The Dangers Lurking Behind the Computer Screen: Teaching your children to beware of cybercrime

By Jennifer Jensen

We lock our doors to keep out intruders. We set alarms to take it one step further. We install baby gates near stairs to prevent accidents. We put protectors in sockets to ensure our little ones do not hurt themselves. We do all these things around our homes to protect our families, especially our children. But what are we doing to protect our children from the dangers lurking online? We live in a technological world. Most children are exposed to electronics at a young age, mastering the iPad by the time they hit elementary school. We need to be able to protect them from dangers they may come across or be exposed to while surfing the internet, playing on social media, streaming a movie or TV show or listening to music.

While we all know to be aware of online predators and cyberbullying, which are serious issues in and of themselves, we should also be aware of cybercrime and cyber theft, which can come in the form of a computer virus, phishing attacks or spam emails. According to the Office of Justice Programs, a computer virus is a hidden fragment of computer code that propagates by inserting itself into or modifying other programs. It includes viruses, worms or Trojan horses. Previously, the purpose of these viruses was to disrupt service. The focus now is on obtaining personal information for financial gain. The same goes for phishing attacks or spam emails. They both disguise themselves as a trustworthy entity in order to gain sensitive information. While we as parents may be able to identify these kind of schemes, how do we teach our children to be aware of the dangers online?

As soon as your children start doing anything that involves the internet, you should start talking to them about online safety, according to the Family Online Safety Institute. Relate the risks of the internet to those of the real world so that they may more easily understand the dangers of cybercrime. For instance, explain hacking as being similar to someone breaking into your home, but instead of stealing your TV, they steal your personal information. And just as your children should know not take a package from a stranger, they should know not open emails or click on links from people or websites with which they are not familiar.

You should also instruct your children to never download anything without first getting parental permission. Specifically warn them against emails or ads that offer up free goodies, like cellphones or iPads, which are designed to lure you into giving up personal information. And if they do make a mistake, make sure that your children feel comfortable coming to you for help to prevent the problem from escalating.

Safe Kids Worldwide, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping children safe from injury, encourages parents to get to know the websites their children are frequenting by checking their internet history. You can also set up filtering and monitoring software on the computer. It does not make you an overprotective parent to stay in the know.

To protect against cybercrime, be sure to do all of the following.

  1. Make sure your home computer and network have safety features installed, including a full firewall and antispyware.
  2. Have a good, strong password that is complex and unique for your home network, as well as all of your email and social media accounts and any other online accounts.
  3. Teach your children not to open emails from people they do not know and not to respond to ads.
  4. Make sure your children never share their passwords with anyone else, even friends.
  5. Make sure your children also never give out any personal information online, such as full names, phone numbers or addresses.
  6. Teach your children to log out of personal accounts, especially when using a public computer.