Summer Web Safety: A Cautionary Tale About The Internet

Don’t get between your kids and the Internet! Plugged in through all manner of devices, your child is constantly active online, divulging every detail of his or her life. To a generation raised on reality TV, it comes as second nature to share location-based status updates, post photos and videos to public networks, play interactive games with total strangers, subscribe to an infinite number of websites and download files at random.

While it may be daunting to try and understand the ever-evolving nature of the Internet, parents shouldn’t shy away from making sure their children are always virtually protected. With summer vacation rolling around and screen time increasing dramatically, it’s imperative to teach kids safe online habits to maintain their privacy, reputation and safety.

What Happens on the Internet, Stays on the Internet (Forever)

Kids and teens should understand that their digital footprint lasts indefinitely. One inappropriate carefree summer photo – depicting alcohol abuse, excessive partying, or illegal behavior —– could cost your teen a future college education, internship or job. Facebook photos, for instance, can show up in search results for as long as seven years after they’ve been deleted from your account—better to never upload them in the first place. Give your kids a general code of conduct: no compromising photos, set all social networks to private and when in doubt, don’t post online what you wouldn’t want Grandma to see offline.

Keep Personal Information Private

Information is the commodity of the Internet and social networking sites and app developers are often guilty of sharing, trading and selling private information. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued a report that concluded “neither the app stores nor the app developers provide the information parents need to determine what data is being collected from their children, how it is being shared, or who will have access to it.”

Suggest that your kids always check the privacy policy and settings to see what information is being accessed through various apps and social media sites.

Some common features that may endanger your child’s privacy include:

• Allowing contact with strangers
• Leveraging social networking services
• Collecting information about contacts and phone numbers
• Storing passwords or other unique identifiers
• Encouraging purchases, monetary upgrades and targeted advertising

Keep it Clean, Ensure Safe Surfing

Make sure your bored kid is surfing the Web responsibly this summer. While you can encourage your children to think critically about online browsing, it is also a good idea to curtail their access to unsavory information. Fortunately most web browsers like Safari, Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer have easy to use privacy settings and parental controls.

You can also filter search results with Google SafeSearch, which screens sites that contain questionable content and removes them from results. McAfee SiteAdvisor, which is part of the LiveSafe product package, assigns a safety rating to sites and search results for safer browsing. Keep an eye on your child’s browsing history. If this has been wiped clean, it may be a good time to sit the kids down for an open dialogue on Internet safety.

Teach Your Kids to Recognize Phishy Behavior

Children are more susceptible to phishing and malware scams, so educate them on what form these security scams come in. Unsolicited emails, attachments, free games, ring tones, and other download prompts could all result in a compromised computer and identity theft.

Always make sure you have security software installed and updated on all your computers. The proliferation of peer-to-peer file sharing amongst teens – for music, movies, even school projects – is also often a source of spyware. Show your child how to use your security software to scan any file before downloading, and teach kids to avoid file sharing sites for media (like music or television shows), which are often risky from a security standpoint, and remember that file sharing this type of content is almost always illegal.

From TED talks to online learning platforms like Coursera or Code Academy, the Internet can be a great resource for learning, exploring, and sharing. Just make sure you’re giving your kids the knowledge they need to surf the web wisely.

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