Cybersecurity and privacy tips you can teach your 5+-year-old

Everything we teach our kids starts at home—we parents are their first teachers, after all. So, why wait for them to start going to school to start learning about cybersecurity and online privacy?

Though it’s hardly news that more and more children are being introduced to mobile computing devices like tablets, smartphones, and laptops at an early age, you may be surprised at what that age is. In 2015, Time featured a study revealing parents handing over such devices to kids as young as six months old. That may be too early an age for teaching a child beyond getting them to sit up, but after nearly a decade, similar trends on age versus technology use have persisted. [1][2][3]

As mobile devices have become an indispensable part of a child’s life, a big question stands: What is the “appropriate” age to start teaching your little one about their security and privacy when using those devices? 

Well, it depends. If your child can understand (simple?) instructions and do them, you’re good to go. Remember, every child is different.

5 cybersecurity and privacy tips you can tell your 5+-year-old

Fostering habits for some simple yet good cybersecurity and privacy best practices early on can go a long way.

1. Lock the device.

When it’s time to put away the phone or tablet so your child can do something else like going to the park, remind them to lock it. They can do this by pressing the power button of the device. Of course, this only works if you have Lock Screen enabled on the device.

If your child is 5 years old and up, you can explain to them that locking the phone or tablet stops other people from using it without asking permission.

2. Use passwords.

Of course, in order to lock a device’s screen, a password is needed in this case. Not going for a pattern lock is deliberate. At this stage, we’re not only seeding the idea of creating strong passwords but also making locking devices the norm (From 2016 to 2018, a reported 28 percent of Americans surveyed failed to use any safeguards to lock their phones).

Don’t be too concerned about length yet, but if you can get your little one to spell out and remember a six to eight-character string—ideally, a word—you’re both golden. We started our little one with a three-letter password to open her tablet when she was four, and we plan to triple that length now that she’s two years older.

3. Keep the device in a safe place.

Instruct your little one to put away the phone or tablet after they lock it. Make sure you already have a designated place in the house that your child knows about. Also, check that this place is accessible, and if it has doors, they can easily open and close them with minimal effort and supervision.

Under a pillow on the master’s bed works, too (just don’t forget to remove it before bedtime).

4. Ask for permission.

Your five-year-old may have access to either the Google Play or Apple App stores via the device you’re letting them use. Whether you have parental controls set up for these stores or not, wouldn’t it be great to hear them ask: “Is this okay to download, mum?” This gives you, the parent or guardian, the opportunity to review the app to see if it’s any good for them (Remember, dubious apps can still end up in these stores.).

The same principle should apply when they’re watching videos on YouTube.

Every now and again, we see or read about cute or cartoony clips that are not actually for kids’ consumption. And believe it or not, some of them were purposefully made to appear inviting to young children. To be safe, a critical eye is needed because, sometimes, even YouTube’s AI can get it wrong.

5. Share only with relatives and close family friends.

Kiddo loves having her picture taken. Sometimes, she would ask me to take a snap and send it to her Nana, who is part of an Instagram group.

Thankfully, only family members—and those close to us who’re treated as family—are members of that group. We would’ve been reluctant to share otherwise.

Kiddo doesn’t have a single social media account, but we’re already instilling in her the value of information related to her and, consequently, us. She knows our home address, for example, and she also knows she should only share it with a policeman or policewoman if she’s lost.

Final thoughts

The computing devices and apps your little one uses are already impacting them in more ways than one. It’s essential to steer them in the right direction by getting ourselves involved in their digital lives as early as possible. There is plenty of room for growth.

So, parents and guardians, be patient. Put these points on repeat and expand on them. And, if you’re lucky, be thankful that before your child starts school, they already have some of the cybersecurity and privacy basics down.

Good luck!

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