information, but also when it comes clicking on links, downloading attachments, and posting or uploading content since once something is posted online, it will stay there forever.
  • Makes some Internet house rules—Determine which sites are safe to visit and which are off-limits, as well as the amount of time your child can spend online and what kind of information they can share.
  • Warn them about people they interact with online—While your children may make innocent new friendships online, they should still know about the dangers of interacting with strangers, and bullies. If your child or someone they know is being bullied online, they should know to tell you immediately, not retaliate, and block that person. It’s also important to tell them not to make in-person contact with people they meet online unless they have your express permission and you can accompany them to the meeting.
  • Teach your child about ethical online behavior—It’s important to set down some guidelines on how to interact with others online when it comes to maintaining privacy and respect. Teach your children that just because they are online that they shouldn’t treat others any differently as they do when they are face to face. It is also important that children know that it is never acceptable to impersonate someone else online, and doing so can potentially be hurtful to others.
  • Use security software with parental controls—Parental control software can help you enforce the online rules you have made with your family. For instance, McAfee® Family Protection software allows you to set Internet time limits, block inappropriate sites and monitor Web activity, along with providing other security tools.

Clear rules and open communication can go a long way in ensuring that your child has a positive online experience. If you make safety a regular conversation, both you and your child should feel more comfortable about their digital lives.


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