As we move further into the digital age, the lessons we must teach our children are changing. Safety lessons have moved from the playground to the Internet and it is difficult to know just what we should be teaching children about these new risks.
Here are three tips from the Identity Theft Resource Center – simple, easy ways to start this important conversation with your children and ensure their protection against identity theft and cybercrime:
- Define what “identity” means. Help your children learn the basic context of identity and the complexities of what their identity really means in the bigger picture. Although it will be difficult, we can achieve this simply by having a discussion when a concrete example is occurring. How many parents right now are missing opportunities? For example, the use of biometrics is becoming common in our daily lives. How many of us participated in events that took our children’s fingerprints in order to identify them in a worst-case scenario? How many of our healthcare providers use palm prints when checking into the doctor’s office? Take each of the moments to actually explain what is happening and why. Make sure the child understands that even though their identity isn’t a tangible thing, that it can be stolen. This is certainly a complex concept, but repeating it will help to cement it as they get older. Your child needs to ultimately make the connection between their identity and credit profile; once your child reaches the age of 18 and applies for student loans and wants to start building a credit history they will benefit from your early advice about what their “identity” truly encompasses.
- Talk about online safety EARLY. How many parents realize that when they hand over their cell phone to their child they are essentially giving them the keys to the kingdom? I have seen it done to placate angry 3-year-olds and fidgety 6-years-olds. I have heard parents say that they don’t allow their children to go online because they are too young, only to see the child handling a parent’s, or sometimes, their own smartphone. A smartphone is a computer that you hold in your hand. Parents need to remember that and educate children accordingly. Additionally, even though parents believe that children are only playing a game or watching a video, there are still potential pitfalls. There is always a chance that the child could hit buttons or get into apps (your banking app!) that could, at the very least, create a mess for parents to clean up.
- Enforce discretion both offline and online. It’s critically important to teach Internet-savvy children and teens to keep their thoughts, photos, and personal details very limited online. It may seem like an uphill battle but it’s one worth fighting on behalf of your children because they do not fully understand how their data is being shared by social media companies or stolen via so-called friends, frenemies, or online stalkers. Privacy settings are another way to enforce discretion — do kids understand these settings? And “offline” discretion is critical, especially for parents — don’t volunteer your kid’s Social Security number unless absolutely mandatory (i.e., applying for a U.S. Passport or government benefits). Most places, especially schools, do not need their Social Security number at all. But if you don’t ask, and don’t take that extra step to protect your kids, how can you ever teach your kids to take those same extra precautions?
Use the three steps above and start these conversations now — better safe than sorry when it comes to protecting your child’s identity and credit.