My son is entering 8th grade this year and for the last couple of years we have been navigating the world of cybersecurity as it relates to tween boys. And honestly it’s not fun. Just when you think you have everything protected, managed, monitored and blocked, something happens that leaves you feeling like your child is vulnerable again.
For a long time we pushed back hard against the current that has been inundating our children’s lives with technology. It seemed like we couldn’t get away from it. While it masquerades as fun and games, from a parent’s perspective it can potentially be our worst nightmare.
- Identity theft
And those are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dangers of being digitally connected. While age isn’t always a factor (there are plenty of online scams that successfully target the elderly), tweens and teens are particularly vulnerable. Their innocence about the true dangers and their desire to fit in and make friends make them a perfect target. Add to that their distinct lack of communication with their parents and you have the ideal situation for danger and exploitation.
Because of these dangers, we found ourselves choosing to avoid technology whenever possible with our kids. It’s a lot easier to simply eliminate the threat. But the problem is that much like learning to cross the street, if you don’t show them how to do it right, they are much more likely to get hurt when they inevitably are faced with doing it on their own. Technology is here to stay and it’s our job as parents to teach our children to use it safely. But we also need to be smart about their vulnerabilities in the process.
Cybersecurity Guidelines for Parents of Middle Schoolers
Limit Screen Time
Technology is here to stay but even adults have discovered the addictive features of mobile devices. Limiting kids screen time helps them learn to control the urge to be stimulated constantly and helps them learn to do other things with their time. It can also help them stay active and grow in-person relationships so they don’t feel the need to connect with people digitally because of a lack of interaction in their off-line world. It can also help them explore and expand upon their talents and interests and keep their devices from becoming a habit they can’t break.
Use Security Software
PCs and Android devices can take advantage of software than can prevent viruses and malware from being installed on their devices through infected websites or apps. This malware often is designed to steal your personal information from your device including passwords, social security numbers, bank account and more. Sometimes even legitimate sites can become infected and attack your device. Removal of malware is not easy. Usually you don’t even know you were infected until it’s too late – your accounts end up compromised and your identity stolen.
Make sure your kids understand the potential dangers of being connected. Explain to them (in age-appropriate language) that there are predators out there who prey on unsuspecting children and teens not only to steal their identity but to cause actual physical harm. Make sure they understand to approach the digital world as a place where nothing is what it seems. Even someone you know personally can have their accounts hacked and so that meeting you set with a friend may actually have been set by someone dangerous.
Allow Only Age-Appropriate Apps
Middle school kids want access to those teen and mature rated apps because they look cool and fun and the older kids are using them but aside from having inappropriate content within the apps, they could also allow them to access other inappropriate content through ads and other in-app content. Don’t risk it. There are plenty of fun apps that are age appropriate.
Restrict Sharing of Personal Information
This is something that kids really seem to struggle with. They don’t see any danger with providing their name and their birthday only, but the reality is that that is all some criminals need to steal your identity and that is a very difficult thing to recover from. Providing their address opens the doors for predators and stalkers as well. Better safe than sorry. If you regularly need to provide an address online, use a P.O. box. They are affordable and keep your actual street address private.
Use Strong Passwords
I would bet that a favorite password people commonly use for online accounts is their dog’s name. Then they go ahead and post a picture of their dog on Instagram and mention him by name. Not smart. Use a password generator or get very creative with your passwords using combinations of letters, capital letters, numbers and special characters. Make sure you write the passwords down and use a different password for each site. If someone gains access to your online accounts, they can use that for identity theft or to stalk or prey on their friends by pretending to be you. Encourage kids to use strong passwords, use a different password for each site and not to share their passwords with their friends.
Monitor Contacts and Texting
This is a touchy subject for some people because many of us wonder where to draw the line between privacy and parenting but I would much rather have my kids think I’m nosy and know what’s going on than have them involved in something dangerous. Kids naiveté may prevent them from recognizing a dangerous situation, and some, unfortunately know it’s dangerous yet get involved anyway. Physical privacy (modesty) is different than general privacy and I believe that general privacy is earned through behavior and omes with age. Monitor their texts and contacts for anything dangerous, otherwise don’t embarrass them by mentioning their everyday conversations. The less obvious you are about it, the less likely they are to be deliberately sneaky.
The web can be a dangerous place and even the most benign search can yield questionable or inappropriate results. And, let’s face it, kids are curious. With the vast amount of information available online, they may try to answer any questions they have with a Google search. Setting parental controls on your browsers so that they limit access to certain site categories and prevent kids searching for specific search terms can go a long way towards keeping their eyes off things they just don’t need to be seeing.
The internet is a wonderful, useful thing but can also be very dangerous. We need to educate our kids, teach them to respect the potential hazards and do everything in our power to keep them safe. We have tried a number of different tools to help us achieve the guidelines above and most were complicated, didn’t work as advertised or just didn’t do what I needed them to do. And often they were standalone products that didn’t work well together. It was actually a source of stress for us because the products were complicated for us to use and too restrictive for our son. And many times they just did not work right.
Then I installed Norton Security Premium by Symantec and everything changed.
Norton Security Premium
Norton Security Premium is a complete computer, internet and mobile security solution. It protects up to 10 PCs, Mac, iOS or Android devices making it a perfect family solution. It has a firewall and antivirus to protect against malware, viruses and spyware and helps protect your identity and online transactions. And it includes Norton Family Premier which contains a full suite of parental control software to help your kids enjoy their connected world safely.
Norton Security installed easily on my computer and runs seamlessly in the background. It includes the Norton Security toolbar with Safe Search and Safe Web which will warn me about dangerous sites to help protect against identity theft. I’ve honestly never had an internet security suite that was so easy to setup. Norton Security also works on mobile devices as well!
Norton Family Premiere
Norton Family Premier comes bundled with Norton Security Premium but it also comes as a stand-alone product as well in case you don’t need the additional security features. It is award-winning parental control software that takes the guesswork out of helping ensure your kids have a safe online experience. It adds safeguards to their devices but also lets you monitor their activity to ensure you are aware of any potential threats.
- Time supervision so you can limit screen time (PC & Android).
- Web supervision to prevent kids from accessing inappropriate websites by setting allowed categories.
- Search supervision to prevent and monitor kids if they try and use unacceptable search terms (PC & iOS).
- Location supervision so you know where they are at all times, and where they have been (Android & iOS).
- Social network supervision (PC).
- Personal information protection which blocks kids from sending sensitive data on their device (PC).
- Mobile app supervision so you can see what apps your kids have installed on their devices and control whether or not they can use specific apps (Android).
- Text message supervision which allows you to control who your kids can text but also monitor their conversations for potential red flags (Android).
- Activity history so you can see a complete list of the websites your kids have accessed and how much time they have spent on their PCs.
- So much more!
Not all features work on all devices, which I’ve learned is because of the limitations / restrictions posed by some operating systems, but overall this is the most comprehensive, easy-to-use mobile parental controls product I have tried, and I tried them all. A number of them I even paid for only to learn they didn’t work as promised. With Norton Family Premier you get a 30-day free trial to test it out for yourself.
It’s so straightforward to setup and I can control and monitor everything right from my computer or by logging on to the parent’s dashboard from the browser on my iOS device. It performs as expected and my son is happy because it’s not overly restrictive and updates quickly if I do need to make a change.
The same dashboard allows me to monitor his activities and history as well.
I can’t even begin to tell you how relieved we are to finally find a parental control product that actually does what we need it to do simply and easily. Norton Security Premium with Norton Family Premiere manages to encompass all of the Cybersecurity Guidelines for Parents of Middle Schoolers mentioned above and more. But Norton Family isn’t just for middle schoolers. No matter what age your child is, Norton Security has your parental control needs covered.
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