National Cybersecurity Awareness Month is here, and to promote a better understanding of the online dangers we face, the Identity Theft Resource Center teamed up with CyberScout to conduct a survey entitled “Social Media Habits and You.” Focusing on cybersecurity in the family setting, the survey sheds new light on the ways parents and guardians monitor their kids’ online behavior.

A 2017 study of 1,500 middle and high school students by The Social Institute revealed that 62 percent of the kids surveyed used Instagram. Another 58 percent used Snapchat. Texting came in first at 98 percent use. Facebook clocked in at a minuscule 7 percent.

One area for concern this month (and every month) is the use of secret accounts by children. They can take the form of unmonitored email accounts used to chat with friends (and strangers), which can, in turn, be used to open secret accounts on various other apps and sites. Although Facebook is not widely used, secret emails are used to create secondary Facebook accounts as well.

By far the most common type of secret account is the “finsta” (fake or “for fun” Instagram). Unlike “rinsta” accounts (real Instagram), which kids use as the outward-facing “PR version” of their lives, finstas are shared secretly between friends and set to private, which means outsiders can’t see what’s posted. This is where kids typically post the more off-color content that interests them with smaller groups of friends. Unfortunately, it’s also often where online bullying occurs precisely because it’s a “no grownups allowed” zone.

The “finsta” has corollaries on other platforms. For instance, on Snapchat kids will work around parental supervision by posting a private story, which presents parents with the same monitoring problem as the finsta.

What We Learned from our Survey

Of the 621 parents who responded to the “Social Media Habits and You” survey, most of them took an active role in managing their children’s social media activities. Many parents were aware of the dangers faced by their children, ranging from individual and family reputation to other high impact problems associated with online behavior.

Eighty-three percent of the parents surveyed said they monitor their children’s social media activities with “some frequency” with the largest percentage saying they checked daily (26 percent). Parents also reported having rules when it comes to their children’s social media activities. The most reported rule (41%) was limiting the amount of time and the time of day social media is used. Tied at 37.31 percent was making account log-in credentials available to parents, and adding parents to their social network to enable closer monitoring.

These rules are of course useless in the face of secret accounts.

Sixty percent of parents were pretty sure their children hadn’t created accounts without their knowledge, while about 13 percent said they didn’t know if their children had done so. Of those accounts created without parental permission, 17 percent addressed the matter with their children, and about 3.5% were not sure how to address the matter.

Here are some strategies to survive this issue:

  1. Talk to your kids about dangers associated with their online activities. Get specific. Talk about online criminals. Let them know what kinds of personal information criminals seek and that they should never divulge online.
  2. Ask them to tell you about what social media they use and how their friends use it. This may allow them some room to “tell on themselves” by opening the door to the role social media use plays in their social lives. Ask them about bullying. Listen to them, and ask a lot of questions. The longer you can keep the ball bouncing, the more you will learn.
  3. Ask them if they have any secret accounts. No matter what they say, walk them through the fundamentals of good cyber hygiene.

Our survey found that parental restrictions abound when it comes to the frequency with which kids are on social media platforms.

About half the parents surveyed thought their kids were “on and off throughout the day” (48.98 percent). A quarter of the parents said they were on “constantly.” But here’s the crux problem: If you don’t know an account exists, you don’t know how much time is being spent there. The only solution is communication.

Central Insurance and CyberScout have joined forces and are ready to protect you and your family from cyber threats. Contact your independent agent for more information.

Content provided by Adam Levin and CyberScout.

Adam Levin is chairman and co-founder of CyberScout.

2 responses to “How to Talk About Online Secrets and Security with Your Child”

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