The Internet is an information playground. All we need is a click or two here and there to get any information we need. But it is more than just a source of information. It is an open source of information. The information is out there where anyone who wants to can access anything they want to at any time they want to. That is precisely why the internet can be dangerous, especially for your children. Without proper guidance and supervision, they can be exposed to all forms of online danger.
The Growing Problem of Child Identity Theft
Over the years, there has been a significant increase in the number of children who have fallen prey to online predators. We don’t have to be shown studies; we only need to watch the news. There’s always news about a teen or two committing suicide because of cyber bullies, or children being victimized by sexual predators. What’s just as alarming, however, is the increase in child identity theft.
Identity theft is an issue we usually associate with people who have fat bank accounts and high-paying jobs. Many fail to realize, though, that children are prime targets for identity theft because it is easy to obtain their Social Security numbers without being detected for months (and even years). Children use their iPads, mobile phones and other digital devices so frequently that it makes them easy prey for thieves trying to access and use their personal information. According to a recent report, the incidence of child identity theft is now 51 times higher than that of adults.
The heart of the matter is “What can you, as a parent, do to protect your children?”
Protecting Your Children Online
One of your primary responsibilities is to keep your children out of harm’s way. You would do anything and everything necessary to make sure that your child is safe in all situations. Here are things that you can do to safeguard your child’s safety online.
- Know what personal information your children have with them. Guide your children until they become familiar with every detail. Then make sure that you keep that personal information in a safe place. The best way to secure personal information is to memorize it. Both you and your children should know their personal information by heart.
- Constant reminders will help. Continually remind your child about the dangers of giving personal information to strangers. Train your child to give personal information only to people both of you know personally.
- Social network and download warnings. Warn your children of the dangers of posting personal information (especially their Social Security number, contact information and location) on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Online file sharing (like music) and downloading of free games can also post dangers because of embedded malware used to grab private information.
- In school: Be aware of how your child’s personal information is used. Talk to the principal and your children’s teachers. Ask them how, and for what purposes, students’ personal information is used. Who has access to those files? How does the school maintained and disposed of their files? When you ask these questions, be wise enough not to accept answers like “Only their teacher sees their information.” Be persistent. Also, do not attach personal data like Social Security numbers to school forms unless absolutely necessary.
- Be aware of your child’s online activities. This doesn’t mean you need to spy on your child! Just be sure that you get involved with whatever it is that he or she does online. Ask about online activities or updates about his or her Facebook or Twitter friends. Tell your children about online privacy, the need to have strong usernames and passwords, and the problems with spam, malware and inappropriate content. Encourage your children to be open with you, especially when there are suspicious messages or content in their email or social networking accounts. Illustrate using specific examples to help your children understand better.
- Implement strict rules. Compose a list of rules that your children have to follow. Set a specific number of hours for online usage. Enumerate sites to which they are allowed to go. You might list examples of suspicious messages and content. You should also consider blocking some websites. Your list of rules should be posted somewhere near the computers your children use.
- Use software or tools you have installed on your computer. Both PC and Mac computers have built-in tools that can protect your children when they are online. In PCs, you can enable “Family Safety.” Depending on your operating system, go to Control Panel and click Family Safety (Windows 8). For Macs, you can use “Parental Controls” (go to System Preferences and click Accounts).
- Set an example to follow. Practice what you preach. They are watching you, and they will more likely do what you say, when they know that you do what you say.
Keeping your child safe online requires a lot of resolve and persistence. This shouldn’t be a problem for any caring parent. Prevent your children’s futures from going down the drain. Start protecting them now.