The Birds, Bees, and Facebook: How to Have the Tech Talk with Your Kids

From the pre-game motivational chat to the first day of school pep talk, as parents, we often have special chats with our children to make sure they’re prepared to manage any challenge or obstacle that lies ahead.

The same holds true when parents want to sit down and have “The Tech Talk” with their kids. “The Tech Talk” should be a series of open dialogues with your children about how to protect their tech gadgets, learning together about new apps and websites, and offering advice on how to properly manage their digital footprints.

Parents understand that their children’s digital footprints begins the moment they enter the online world. With advanced smartphones, tablets, wearables, and more high-tech gadgets becoming more popular every day, children have multiple ways to share personal information, thoughts, selfies, and videos online.

However, the real danger lies when your children are left to manage their digital footprints alone. If your child manages their digital identity recklessly, it could have long-term implications that can permanently damage their reputation.

To make the most of your Tech Talks, I’ve broken down six important topics of discussion inspired by our 2015 Back-To-School Security Roundup, into lessons that you can use for each conversation with your children.

Lesson 1: The Jumbotron Rule

The jumbotron Rule: How to Have the Tech Talk with Your Kids

The very first lesson that you should teach your children is everything they post online can be saved, screen-grabbed, shared, and found easily with a simple search. Although some apps and websites do delete some user data, several apps allow recipients or followers to save content a sender may want to permanently delete later.

Educate your kids on the long-term consequences they should consider before posting something online. We recommend teaching them “The Jumbotron Rule”: unless your child is  totally comfortable posting a text, comment, email, photo, or video on a Jumbotron to a stadium full of people, then they should pause to weigh the risks of posting that content. Potential consequences can include losing their jobs, damaging their social reputation, forfeiting scholarships, and other tragic ramifications.

Lesson 2: Become their biggest Twitter fan! 

There are a lot of security tips that advise parents to monitor and approve every single post their kids want to publish online. It’s not terrible advice, but as parents juggle work, shopping for back-to-school, and other activities, there’s just not enough time to monitor your kids’ online activities all the time.

Instead of hovering over their devices, ask your kids for their online profiles and become a follower or a friend of those pages–even ask for their help with setting up your account. That way, you can monitor what they post even if you’re not in the same room. This is also a great time to set clear boundaries and expectations about their online behavior. In Lesson 4, I’ll share more advice about what your kids shouldn’t do, or post while they’re online.

Lesson 3: Stay in the loop

Stay up-to-date on the latest tech devices and social networks

Okay, so you may not be the most tech-savvy parent around, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stay in the know about the latest technology and social networks available and how kids are using them.

If you have no idea how to use Snapchat, for example, ask your kids about how the app works, walk you through how to use it and see who are their friends/followers on the app. If you think an app or website could be potentially harmful–like the controversial app Yik Yak–then calmly explain your concerns to your children, and delete that application from their devices or set parental permissions if available.

Lesson 4: “Never talk to strangers”…especially online 

When you were growing up, your Mom or Dad probably taught you to “never talk to strangers”. In the 21st century, “strangers” are no longer lurking in dark alleys and driving by in unmarked vans. Now, they had behind a computer screen and it’s almost impossible to tell if they are who they say they are.

To avoid what we call “digital stranger danger”, teach your children to NEVER do the following:

  • Share personal information, including their full name, birthday, email, phone number, home address, the name of their school, and any other personally identifiable information.
  • Open emails or messages from unknown senders
  • Open links or attachments from unknown senders or if the text of the message looks suspicious.
  • Add a person as a friend on social media if you do not know them personally.

Also, to protect them from cyberbullying and online harassment, you should create a “Do not share” list with your children. The list should be comprised of specific items that should never be shared, sent, or posted anywhere online. We recommend starting your list with the following:

  • Intimate, nude, or sexual images and videos
  • “Sext” messages
  • Hateful or derogatory comments, posts, and messages
  • Any items that provide information about your home or other private location

Lesson 5: Teach them good password hygiene 

As adults, we’re aware of just how important it is to create strong passwords to protect our important online accounts. However, your children may not be aware their passwords are the first line of defense protecting their digital identities. Weak passwords are also exacerbated by the popular websites and apps your children use that don’t have the most secure password policies.

During your tech talk, make sure they understand these two easy tips to greatly improve their password practices:

  • Always use unique, strong passwords for every online account. This will prevent widespread damage in the event that your child’s account is compromised or misused.
  • Make password long and complex. Your child should know that a strong password is longer than 8 characters, includes a random combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters, and also does not include names, locations, or other common, searchable information. If they’re struggling to create a strong password, you can offer them our downloadable checklist with everything they need to know to create a strong password. They can also use a password mnemonic trick, use a random password generator, or let password manager take care of the hard work for them.

Lesson 6: Device Security 

Teach your children how to secure their devices properly.

Once you’ve discussed digital stranger dangers and healthy password hygiene, the next topic of the tech talk conversation should involve securing their devices, both physically and digitally.

To prevent physical theft, phishing attacks, and other cybersecurity risks, teach your children these four safety measures and how they’ll protect their devices and digital identity:

  • Always have a passcode or password locking their devices. This is to make sure that nobody can easily access their information if their device is lost or stolen. Also, in the event that your child’s device is lost or stolen, we recommend remotely erasing the device to prevent anyone from accessing any personal information stored on the device.
  • Avoid connecting to public networks. By connecting to a public wifi connection, your kids are exposed to a litany of security risks, including the potential for a hacker to access any information your children send across the unsecured network.
  • Teach them how to spot a “phishy” email or text message. Phishing is a common scheme in which cyber criminal lures in a user with the intent to steal the recipient’s sensitive information, such as credit card information, usernames, and email addresses, and social security numbers. One of the easiest ways to avoid a phishing attack is advising your children to never open emails, attachments, texts, direct messages, or websites that are not trusted. To learn more about how to spot and prevent phishing attacks, check out our article about phishing scams.
  • Only download apps and software from official sites. Just like phishing attacks, cyber criminals can also lure potential victims to unofficial websites to download software. Even if the downloaded program works, it could also be riddled with keylogging software, viruses, spam, and other types of malware. For their safety, your kids should never visit untrusted websites, or download pirated or jailbroken software.

For more tips and resources on how to manage your children’s digital footprint and protect them while they’re online, check out these other helpful posts on our blog! :

Back-to-School: Are Your Kids’ Favorite Websites Keeping Them Safe?

The Freshman 15: 15 Must-Have Apps to Conquer Freshman Year

 How to Protect Yourself from Phishing Scams 

How to Make “Strong” Passwords Even Stronger