Five Easy Ways to Teach Teens Online Safety

By Tracey Dowdy

Today’s teens have grown up with the world in the palm of their hands. Their seamless movement between the real and the virtual worlds and natural tendency to see themselves as invincible can result in a casual attitude toward privacy. That attitude makes teens more vulnerable than they realize. Familiarity breeds comfort, but it also breeds carelessness.

Todd Adamowich, clinical social worker and therapist, whose practice focuses on teens 14-19 says, “I see teens as very uneducated around the dangers of social media. Many have profiles that are open and searchable. There has been a significant increase in childhood porn, sex trafficking, and attacks towards people online based on how they look. “Trolling pics” has become a new problem, (and) people have little control over their photos and where they end up. Many teens have been victim to sexualized photos being sent around social media to their entire schools and open for the entire internet. Teens do not seem to be aware of how significant it can be to send an explicit image, text, or message to someone.”

Often, the problem isn’t what teens are doing online but how they are doing it.

In a 2015 survey of internet users in the U.S. and U.K., cyber security provider Telesign found 40 percent of consumers had their personal information compromised, their account hacked, or their password stolen. Yet, only 70 percent of those individuals changed their passwords in response.

These simple changes take little time or effort but provide a significantly increased level of online safety and security.

  • Keep software up to date. Each update provides security patches that close loopholes or weaknesses in the software. Keeping up to date ensures users stay one step ahead of hackers.
  • Be careful when using public Wi-Fi. Using free Wi-Fi comes at a high cost if used carelessly. Remind teens to “forget” the network once they’re finished and, for an added level of protection, change the password on sites that have been visited while using public Wi-Fi. Go one step further and enable Two-Factor Authentication – a password plus a second piece of information like an access code that is sent via text.
  • Create strong passwords. Telesign’s study found only 61 percent of users had password-only account protection and more than 54 percent of consumers use five or fewer passwords for their entire online presence. Twenty-two percent use just three or fewer. A good password is unique, includes numbers and/or symbols and is different for every account. NEVER use birthdays, anniversaries or phone numbers. Password managers like Dashlane will track passwords and provide a secure login across devices and websites.
  • Recognize phishing sites. Clickbait has become the scourge of the Internet by putting users at risk of malware and identity theft. It can leave devices vulnerable to attack from hackers or viruses. Look for sites with “https” (instead of http) in the URL or use Google’s Safe Browsing Site Status to see if the site is legitimate.
  • Know when and what software to download. Not only is downloading pirated versions of software and media both unethical and illegal, doing so puts individuals at risk of malware, spyware and viruses. In fact, just visiting one of these sites can pose a risk. Encourage teens to use legitimate sites like Spotify, Netflix or Pandora instead.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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