Children begin using the Internet for both educational and social purposes when they are very young. But when one in four people surveyed has been hacked or know someone who has been hacked, parents have reason to be concerned about protecting their children’s information online.

Anyone can be a victim of hacking, and unfortunately there is no guaranteed way to prevent it. However, following safety best practices and implementing security protocols can help keep your children and their information safe from online predators.

1. Improve Your Computer and Internet Literacy

You need to be familiar with safe computer and Internet tactics before you can teach your children how to behave online. Take a computer class, read a guide book, or browse online tutorials to learn more about Internet safety, computer viruses, and safely downloading and sharing files.

Before allowing your child to download any programs or applications, read the user manual and fine print to learn about the data it may gather from your computer.

2. Teach Internet Safety Best Practices

Educate your children about potential online dangers and how to protect themselves from becoming victims. Your children should follow these rules to improve their cybersecurity.

  • Create strong passwords for each online account. Use a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • Never share passwords with friends or strangers or write them down on paper. Use a password manager if your child needs help remembering their passwords.
  • Ignore requests or messages from strangers and unknown usernames or email addresses.
  • Never download an unknown or suspicious email attachment, app, or software program.
  • Never share personal information, such as home addresses, Social Security numbers, names, or ages.

Encourage your children to ask questions and seek help if they are uncertain about a particular website or program.

3. Set Rules and Boundaries

Teach your children that Internet use is a privilege. Enforce guidelines, define specific times they can use the Internet, and outline acceptable websites and apps. Studies show that the more time a child spends online, the more likely they are to be cyberbullied, so setting time limits on your child’s Internet use benefits their health as well as their cybersecurity.

If they violate enforced rules, consider grounding them from the Internet for a period of time. When they display good behavior — such as earning good grades or completing their chores early — their reward can be to use the Internet. If you’re concerned that they’re breaking a rule, require them to use a child-safe browser that blocks questionable content.

4. Monitor Internet Use

Depending on your child’s age, don’t let them use the Internet for long periods of unmonitored time. This can be difficult when you are a busy parent, but one option is to keep the computer in a common living space where you can supervise your child. Alternatively, you can use parental software that monitors their Internet searches, detects inappropriate behavior, and limits the time they can spend online.

You may decide to tell your child about the monitoring software, but keep in mind that if they know the software’s name they may be able to find a tutorial on how to disable it.

5. Understand the COPPA Rule

Enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, websites and apps covered by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act — commonly known as the COPPA Rule — must get parental consent before requesting any personal details from a child under the age of 13. These details include your child’s name, address, phone number, email address, physical location, photos, and videos. These websites must also disclose how your child’s information will be used.

While the COPPA Rule is helpful for many sites, there is always the possibility a website may not follow this requirement. Also, children may pretend to be older by inputting a different age to gain access without parental permission. COPPA offers some protection, but it is important to be aware which sites your child uses.

6. Install Security Software

Even tech-savvy users are at risk of becoming victims of an Internet hack. Reduce the risk of hackers infiltrating your child’s computer by installing antivirus software that scans for, detects, exposes, and removes malware — helping to protect your computer from viruses, spam, and identity theft.

Many antivirus software programs are free and easy to use, help prevent your child’s identity from being stolen, and protect against a virus destroying your computer. McAfee — a well-respected computer-security company — offers Family Protection software that includes parental controls, media filtering, and activity reports.

These tips will help you protect your children and their information online, making you feel more confident and at ease. Start implementing these tips today, and let us know your additional tips and tricks for protecting your child’s online information in the comments below.