Do you know where your kids are? School is in session, and your kids will be surfing the web for homework and social interactions. Whether it’s homework, gaming, checking social media, or casual browsing, your kids are at risk for cyberbullying and identity theft. Here are a few frightening facts about your child’s internet safety, and seven tips to help protect your children from online threats.

The threat is real

Kids from ages 8 to 12 typically spend between 4 and 6 hours a day online, while teens can spend upwards of 9 hours each day browsing, gaming, and posting on social media. 

Did you know that there are an estimated 500,000 online predators active each day? Statistics show that 70% of kids encounter sexual or violent content online while doing homework research and 59% of US teens have been cyberbullied or threatened online.

From predation to identity theft, make no mistake about it–your kids are a target for cybercriminals. It’s vital to teach them common-sense online safety at an early age to keep them safe. Here are seven ways to ensure your child practices online safety.

1. Stay involved with your child’s Internet activities

It’s important to stay vigilant when your child is online. Make sure your child understands the potential dangers of online interactions, even if it’s with people they know. Remind them never to share personal information, whether it’s a physical address, their real name, photos, age or grade level, or the school they attend. Cybercriminals are experienced with causing a lot of damage with very limited information.

Discourage your child from interacting with strangers online. Keep in mind that predators will pose as a teen or child to open the lines of communication and build trust with your kid. Be wary of “friends” who ask for personal information or behave in a threatening way when your child refuses to share it.

2. Two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication, also known as multi-factor authentication, should be set up on every device your child accesses. It’s a simple safety measure that ensures bad actors can’t steal log-in information for websites and social media platforms.

You can choose to send the approval to your own device for an added layer of safety and as another way of keeping track of their online activities. This will discourage them from setting up accounts or accessing problematic sites.

Never let your child bypass a two-factor authentication system.

3. Strong passwords

The first line of defense for any account is a strong password. Keeping track of them all, however, can be overwhelming. Use a password manager to encourage your kids to create strong passwords.

A strong password should be more than 8 characters long and include a capital letter, a number, and a special character. They should never include:

Many kids (and adults!) are still making it far too easy for cybercriminals by using variations of easy passwords like 1234, Password, Qwerty, and repeated or sequential numbers like 1111 or 123456.

4. Discourage oversharing

It’s easy for your child to fall victim to a bad actor online. It can be as simple as posting a photo with an easily identifiable background or giving their real name to a “friend” in a game. Kids don’t think twice about sharing their school, their ages, or their grade levels with strangers online.

It’s astonishing how little information a cybercriminal needs to exploit your child or steal their identity. A physical address, for instance, can easily be used to track down a child or a parent for identity theft. Even if the thieves don’t use this information for themselves, they can sell it on the dark web. Facebook accounts can fetch $75 apiece on the dark web, and credit card information can be sold for up to $240 per card.

Oversharing can also make your child a target for cyberbullying, so remind them to stay neutral and non-committal at all times, whether it’s religion, politics, or even gossip.

Don’t punish your child for oversharing, however. You need to keep the lines of communication open so they will openly come to you if they’ve been threatened. If you find your child has overshared, sit down with them and discuss it calmly. They may need to re-register on a favorite website or change their online identity, but never let fear of punishment keep them from communicating openly with you.

5. Install a robust cybersecurity platform

While most free versions of cybersecurity platforms offer some security, you’ll want to purchase a more robust option to add a layer of security on all devices. These will help block your child from downloading questionable links or documents, visiting spammy sites, or entering information on an unverified website. You can personalize these settings for more stringent protection.

Add another layer of protection by using a VPN, and make sure that when your kids use public WiFi they log in under the VPN.

6. Parental controls

You can monitor your child’s online activity and block them from accessing potentially harmful sites by installing parental controls like Bark. These tools can be used to limit your child’s screen time as well.

For extra peace of mind, you can set customized filters on most routers and devices to block access to problematic sites and to set a hard “log off” time.

If you haven’t already set up security for your credit cards and bank accounts, enable notifications and authorizations for usage.

7. Report suspicious activities immediately

If your child has been the victim of any internet threat, report it immediately. Notify the platform and reset passwords if the activity was on a game or social media platform.

Online threats are taken very seriously by local and federal governments. For all direct threats, exploitation, or sexual predation, call 911 or file a police report.

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