I grew up in the 70s, when kids didn’t wear bike helmets, and technology was far from part of everyday life. In fact, I distinctly remember the first time I played Pong on a 9-inch black and white TV sitting on the gold carpet of my friend’s parents’ bedroom. To us, lessons that were written included “don’t talk to strangers” and “look both ways before you cross the street.”
Now, I am a mom to two girls – going on 11 and 13. How things have changed! For the first seven years of their lives, I worked for a cybersecurity certification company. My time there gave me a deep appreciation for both the power and the dangers of the internet. It also prepared me to parent two digital natives. Now that my kids are tweens, I’m not sure they find that fortunate, but with apps, games and predator sophistication ever evolving, I am thankful. I’m thankful for the knowledge I gained about all the ways those with good skills and bad intentions can exploit the internet to hurt people. I also developed an understanding that as parents, it’s our duty to ensure our children become good digital citizens and are equipped with the instincts and tools they need to protect themselves online as early in life as possible.
The threats may be different today, but the lessons boil down to the same message – stay vigilant and make smart choices. A new school year, when socializing and schoolwork are sure to heat up, is a great opportunity to remind your kids that being online requires them to be good digital citizens year-round. This can ensure that they get the most out of their online life, from school resources to sites and apps that keep them connected with friends. Here are a few tips to keep your children safe as they head back to school:
- If your child gets a new device for the school year, follow these new device safety tips from The Center for Cyber Safety and Education.
- Set limits on your kids’ screen time and have them turn in their connected devices at bedtime. CCSE’s Children’s Internet Usage Study found that on school nights, almost half of kids surveyed in 4th – 8th grades were online at 11 pm or later, and 10% indicated they were even late to school because of their late night internet use.
- If your child is under the age of 13, they should not have social media accounts, according to Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). If your child is old enough, emphasize that they should only friend people they know, and they should never agree to meet anyone they met online in person.
- Remind them that anything they post (words or pictures) is never really deleted from the internet. You never know when something embarrassing or hurtful could come up. Challenge them not to post anything they wouldn’t want their grandmother to see or read.
- Back to school means more opportunities for your child either to witness or become the victim of cyberbullying. October is both National Bullying Prevention and Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Use these commemorative events as an opportunity to heighten your family’s awareness about the dangers and to learn about the cyberbullying laws in your state.
Due probably in part to when I grew up and in part to my work in the cybersecurity industry, my children are just about the only ones in their grades and friend groups who don’t have smartphones, and I am just fine with that. They have tablets and access to a laptop, but they had to take cyber safety courses before going online, and I limit their screen time. I want them to realize and respect the power of the internet – positive and negative – and understand the weight of the responsibility that comes along with exploring it.
They’ll be absorbed into our digital economy soon enough. For now, I’m content to encourage (read: force) them to play outside as often as possible, to respect both the privilege and responsibility that comes with going online and to think carefully when they do. I hope it prevents them from losing out on their first real job opportunity because of a picture they posted on Facebook in 2019.
Written by: Sarah Nicholas
Sarah is the Director of Communications for Serendipity Communications. She lives in Plainwell, Michigan with her husband, daughters and stepson, with twin stepdaughters nearby. She is passionate about cyber safety education for children and enjoys ballet dancing, reading and volunteering at her children’s school.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Ameris Bank does not endorse nor is affiliated with the companies listed in this article.