back to school safety

A Cyber Mom’s top 3 back-to-school reminders for cyber safety

Hear that? It’s the collective sigh of relief from parents who have survived another summer of camps, swim meets, juggling child care, screen time management, and “I’m bored.” Congratulations, parents! We made it through another one.

Time to put our feet up and relax with that lukewarm cup of coffee sitting on your counter, right? Who am I kidding?! Back to school doesn’t mean more free time for parents. It’s just time spent on something else—like forms, sign ups, carpools, and figuring out how 1 mom gets 2 kids to soccer and swimming on opposite sides of town simultaneously.

Here in North Carolina, “meet the teacher” day is right around the corner.  When fellow parents hear I’m in cybersecurity they ask me all kind of questions I can’t answer like “Will my smart lightbulb take out our town’s power grid?” Answer: me, blinking.  But one question I can answer is, “What do you do to keep your kids safe online?”

Stick these reminders in the back of your mind and slip them in while you’re stuck in the carpool line or searching for a lost item (see #3).

Reminder 1: We do not share passwords.

My kids have gadgets and play games online. These require passwords.  No matter how much they trust their friends, they may not share their passwords. According to a recent survey by Pew Institute 1 in 5 teens share their passwords.  My guess is that it is much higher. Keep your passwords private, people.

Reminder 2: Ask them to show you how their games work.

There is so much to unpack here. Each family has their own threshold for what they allow. If your kids are playing games online – you need to check in and see what they are doing. My phone nearly melted down when a local mom reported an assault of her child’s avatar on Roblox.  My kids play Roblox. What I missed was that they could directly communicate with other gamers. My beloved 9-year-old – as trusting as the day is long—made a friend with whom she ran a pizza parlor. They chatted, shared first names. The 80’s kid in me had 2 reactions – 1) FUN: a pen pal! and 2) RUN: scary man in white van giving out candy! We spent lots of time at the dinner table that night talking about what is and isn’t appropriate.

My point isn’t the rule we set (no direct communication with people we don’t know). The key was that I wasn’t paying attention to know she could even do it in the first place.

Reminder 3: Lock your gadgets

If only I could come up with a reminder to help them REMEMBER not to lose things. Now THAT’S a $1 million idea! Kids lose things. I have one who does. All. The. Time (Turns out there may be a genetic explanation for my chronically absent-minded kid).  If your kid has a gadget or a laptop – even if you don’t expect it to leave the house – put a lock or password on it. At least your child’s personal information is not out there for everyone to access when they lose it.

Could we be doing more? Always and of course. My kid-free colleague Richard suggested encryption of data for this reminders list.  My response: me, blinking (I invited him back to the blog later this year to do a holiday gadget review special).

What things do you to do keep your kids cyber safe?  We would love to hear from you.

About the author: Mary-Sara Camerino is the SVP of Product at Nehemiah Security.  When she’s not busy building cyber risk quantification software, she plays the role of mom to 2 school age girls.