One of the best ways to teach young children about cybersecurity is to ask what they already know about computers and the Internet. Next, try to use some of their language while weaving in general safety tips they’ve been taught regarding their daily lives. Finally, introduce very simple computer terms to help them understand some basic concepts and warnings you’re sharing with them.

Good Vocabulary Words and Concepts for Beginners

Before introducing new words and concepts, you might want to remind children of what happens when they use a telephone. Their spoken messages are carried “through the air” or over telephone lines and equipment they cannot always see. Likewise, when they use the Internet, their messages travel through an invisible area called “cyberspace.” However, the Internet actually lets them see themselves creating and sending messages to others and receiving them.

It’s important to remind young children that the Internet can be a wonderful medium for exchanging news with friends and family via emails (brief messages) and visiting websites (information pages) that allow them to play video games, download music, watch TV shows and handle research for school and work projects. Be sure to ask your children or students to gather around you as you “download” information from a website so they’ll understand that concept as well.

Tell the children to view the Internet like a worldwide neighborhood filled with interesting people and exciting news and information. However, remind them that like their own neighborhoods, they should avoid visiting with people they don’t know. Should anyone who isn’t already a close friend try to contact them, they should immediately tell an adult and stop communicating with that person. Help the child understand that an adult can even “block” that person from contacting them further using “filters.” Also, tell them that it’s best to only use social media when they’re much older — and only when adults are present.

While discussing the dangers of the Internet, remind children about schoolyard “bullies” and how there are similar people on the Internet who try to hurt others. Explain the importance of never personally behaving like a “cyberbully.” Remind them to contact a parent, teacher or other adult when someone on the Internet is bullying them.

Finally, be sure they know that it’s never safe or wise to try and meet up with new people they’ve only “met” over the Internet. Often, these individuals who say they are close to the child’s own age are actually adults who may try to hurt them and take them far away from their family and friends.

Discuss Concepts Like “Looking Both Ways” & Not Letting Others Mislead Them

As one government website points out, using the Internet is a bit like walking to school and needing to look both ways before crossing the street. On the Internet, you cannot simply join clubs or groups without first speaking with a parent or other adult since some of the groups may not be safe. Also, children should never provide any personal information to anyone over the Internet such as their “name, address, age, phone number, birthday, email address [and where they go] to school and other facts . . .”

Explain what the concept means that says “all that glitters is not gold.” They may be offered a variety of things over the Internet for free. Tell them that these are often false ads used to trick children into revealing where they live. Be sure they understand that the free toy, cell phone, concert tickets or other items being offered are not real and are just being used to obtain their personal information. While it’s good to trust many people, remind them that unless they’ve met someone at school or during their regular daily lives with their parents, they should view new people on the Internet with caution since not everyone has good or safe intentions.

Tell Children that Adults Need Their Help in Keeping the Internet Safe

Remind children that while you’ll be carefully monitoring their Internet usage, you’ll need their help in alerting you to people or events that may be frightening to them. Once they share such information with you, reassure them that you can make things safe again for them.

Finally, compliment children on their strong desire to learn and explain that the Internet will soon become one of their finest sources of information — in addition to parents, teachers, textbooks, and libraries. Just remind them that using the Internet is a lot like playing various offline games or sports – they can have a lot of fun — but they’ll always need to be very careful.