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What Parents and Educators Want to Know About Cybersecurity

People are overwhelmed by the complexity of protecting their information and their devices, and they're looking for tools to keep their kids' privacy safe online.

Mother and daughter looking at a phone together.

From bank accounts to social media, health records to food delivery, and even our inexpensive printers at home, almost 100% of our lives today takes place online. That means that photos, emails, credit card numbers, birth dates, addresses, Social Security numbers, and more live in accounts all over the internet, and in our phones. One false step—by you, or by the companies that keep your data—and your identity and your entire life could be compromised.

Unfortunately, protecting ourselves online, whether it's our private data or our home networks, is mostly in the hands of us: the users. Comprehensive federal privacy legislation is under consideration, but it's moving slow. Other bills, like COPPA 2.0, which would improve data protections for minors, are also being actively considered but have not yet passed Congress. Meanwhile, the big threat—cybersecurity—is a problem for everyone. And while governments and large corporations shoulder the biggest responsibility, the truth is that everyday people like us bear the burden of keeping our devices and our information safe. But we can do it!

We asked our Common Sense Media community about the concerns they had when it comes to protecting their personal information and devices. And it's clear that keeping their data safe—and helping their kids and students do so as well—is a top priority for almost everyone right now.

Here are some of the concerns we heard:

  • What common sites pose a higher risk? What practices put my information more at risk?
  • What are the best practices for password creation and management? How do I know if I'm at risk? How can I more safely purchase online?
  • Is it safe to store passwords in an online platform for a personal device?
  • Why worry about passwords for sites that do not store credit card or bank information?
  • Are online financial sites safe (Mint, for example)?
  • How do we stay safe when so much data is inherently stored online?
  • How do I stay up to date on online safety, when it's not my job and I already have a full-time job?

We also asked parents, caregivers, and educators about the tips and resources they need to help them make sense of this complicated landscape. Many wanted tips on preventing identity theft and creating strong passwords. Others wanted guidance on protecting student data and the impact of opting in or out of data sharing.

Interestingly, problems like ransomware or malware weren't concerns that came up. But the damage these programs can do is a big threat to anyone, on any device, at any time. Learning to recognize malware and phishing scams—and avoid them—is a key component of staying safe online.

But across all of the responses, parents and teachers were united in the importance of helping kids 1.) recognize the crucial need to protect their devices and their data online, and also 2.) find the tools to be able to do it themselves, so they don't feel like they're being overly surveilled by the adults in their lives.

At Common Sense, we're working to put together more resources like these to help parents, caregivers, and educators support kids in healthy cybersecurity habits. And we still want to hear from you! Please share your concerns and needs about protecting digital privacy and cybersecurity with us.

In the meantime, educators can check out our lesson plans for grades 7, 9 and 12 on data privacy, as well as our three tips to secure student privacy in the classroom. Parents and caregivers can find our current tips for keeping their kids' privacy protected while using tech for school. You can also learn more about how the tech industry is faring in protecting privacy in our most recent State of Kids' Privacy report.

Staying safe online is a job for each of us. Together, we don't have to feel overwhelmed

Irene Ly

Irene Ly is counsel, tech policy at Common Sense. Her work focuses on advocating for privacy and tech policy legislation and regulations at the state and federal level. She is a graduate of American University Washington College of Law.