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Back to school tips for playing it safe online


“Play safe” is an important message for kids when they’re running around outdoors all summer. But it’s also a good reminder for their online life.

Kids born into the digital age seem to be naturally tech-savvy, figuring out new software and hardware with enviable speed. It’s easy to forget that there are still things they need to learn about staying safe and protecting their information online.

As you stock up on pencils, books and perhaps new devices for the coming year, consider adding a primer on online safety to their list of school supplies.

Here are some tips to share with your kids to help them protect their privacy online:

Protect your reputation

Be yourself, but be cautious. People make judgments about images they see or what they read online, and don’t necessarily take steps to ensure the information is accurate. A post that at first seemed harmless can easily be taken out of context, get distorted and go viral.

Be careful who you trust

Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know. Always make sure that people asking to friend you are who they say they are before you accept. Your social media connections may be able to access your online photo albums, read your personal comments, copy and paste information you’ve shared and know what you’re doing, where you are and who your friends and family are. Remember – a “friend” of a “friend” of a real-life friend is really just a stranger. The more real-world connections you have with people, the more you can trust them.

Think before you click

Once something is online – a picture, a comment – it’s no longer under your control. It can be reposted and shared all over the internet in the blink of an eye. Even if you delete it from your device or account, cached versions or copies may be stored elsewhere. Before posting, think of how others might use the information. If it’s a picture of someone else, get permission from them to post it.

Protect yourself

A strong, hard-to-guess password is one way to protect your personal information. Use the privacy settings on your apps to control who sees what you post. If you’re using public computers, don’t use the “save password” function and log out when you’re finished.

Don’t leave a trail

The information you include in your posts can be more revealing than you think. Depending on what you say, it can be easy for someone to figure out where you live, how old you are, and build a picture of your routine. Sometimes that can be dangerous. For example, telling people your family will be away on vacation for a week could leave your home vulnerable to theft.

Stay anonymous

Use your real name for official accounts – for work and school – but if you’re playing online, it’s fine to use a pseudonym. It’s also a good idea to set up an email account to use for online purchases and logins. It will be easy to change if you start getting a lot of spam.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has many resources for parents and teachers who want to help protect kids while they’re online. For example:

Online privacy tips for parents
Topics to talk about
Do-it-yourself house rules for online privacy
Social Smarts: privacy, the Internet and you (graphic novel)
Lesson plans for the classroom

Visit our website for these and other tools.

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