Managing your children’s online experience is a challenge for most parents. A lot of the time parents feel ill equipped to understand the fast pace that technology changes and the fads that affect their kids online lives. I’m an internet geek and I find it difficult.
In my house which I share with two great kids and my partner, we have a few rules and guidelines regarding the internet, which I share when asked from friends and family on these matters, as well as at work (where we create online software). Some of the more frequent and newer things to look out for I’ve set out below.
Make sure that you sit down with your children and go through these things, no matter how young or old. Make time and get involved.
1. Never give out personal details
The number one fundamental rule that you need to instill into your children is to never, ever, not for love nor money, give out their full name, address or phone number. There’s no leeway on this. They should not do this in a “live situation” (such as chat or message) and should not do this with an application or registration form.
The simple rule for when your child wants to register for something or give out any personal information (even if it’s just an email address) is to get you to have a quick look. If you’re not sure, don’t do it or find our more information with a quick Google search. If you’re too busy, make time. This is how accidents happen and how trust is broken.
Passwords and usernames
With passwords and usernames, kids usually change their mind on what’s a cool username or forget their passwords. A really simple set of rules will help you with this.
2. Choose one username and stick to it
You will find that when signing up to various sites your chosen username will be taken. In this event make sure that you have some variations of your username. My username is generally Redeye. If it’s already taken I will use IamRedeye or another memorable variation. This means I never forget my username even when I visit a site after a few months of absence.
3. Create a password rule
Password-based authentication may not be around for much longer after a few recent high profile incidents. Until that day comes though, the best thing you can do as a parent is to come up with your child’s password and a simple set of rule-based variations. It’s a good idea to mix letters and numbers.
Example: orangesnice3962 with variations being niceoranges3962 or 3962orangesnice
This enables you to never forget a password and at the same time making it nice and secure. The number can be a birth year, random number, or whatever as long as it’s memorable for you and your child. My kids actually use two numbers and a punctuation mark (I’ll need to change that now I’ve told you!), so that it’s even easier.
In essence you want multiple passwords and a nice simple formula for you and your children to remember them all by. It’s a good habit, get used to it. Improve it.
4. Never give out personal details part 2
It’s very unlikely that you will ever get someone breaking into an account technically. It’s much more likely through communication… An example may demonstrate this better than a long explanation. My boy (#1 Son) loves AdventureQuest , a multi user online game. You collect, upgrade, and improve your character with swords and armour, its pretty cool. One day another user persuaded #1 Son that he would give him lots of cool new upgrades if #1 Son allowed him into his account… #1 Son gave out his password. Within minutes the account was locked down, #1 Son could no longer get access, and my credit card details were in the hands of the universe… This is a very simple social engineering trick, no hacking required. It all got sorted pretty quickly as the AdventureQuest guys were right on the case…
The difficulty here is that kids no matter how savvy they may be, are naive and trusting, especially when they might gain a new Gorgon double edged battle sword. It’s one of the beautiful thing about kids. As adults we know that if something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. You need to instill into your children that if someone is asking for any kind of details – come and ask you first. Make time (have I said that before?). If the other user is sincere they’ll wait. If you are unsure of the user, report them immediately to the website. Almost all sites will have a moderator, admin or someone similar where you can report users to.
5. Check devices for location awareness
These days kids have smart phones, iPods, tablets, and who knows what else. All of these devices are capable of broadcasting the users location. A lot of the time this is pretty obvious and most will ask if you want to turn it on or off. Always check the settings of the device to which applications are allowed access to the users current location. I know that some parents actually track their children’s location (especially Apple device owners), this is your call. I have an opinion on this, but I’m not offering it up now… Be ware though that if you do this, it is imperative that you check which applications have access to this information, examples of this are Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, and numerous others.
Photos are a big deal
6. Be aware of information photos can reveal.
One particular area that often gets overlooked with privacy and children are photos… With an iPhone (for example) every photo is “stamped” with the location that the photo was taken at… If the user (your child) uploads that photo to a website, that information can easily be extracted to see where it was taken. It’s part of the “exif” data stored with in the photo, have a look at this site to get an idea of what is stored in EVERY photo.
I could go on and on. There’s a vast amount of things that could be covered here. I’ve already cut out a lot: etiquette, limiting access to certain websites, social networks, advertising, parenting ethics, the list goes on. There is one thing though that I can’t stress enough: Make time and get involved. If your kids feel like they can trust you with their online world and that you’re available to for them when they need help, you will have a safer, happier and frankly, quieter life.
– Mark Panay
Mark is a father of two and partner of one. He runs a small online software company, loves acid house, Bloody Mary’s, and general geekery. He believes that you are what you do and you should say what you mean. He very much dislikes writing in the third person. You can find him on Twitter as Redeye.