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Growing Up Cyber Safe: A Simple GPS System For Protecting You and Your Children Online

A few weeks ago, Tara Bernabei wrote a blog entitled “Toddler Tech” about her desire to purchase an iPad for her daughter Emerson. As a friend and interested godmother to Emerson, I received an advanced copy of the post for a quick read and sanity check. However, it wasn’t the text and format that caught my attention. It was the message. I almost immediately responded back to Tara with, “That’s great, T! But how are you going to secure it?”

Parents are internally programmed from the start to protect their children and are aware of the dangers physically lurking around. However, parents today also get the unique opportunity to protect their children online—where the bad guys are still lurking but are much harder to see and detect. Not everyone you meet online is who they say they are. A sobering statistic—in 2007, the social site du jour, MySpace, detected and deleted 29,000 convicted sex offenders from its website.[1]

Education Is Key
So how do parents allow their kids to use the latest and greatest technology as learning and development tools while at the same time protecting them from the unknown dangers hidden online? Like everything else in life, it all comes down to education.

Part of my job responsibilities is providing IT security awareness and training to users within our organization. Yes, I’m that annoying person in your organization who comes around and persuades you to take training on using strong passwords, be vigilant online, detect phishing attacks, and other annoying geeky stuff. But while this training resonates at work, it should also seamlessly transfer into our personal habits at home on our personal machines.

One of the tools I use to provide training and education, which is completely FREE, is www.staysafeonline.org. This site is a great resource for parents to learn to understand not only how to lock down devices, such as limiting access to certain websites and blocking outgoing content, but why this needs to be done.

Make It Personalized
Another great feature of these resources is that they can be customized to the various stages of children’s development. For example, parents of toddlers may be more interested in locking down the devices so that little fingers can’t accidentally purchase items, while parents of pre-teens and teens can find tips on information sharing and how to limit their child’s digital footprint. These tips, if implemented early in a child’s life, can drastically reduce the risk of identity theft and potentially save their children from a credit nightmare.

As parents start teaching their children early on about the dangers of crossing the road and not talking to strangers, today it is even more important to add lessons on good online practices. It is not only good for the kids to start developing these practices early, but also good for mom, dad, other family members, or maybe even the overprotective godmother(!) to review with their own online security practices in mind. So the next time Emerson and I sit down to play with her iPad, I will know that she is on her way to protecting herself from the potential harms of the Internet and enjoying her life to the fullest.

Conclusion
Here are the three simple tips that I recommended to Tara. I hope you’ll take the time introduce these important safety tips into your household routine as well! This simple GPS system will help you and your family safely navigate the ever-changing online environment.

  1. Get Smart About Online Safety
    Visit www.staysafeonline.org. This site provides a wealth of information and advice for making sure that you and your children are implementing safe online habits.
  2. Pay Attention
    Online safety is not a one-time event. Be sure to pay attention to what your children are doing online, and also note if you find any unusual activity on your computers.
  3. Share What You Learn
    Talk with your kids and spouse about the need for online safety. Sometimes it is an engaging conversation around the dinner table that makes the most lasting impression.


[1] Reuters/Catherine Benson. http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/07/24/us-myspace-sexoffenders-idUSN2424879820070724?feedType=RSS&rpc=22&sp=true

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A guest blogger for Cadient, Karen Beirne has been working within Information Assurance for over ten years as a consultant. Karen obtained an MS in Information and Telecommunication Systems from Johns Hopkins University and holds a GIAC Security Leadership Certification (GSLC). Karen currently resides in Virginia with her husband, dog, and two cats.

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