Navigating Online Life-Growing Up is Hard to Do

Jan 25, 2013 6:15am

The following is a guest blog by Blair Campbell, CISSP, (ISC)² Foundation Safe and Secure OnlineMentor.

I am a certified information security professional and volunteer for the (ISC)² Foundation Safe and Secure Online program, which enlists professionals like myself to teach children to learn how to protect themselves online and how to become responsible and empathetic computer users.

To date, we’ve reached nearly 100,000 children, parents and teachers. With nearly 90,000 certified members in 135 countries, (ISC)² is the world’s largest, not-for-profit information security professional membership body and global leader in information security education and certification.

I volunteer because I am the parent of a 7-year-old and see the existing gap in helping kids grow up with good instincts about leading a safe digital life and assist parents taking an active role in helping their children navigate it.

Every day, kids face a myriad of online decisions – which friend requests to accept, whether to forward time-limited and self-destructing images (have you heard of Snapchat?), whether to talk to someone online they don’t know, even whether to join classmates in bullying someone. Safe and Secure Online uses a holistic approach to address and elevate children’s awareness to choose wisely.

There are countless positive aspects to being online, but parents may want to believe that their kids will never be tempted to try new things which may be risky. However, they will. On the eve of Data Privacy Day, reflect on the best way to help your kids lead responsible, constructive digital lives. Arm yourself with the knowledge and tools you need to counsel them and parent just as you would in any life situation.  Here are 5 things that can help:

1. Understand technology. Unfortunately, security awareness classes are not mandatory, and neither teachers nor law enforcement have the resources or perhaps the skills to provide your kids the necessary tools. If you think your child know more than you do…it’s time for homework. For you!

As such, it’s imperative that you comprehend what it is they do online, how and why. Be inquisitive, kids are great teachers. Also, it comforts them to know that you’re engaged and know what you’re doing.

The following are excellent starting points:

2. Face reality. Prohibition is not a solution. They will discover new programs or apps and be tempted to do what everyone else is doing and may find themselves in tricky situations. They may make proper decisions and maybe some not such good decisions. By ignoring this fact, you’re potentially setting both of you up for heartbreak.

3. Set boundaries. Provide healthy and appropriate limits so your kids can still be active online but also implement a balanced use approach. Consider the contract a mother and blogger recently required her 13-year old son to sign before giving him an iPhone for Christmas. The contract contains common sense and courtesy guidelines that could apply to any social situation. 

4. Trust your kids. Just as you do when they’re learning to do anything new, you need to give them some independence and empowerment so they can learn to exercise and trust their own judgment. They blossom when they know you trust them.

5. Trust your instincts. Are there things you should be concerned about? Sure. But helping your children navigate their online life is just another day in parenthood. Conceivably, you might not be confident teaching them how to make wise choices online as you do teaching them how to drive, iron clothes, or manage money. All the same, if you listen to your child, you can transfer their experience to offline events you have faced in the past.

What else can you do as a parent? Talk to your child’s school. Does your child’s school participate in a Safe Schools program? Advocate to make information security part of the program so that the community can work together to support kids on every front.