GUEST ESSAY: 5 steps for raising cyber smart children — who know how to guard their privacy

By Ellen Sabin

Today’s children are online at a young age, for many hours, and in more ways than ever before. As adults, we know that bad online decisions can have negative or dangerous effects for years to come.

Related: Web apps are being used to radicalize youth

The question isn’t whether we should educate children about online safety, but how we can best inspire them to learn to be thoughtful, careful, and safe in the cyber world for their lifetime. For adults doing the teaching, it’s no easy task.

Teaching children about good cyber security habits starts with helping them realize their power to learn to make smart choices. Often, messages about online security are presented as ‘to-do’ lists that can make even the most pliant of us feel like we are being preached to. Instead, let children think about why they want to become smart about online decisions and how they can make good choices.

Here are some tips to excite kids about cybersecurity.

•Discuss digital personas. To help children understand the importance of making smart choices online, start with helping them identify the ways they enjoy being online. What devices do they use? What games do they enjoy? Who do they like to communicate with onlin

Helping them explore the benefits they get from being online gives them a context to consider why they should care about keeping this big part of their life safe and secure, and therefore fun and productive.

•Explain the abstract. For children, concepts like cyber criminals, hackers, private information, and the vast idea of Internet dangers are abstract concepts. You can explain these in age-appropriate ways to help your child make sense of the dangers.


For example, kids may understand that a thief can break into a house through a window to steal something. You can explain that hackers break in through the Internet to steal information. Similarly, teaching concepts like the value of information and the importance of privacy and discretion can be made simple for children.

•Encourage privacy behaviors. Once children have identified the rewards of being part of the online world and the risks they want to avoid, they can come up with ways to help protect and care for themselves. Can they keep their privacy by deciding not to share certain information? Can they create strong passwords? Can they appreciate the need to be kind online?

Maybe they can learn ways to avoid scams and ways to care for their devices. Letting kids come up with their own plan increases their investment in the activities and is an empowering message.

Lead by example. Once children start thinking about the importance of online safety, they will be watching to see how your behavior reflects these values. Make sure you are being thoughtful and responsible in your actions. There are additional safety measures you can (and should) take to teach your child as they grow, things like installing virus protection, enabling multi-factor authentication, using password managers, and raising awareness about phishing scams.

•Make it a family conversation. Whether it’s balancing online and offline time, exploring new apps or games, or connecting new smart devices to your home, there will always be the next important conversation to have. It’s important to set the tone for conversations about online safety by being open, positive and proactive.

You can look at apps and websites together with you child, enroll your child in doing research with you about online questions, and consider creating a ‘family cyber promise’ of ways you will all take care of your online safety, information and devices.

In my latest book, The Super Smart Cyber Guide for Kids, I combine educational narrative, conversation starters and fun activities to inspire children, while offering a guided teaching tool to adults. It’s available at Watering Can Press, and I hope it can help parents with the vital responsibility of raising cyber smart kids.

Several innovative CISOs and Security Awareness Executives are sharing the book to bring conversations about cybersecurity into the homes and minds of their employees, clients, and community partners. I’ve also been brought in to host virtual reading events with the book for corporate and nonprofit efforts. Watering Can Press offers the e-book as well as printed versions for bulk orders, and can create customized editions for organizations. If interested in learning more email

About the essayist. Ellen Sabin is the founder of Watering Can Press ( and the author of a series of award-winning books that “grow kids with character.” Sabin holds a master’s degree in public health from Harvard and in Health Administration from NYU, studied medical anthropology at The London School of Economics, and has a BA from Emory University.




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