Did you know that June is National Internet Safety Month? Dedicated to raising awareness for better online safety practices, June offers a unique opportunity for parents and kids to become more cyber aware, and to become better educated about potentially harmful online content and activities.
Children sometimes say the darnedest things. And that's fine, if they're at home, at school, or hanging out with friends. But if they're online—on social media, in chat rooms, in apps—then the things they say can have consequences.
When kids are chatting with others on the Internet, they may mention personal information that shouldn't be shared. They may talk about where they are, or where they're planning to be. They may mention that their parents aren't home, or that they're working late. And they may give out their address, phone number, or more. All of these things can be very dangerous.
Parents need to explain to children what things they should never give out online, and kids need to understand why. In this article, I'm going to discuss 8 things that kids should never mention online. If you're a parent, take some time to talk to your children and explain why these bits of seemingly innocuous information can lead to danger.
- Passwords: The most obvious thing that kids should never mention online - or even share with their friends - is their passwords. Leaking a password can allow strangers to access their accounts, such as Facebook, their gaming account, or even their email. This, in turn, can lead to people attempting to scam children, or even scam others, sending email or messages from these kids' accounts. Passwords are like keys to a house, and children need to learn how valuable they are.
- Address: Children should never post their address online, anywhere. Sharing their address can be dangerous, as people who prey on children might use an address like that to lurk around someone's house. They should also not mention the name of their school, church, or other location where they participate in activities.
- Phone number: Like an address, a phone number is something to not share. Not only can it lead to nuisance calls, but there are ways of finding an address when you have a phone number. Kids can give their phone number to their friends, but should never post it publicly.
- Personal information: There is some personal information that shouldn't ever be given out, as it can be used as an identifier on some forms, or for security to verify someone's identity. A Social Security number, if a child has one; their middle names; their mothers' maiden names; etc. Also, some web services have security questions that they use to provide access if someone is locked out of their account, asking, for example, the name of the user's first pet, the first concert they attended, the street they grew up on, the first beach they went to, etc. It's hard to know what to worry about, but all this personal information may end up being used against a child or their account at some point.
- Location: While this isn't as sensitive as giving out an address, it can actually be more dangerous. Sharing a location - whether intentionally, or by using an app that collects locations and tags posts or photos with them - lets people know that a child is not home. And if people do know where that child lives, it could be an invitation to a burglary. Naturally, it's impossible to not share a location from time to time: a kid may share a photo from a concert, or from a theme park, while they're in attendance, but it's best to tell your children not to do so in real time, but to wait until they get home. Kids should also never mention their vacation plans, because potential burglars could use this to try to find out where the kids live, knowing that the house might be empty.
- Home alone: A child should never tell anyone - other than their best friends - that they're home alone. This could lead predators to attempt to convince the child to let them come over to their house, or even go out and meet them. These predators could pretend to be a friend they haven't seen in a while, such as from a previous school, in order to lure children to dangerous situations.
- Email address: Just as posting an address is dangerous, so is posting an email address. Children are much more likely to be deceived by fake emails, perhaps from people saying they are a friend the child met at camp, or at a friend's party, which may in reality be predators trying to set up a meet with the child.
- Any information about their parents: Kids like to brag about things their parents do. Some may want to tell others about the great job their mother has; or the fancy camera their father just bought; or even their parents' income level. They should never do this, since this information may be correlated with other information about the child to lead predators or criminals to target their households. Also, it's possible that a school may ask an adult coming to pick up a child for some information about the family, to make sure this person is legitimate, and any such tidbits can help a predator sound convincing.
It's not easy to get kids to learn about all this information that they should keep to themselves. It's important to discuss this with your children, so they understand the potential gravity of sharing what may seem like banal bits of information to them and their families.
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