In the Digital Age, we are spending more of our day online and less time IRL (in real life). From shopping and dating to learning and teaching, our interactions online are having a greater influence on how we and others see ourselves, how we think, and how we see the world. Regrettably, there’s no virtual justice system ensuring those who use the internet for good are rewarded and those who do otherwise face consequences. So, what’s a parent to do?

Savvy Cyber Kids has some tips to keep your family safe in an increasingly online world:

1. Be Involved

Do you know your child’s favorite game, app, or social media community (and it changes often!)? If not, ask them! Kids love talking about what they do with technology. Make sure to ask your child who they interact with in those digital spaces. Just as you ask about who your child plays with at school, you should ask who your children’s friends are online.

2. Have the “Tech Talk”

Much like the “talk,” the “tech talk” is an important parenting hallmark. Since giving your child access to an internet-enabled device is like removing your front door and inviting in strangers, children need to understand that the internet can be dangerous and they need to take steps to keep themselves safe. Help your child learn to distinguish between the physical and the virtual world. Explain that the physical world includes their home, friends they play with in their neighborhood, at school and on sports teams they play on. Teach your children to see strangers as strangers. As your children get older, the “tech talk” continues to evolve and delves into greater detail. Start the talk—and don’t stop talking.

3. Be a Safe Resource For Your Child

Let your kids know they can approach you if something upsets them online, if they realize that they made a mistake, and that you are always available for them to help them understand what they’re experiencing. Ask them if they have seen anything online or in a game that made them feel uncomfortable. If they make a mistake, resist the urge to have a merely punitive approach. Help them to make better choices and sustain their willingness to communicate with you.

4. Encourage Your Children to Stop. Think. Connect.

Encourage your children to use critical thinking skills and pause when they are about update social media or take any action on one—then think about what they are about to do, before potentially posting or forwarding something. Have them answer a question like: What would my mother think about this? Help your children to understand why authorship, sources and sponsorship can influence the truthfulness of what they see on the Internet. Challenge them to not believe everything they see and to search for proof before accepting information.

5. Teach That Strangers Are Forever

To your kids, anyone that reaches out to them via an app, game, or social media community seems harmless. Ask your kids if they’ve ever received a message from someone they don’t know in real life. Talk to your children about the concept of privacy and how they shouldn’t share personal information like names, addresses or phone numbers, if their parents are home, schedules, or what school they attend. Make sure your children understand that they should NEVER meet someone they met online.

6. Update Everything

It’s important to update all devices and software on a regular basis and when notified by the manufacturer. Anytime an update (often called a patch) is available, a fix was made to a known problem with that device or software. Additionally, install (and keep updated) an antivirus product. And yes, even Mac computers should have antivirus software.

7. Understand Technology

Read the privacy policy for each app, game, or social media community that your child uses to learn what information about your kids is collected by the provider and what they can do with that information. Look for the parental controls for each. Some platforms offer options that limit who your kids can talk to, as well as who can contact them. If there is an option to create private profiles, direct them to do so and discuss not allowing people they don’t know to connect with them.

8. Set Security Freezes for The Entire Family

The reality is that credit monitoring services are not enough. Someone can still open an account in your name and ruin your credit history. Encourage all of your family members to contact each of the three credit reporting agency’s (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) and place a security freeze on your credit files.

9. Enable 2-Step Verification

Every account you use is secured by user ID and a password. Due to the increasing number security breaches, encourage your family to take an additional step, beyond a complex password. Enable 2-step verification, a security measure that typically involves a text to your phone or a one-time code sent to your email.

10. Create a Partnership with Your Schools

Encourage your children’s schools to support your digital parenting by merging cyber ethics lessons across all learning disciplines and offering age-appropriate cyber ethics programming for students, parents and educators.

The conversation about cyber safety never gets old, so make it a central discussion topic on a regular basis. Remember, once The Tech Talk starts, it never stops!

Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for our free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics. See more cyber safety and cyber ethics blogs produced exclusively for EarthLink. Looking for a social media parental control? Try a 30-day free trial of Bark. If you sign up after your trial, Bark donates 25% of your monthly fee to Savvy Cyber Kids.

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