The 6 Cardinal Rules of Internet Safety All Parents Should Follow

How do you get kids to Be Internet Awesome? By getting parents to take the lead.

An illustration of flowers weeds in the ground with a man leaning down and tearing out the weeds
Julia Barnes for Fatherly

The following was produced in partnership with Google.

Good parents lead by example. Parenting means modeling what a thoughtful, responsible adult looks like. This means showing emotional maturity, a strong work ethic, good habits, and integrity. One example: Resisting the siren call of your kid’s Halloween stash after you lecture them about the perils of sugar before bed. Another, more important one: Living with strong, clearly-defined internet safety habits.

Internet safety starts at home with parents not just because you’re leading by example, but because you are the gatekeeper of all your kid’s most sensitive information — from Social Security numbers to that treasure trove of family images. Improving your internet safety is essential for theirs, and your kids should know it. Walk them through how internet safety works. Turn your safety into a lesson and make it fun. How? Start diving deeper into these topics with Google’s Be Internet Awesome program by playing Interland together, then follow these rules.

1. Strengthen and Manage Your Passwords

More than half the population uses the same password across multiple sites, an understandable shortcut to make life easier when the average person has 120 different online accounts. But while it might make life slightly easier, it’s just not worth the risk. This is why a password manager like the one built into your Google Account is a must. It can help securely sync passwords across devices so they’re there if (when) you forget them.

The Fun Lesson: What’s a password? Something that only you and people you trust know. That’s why it’s always good for kids and parents to have a password that they can give to anyone picking them up. They must learn that a password is something you don’t give to anyone else, something you change often, and a secret code that no one can guess. For example, when someone picks up your child, your child needs to ask, “What’s my favorite color?” The answer? “722.” Now there’s a solid security question.

2. Keep Your Software Up to Date

Lots of software updates are for cool new features or a redesigned user experience, but while they’re not quite as exciting, updates that contain security fixes are even more important. Make sure you are checking for updates regularly to all of your software because even the latest version of Candy Crush might fix a security hole or two. You should also enable automatic updating for software that has it, including Chrome, iOS, and Android.

The Fun Lesson: Put your kid in charge of software updates. It’s one of those menial tasks you will likely forget, but they will be more than happy to do daily.

3. Use Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication is a powerful tool against internet bad guys. When a website requires two forms of proof that you’re the account owner, it significantly decreases the chance that someone will get unauthorized access. You should make sure it’s set up on all of your accounts that offer it.

The Fun Lesson: Seeing two-factor authentication in practice is probably a bit befuddling to kids (Why is your phone buzzing, dad?). Instead, show them how to shore up a “candy jar.” To do so, buy two lockable storage cabinets that fit one inside the other (childproof pill cases works nicely) and fill the inside box with candy. Parents get the code to the inside, but kids get to the code to the outside. Want candy? That’s going to require two-factor authentication, kiddo.

4. Set Up a Recovery Phone Number

If your account does end up compromised in the future, you’ll thank your lucky stars that you set this up. When something looks fishy, your recovery phone number is a way websites can get in touch with you. And if you do end up locked out, it’s sort of like an emergency entrance, a way to regain access more quickly.

The Fun Lesson: Your child should memorize your phone number, like you had to as a kid. But in the smartphone era, fewer kids are doing so — in no small part because fewer parents know the numbers of their spouses. When you have a quiet moment like a ride home from school or just before bed, quiz them. You’ll be surprised how fun it is, and how satisfied they’ll be when they get it right.

5. Talk About The Unknowns

It’s good to have a conversation with your family to talk about what to do in the event that you come across something you’re not so sure about, an inappropriate video, a pop-up ad, something upsetting, or even random messages from profiles you may not be families with. Set up a family protocol for when stuff like this may pop up in your kid’s life and when in doubt, don’t give out any information, and encourage your kids to talk to a trusted adult

The Fun Lesson: How do you know if something is ill-intentioned? By asking questions rather than providing answers. To give them an idea of how this plays out, try The Question Game. Here’s how it works: Challenge your kid to answer with questions to your questions over and over. If they give an answer, they lose. If they give 10 questions in a row, they win. Now, try to stump them with questions like, “Do you want a bite of this chocolate bar?” Or, “Do you want $100 today?” Teach them to think critically about what they see online and use their detective skills to determine if it’s real or not.

6. Take a Google Security Checkup

Your family is probably already set up with Google Accounts, so you can take the company’s free step-by-step Security Checkup in just two minutes. It shows the third-party apps you’ve granted access to, the devices using your account, and any recent events that may have put your security at risk. It will even warn you if something looks strange, like if your account is linked to a device like an old phone that hasn’t accessed it in a while.

The Fun Lesson: If your kids have a pet, they’re likely in charge of the day-to-day well-being of the creature (making sure they’re fed and watered and looking well). But sometimes, you need to make sure there are no hidden ailments. This is why you all take Fido to the veterinarian for a checkup from time to time. The vet’s job is to want to make sure that your pet isn’t sick and that they gets the shots they needs to keep it that way. Remind your kids that all responsibilities are like a pet — from plants to online accounts, money in their piggy bank to their favorite toys. Things that are fun and bring joy need to be tended to.