According to the 2012 Pew Research Center survey that explored technology use among 802 youth between the ages of 12-17 in the US,
- 78% of teens now have a cell phone, and almost half (47%) of those own smartphones. That translates into 37% of all teens who have smartphones, up from just 23% in 2011.
- One in four teens (23%) have a tablet computer, a level comparable to the general adult population.
- 95% of teens use the Internet.
- About three in four (74%) teens ages 12 – 17 say they access the internet on cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices at least occasionally.
As kids and teens head back to start the new school year, it is expected that they will be spending more time online as well. The more time they spend online, the more they will be exposed to dangerous online threats such as cyberbullying, sexual predators, cyber attacks, and identity theft.
In fact, identity theft is one of the fastest rising crimes in the US, and teens are the prime targets for identity theft.
According to a report by Carnegie Mellon CyLab, kids under the age of 18 are 51 times more likely to become victims of identity theft than their parents!
Since kids and teens have perfectly clean records and are more careless with sharing their personal information online, they make prime targets for identity theft. Once the thief obtains the teenager’s identity, the thief can create numerous credit accounts using the teenager’s personal identifying information. Of course, the thief will not make any payment to the accounts. As the debt accumulates and goes undetected, your teenager’s credit rating will suffer. As a result, your teen will face immense hardships trying to get student loans, buy a car, rent an apartment or open a bank account.
To reduce the risk of identity theft and other online threats, it’s important for teens to be vigilant about their safety and security while surfing online.
Balancing your teenager’s desire for connectivity with your desire to keep them safe is a common challenge that many parents face today. As your teenager or child heads back to school this year, help them learn how to safely use the Internet. The suggestions listed below will help get you started.
Offer Insightful and Valuable Information
The best way to approach information is to provide teens with plenty of honest, straightforward information about the risks you know about. It’s essential to be clear about why you, and even experts, consider these certain websites and actions online to be risky or dangerous. Avoid stating things like, “Just because I said so,” when attempting to explain. That won’t have much of an impact on teenagers.
Go over the Basics of Internet Safety
Provide an overview of what risks are involved with regard to being online. Inform your teenager or younger child that sexual predators, hackers, and con artists have found the Internet to be the ideal playground for them, and that it’s important to know how to recognize inappropriate behavior and how to avoid it.
Provide a Basic Code of Conduct
Offer your teenager a basic code of conduct while they are online. This could be something as simple as stating, ‘If you wouldn’t say something directly to a person’s face, then don’t say it online, either through social media or any other means.’ Instruct your children to only connect with ‘friends’ on social media sites if they know them personally.
Explain to your children that there are adults online who sometimes pretend to be teens, build fake profiles, and will try connecting with them that way. Also, make sure your teenager will abide by common decency and rules of respect: no taking part in cyber-bullying, no sexting or other explicit behaviors, and inform them that if they share certain images of other teens, they could be held liable for their actions and face legal charges.
Once it’s Online, it’s Forever
Many people still don’t realize that once you post something online, it can remain online in some way or form forever. Even if you decide to delete a post right away, many sites save and store information—and hackers can figure out how to get to it. Other users on the sites your children use can also keep records of the posts and photos your child is sharing, simply by taking screenshots of content. As such, it’s important to help your teen understand the permanent nature of posts, photos, and other information they are considering sharing online.
Keep Passwords Private and Strong
The only people that should have access to your teenager’s passwords are you and your teen. Tell them that it’s not a good idea to share any of them with friends, even for the most innocent of reasons.
Also, create strong passwords by following the guidelines below:
- Make your password long – At the minimum, it should be at least 8 characters long.
- Use combinations of upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Avoid using words that could be easily guessed such as your pet’s name, birthday, phone number, zip code, etc.
- Avoid using the same password on multiple accounts.
Don’t Open Emails from Strangers
Emails come in all forms these days. Some are so well worded and designed that your teen could be enticed or tricked into opening it. Have them agree to open only emails from people that they know. Anything else should either be deleted or looked at by you before they can open it. Additionally, tell them to watch out for emails that ask them to provide their personal information.
Encourage Your Teen to Use Privacy Settings on Social Media
Make sure that only their friends can see personal information about them, their posts, and their pictures. It’s a simple step that can go a long way toward keeping them safe online. Additionally, they should not add as “friends” anyone that they do not personally know.
Don’t be Careless about Sharing Personal Information
Teens are sharing more information about themselves on social media sites than ever, and that can be dangerous. According to survey run by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project802 parents and their 802 teens ages 12-17,
- 91% post a photo of themselves, up from 79% in 2006.
- 71% post their school name, up from 49%.
- 71% post the city or town where they live, up from 61%.
- 53% post their email address, up from 29%.
- 20% post their cell phone number, up from 2%.
As the survey shows, lots of teens are sharing personal information about themselves on social media sites that potentially put them at risk for identity theft.
Make sure to let your teenager know that that sharing of any personal information should be avoided at all times on any site. If they are not sure, they should check with you first. Once hackers and cyber criminals get hold of your teens’ personal information, it becomes very easy for them to steal their identities.
Dangerous Neighborhoods Also Exist Online
You wouldn’t want your teenager traveling alone in dangerous neighborhoods in the real world. The same rules should apply when your children are online. If a site looks trashy, dangerous, pornographic, or malicious in nature, your teen should avoid it. If they do happen upon a website or social media site with less than decent material, they should have the wherewithal to leave immediately.
Bullying doesn’t just exist on the playground anymore. Bullying through digital media or cyber bullying is a growing threat. According to a study conducted by Cyberbullying Research Center, 52% of students reported being cyberbullied.
Cyberbullying is using digital media to harass, threaten, humiliate or embarrass another person. It can happen over Facebook, instant messages or emails.
The effects of cyberbullying can be severe on the victims. It can lead to depression, withdrawal, anxiety, and even suicide.
Make sure you tell your children that if they are targets of cyberbullying, they should immediately notify you and to appropriate authorities.
Check Your Own Behavior
Do you practice what you preach? If you don’t, then how can or should you expect your teenage son or daughter to abide by the rules and expectations that you’re setting forth for them? Try to set a good example for your child when it comes to your behavior online. Avoid visiting inappropriate and potentially dangerous sites. Don’t freely share private information or private photos online.
Encourage Open Communication
At times, your teenage son or daughter may find himself or herself in a difficult situation. Make sure they know that they can talk to you about anything. If they are hurt, embarrassed, or confused about something, they should be able to talk to you about it without fear of reprisal or punishment. This will help you keep an open line of communication.
Use a Virtual Private Network
While your teen may follow all of your rules and expectations while online, using a VPN is still one of the best ways to remain safe online. a VPN protects your privacy and identity online by concealing your IP address and encrypting your internet communications.
Most schools have firewalls and safeguards that protect their students, but when your child is out with friends, at a friend’s house, at a public Wifi hotspot, or anywhere else besides home, they could find themselves in dangerous waters. The more you talk with them, the more positive you are with them, the better protected they will be in the digital world.
For more information and resources to help you educate your children on the importance of Internet safety, click here.