A parent's guide to protecting kids online

Jul 12, 2012 2:06pm


By Vernon Irvin, President/CEO of Virtual World Computing/Cocoon

A typical child in the 21st century is practically raised on technology.

Tablets, smartphones and multiple computers in most American homes virtually ensure a technologically groomed child. Our tech savvy offspring still need the guidance of parents to teach them about online safety and to help them recognize the threats that loom beyond their LCD screen.  

So what exactly do we have to worry about?

It’s estimated that 38% of Facebook’s 20 million minors are under the website’s required age of 13 (NineMSN). The likelihood that a Facebook user protects their privacy by restricting those who can see their profile drops dramatically when the user is younger than 13. That leaves millions of children vulnerable to phishing, facial recognition abuse, and severe profiling. Open Wi-Fi networks at schools, airports, homes, and business are perhaps the most dangerous facet of browsing, because they make the user susceptible to Wi-Fi sniffing, data theft, and so on.

What can we do to protect our kids?

  • Facebook - If your kids are using Facebook, make sure they strengthen their privacy settings and opt out of facial recognition tagging. Make sure your kids know never to communicate with strangers on Facebook or any other social media website; and under no circumstances post their address, phone number, or otherwise personally identifiable info. Children should only befriend people that they already know.
  • Open Wi-Fi Networks - Always try to use a network that is password encrypted, and if you must use an open network, always access a secure website by beginning with “HTTPS” rather than “HTTP”. It will provide you with a higher level of security. Ideally, you’ll want to use a secure browsing service like Cocoon to protect you and your kids from hackers and cyber criminals.
  • If your kids are using email, educate them on the dangers of phishing. Phishing is the act of sending an email to a user falsely claiming to be an established enterprise in an attempt to scam the user into giving up private information. Have your kids ask permission before responding to any email requesting their personal info. 
  • Do not share passwords with anyone other than parents, and teach children how to create a secure password. 
  • Make sure they do not post any images that could impact their future reputation or success. 
  • Check with parents before downloading or installing software. Learning that these actions could possible hurt the computer or mobile device, and most certainly can jeopardize their privacy. Malware and viruses have the ability to install themselves on unprotected devices and track users across the Internet or steal password and credit card numbers.
  • Be careful when opening email attachments. Run them through an antivirus program if you can.
  • Make sure your kids always log off when done. This ensures the next user doesn’t gain access to personal data.
  • Your kids should never email a photo of themselves to a stranger. This could lead to harm both online and in the real world.
  • Keep your child’s computer secure and up-to-date. Remember to update antivirus software and apply patches regularly. 
  • Remember that people online often aren’t who they say they are. Tell your kids to be careful if they choose to interact with a new “friend”. 

Privacy and security protection tools available in the market can help protect your computers from viruses and malware; they can also protect your family from more serious threats from online predators. 

However, in the virtual world or the real world, there is no substitute for sitting down with your children and establishing safety rules. How many times have you told your kids “don’t talk to strangers”? The same common sense rules apply online.

Parents should also monitor their kids’ online 'friends' as they would their ‘real’ friends. Education, monitoring, and online privacy and security tools used together can help keep your kids safe online.