My kids think they know everything. At least, that is, when it comes to the internet, apps, texting, and URLs. It’s true that they navigate iTunes for me when I feel like punching a wall.
They’ve grown up with the internet and its free-flow of information-sharing, and unlike our generation, which still proceeds with a bit of caution, and the generation before us, who can feel downright horrified at the amount of personal information now floating around, my kids feel completely comfortable in cyberspace.
Maybe because of this confidence, I made the mistake of assuming they knew more than they did about online safety and security. I was recently sent A Beginner’s Guide to On-line Security by Wendi Finn for review, and as we read it together (against their will), I realized how little they understood about privacy and safety on the web. It terrified me.
The book is really more like a workbook, with 25 pages or so. There are nine main chapters, each with a ‘call to action’ at the end with activities and questions to answer. It starts out very basic with “What is the Internet?” (my kids gaffawed), but continues with chapters on risks on the internet, video chat, email, and social networking that proved to me that the kids really didn’t know everything.
For instance, they had no idea that when they email something or text a friend, their words remain in cyberspace forever. That Instagram photos could be saved for years. (That stupid email from a buddy about which girls were cute in class could be forwarded to anyone.) The kids knew not to share passwords, but were fuzzy on which personal information it was ok to type into fields online when signing up for sites or registering products. The workbook prompts kids to think it through: is it ok to fill in your email address? What about your physical address? Phone number? Birthdate? Social security number? (To which my boys said, “What’s that?”…a lesson for another day).
The workbook addresses safety in chat rooms and on message boards (what info is ok to share, and what isn’t), and goes over protection from computer viruses and hackers. I thought the kids knew about this stuff, but as it turns out, they were a bit fuzzy on the details. They knew about GPS locators embedded in apps from our travels, but hadn’t ever thought about the drawbacks.
All in all, the workbook is basic, but basic was what my kids needed, in order not to miss key lessons. We were able to speed through some sections, and take more time on others. The illustrations are a bit babyish, but don’t let that fool you: I’d rate this book as good for ages 10 and up, unless you have a younger kid who’s already online a lot. It’s only $11, and can be picked up on Amazon.
Bear in mind: this book doesn’t address how to protect your kids from material they can find on the internet (that’s a whole other post). Rather, it focuses on what your kids are putting out there, and how to be smart about it. The major lesson for my kids (and reminder to me) is how interactions online can be preserved forever and shared instantly. After reading, our new mantra before typing any texts, status updates, or emails is: “Do I want to say this forever, and to everyone?” If not, refrain.
I was given a copy of A Beginner’s Guide to On-line Security for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own.