Key takeaways

  • The back-to-school season can be an opportune time for cybercriminals to strike, so make sure you and your family are staying vigilant.
  • Without proper oversight, children tend to overshare online. As a result your family’s reputation, location and even physical safety could be at risk.
  • There are a variety of cybersecurity best practices for things like your account names and passwords, public Wi-Fi, social media and more that the whole family can tackle together in order to stay safe.

With a new school year just around the corner, excitement is in the air for many. But it’s important to keep in mind that it may also be an opportune time for cybercriminals to make their move. Maintaining an open dialogue with your children about cybersecurity and potential risks can be key to helping keep them safe.

An effective way to avoid scams or cyberattacks is to implement a few safe and simple habits. The following can help protect your children – and your whole family – from vulnerability online.

Start the conversation and keep it going

Your children won’t be able to adequately protect themselves online if they aren’t aware of some key pitfalls. Talk to them about both the benefits and risks of being online, emphasizing the fact that “online is forever” and offering caution about interacting with or allowing visibility of their profiles to strangers. Highlight these three areas as particularly important to be mindful of:

  • Reputational risk: Emphasize that “forever” applies to their texts, comments in online gaming networks, emails, videos and posts to any social media platform. While these digital interactions can be a valuable tool for kids in forming social connections and learning how to express themselves, they need to understand that any negative, inflammatory or intimidating comments they make about a topic or person can carry long-lasting reputational consequences as serious as negatively impacting their future applications for scholarships, colleges and jobs.
  • Share with caution: Hackers may use information that children divulge in their social media posts to commit cybercrime (and even home break-ins). Educate your children on what kind of information should be withheld on social media, including personal details that relate to their school, current location or travel plans. Advise them not to post real-time photos of themselves while away from home.
  • Physical safety: Of course, it is important to warn your children against interacting online with anyone they do not know. Your children should be communicating only with trusted and designated individuals. You might even consider setting up approved contact lists on their devices.

Ask the administrators: What are the school’s rules for online interaction and what are they teaching about cyber safety, social media and cyber bullying?

Get involved: Help your children become more anonymous online

If your children already have a presence online and on social media, their identity and information may already be at risk.

These precautions can go a long way in protecting your family:

Social media

Children and teens tend to spend a significant amount of time on various social media platforms and are privy to sharing personal information. Take stock of where your kids have accounts and review social media privacy settings on a regular basis, as updates may change the visibility of your child’s information. Make sure your child’s settings are set to private, not public.


Review the apps on your children’s devices. You can help protect your children by limiting or turning off location tracking for unnecessary apps. Does that calendar app really need access to your child’s location?

Account names and passwords

  • Work with your children to make sure their online accounts do not disclose personal information as part of an email address or username.
  • Help them use strong passwords on their devices and accounts. That means using a minimum 10 to 15 characters as well as a mix of numbers, upper- and lowercase letters and symbols. Advise them to use different passwords for different sites.
  • Depending on your child’s age, consider asking them to keep you up-to-date on the passwords to their devices and social media accounts so you are able to keep an eye on any activity, if necessary.
  • Warn children of all ages against sharing their account and password information (including gaming accounts and streaming services) with anyone else, even friends and babysitters. Consider using a password manager so the whole family can share certain accounts without difficulty.
  • Enable two-factor authentication for any online site that offers it, including email and social media sites. This serves as an additional layer of security beyond your username and password. It could be a code generated by an app, a push notification you need to accept, a physical key you plug into your computer or similar.


Install antivirus software on your children’s devices and set it to “auto update” so they will always be equipped with the latest protection tech. Also, review new and hand-me-down devices to ensure they are set up securely and aim to keep devices and operation systems up-to-date.

Wi-Fi and unknown links

  • Teach your children public Wi-Fi is not safe. If they have to use it, they should use a virtual private network (VPN), even for gaming sessions. Never enter login credentials or sensitive personal information while using public Wi-Fi.
  • When it comes to unknown links, danger doesn't just lurk in emails. It's on social media, text messages, gaming platforms, etc. Never click on a link from an unknown sender.
  • Remember: Even if it’s someone you know, if you or your child receives an unsolicited link or attachment, treat it as suspicious and always verify with the sender – ideally via a different channel then the one through which you received the link or attachment.

Establish basic family rules

It often helps children comply if the whole family is subject to the same rules. Additionally, aim to model an openness to learn, ask questions and discuss these topics so your children feel comfortable coming to you if they have questions or concerns. If you all continue to remain vigilant and remind yourself that cybersecurity and privacy are shared goals and responsibilities that rely on the participation of each family member, good habits should follow.

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