How to talk to your kids about online scams — and keep them safe

Erica Gerald Mason
·4-min read

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Talk to your children about practicing good digital habits. (Photo: Getty)
Talk to your children about practicing good digital habits. (Photo: Getty)

Between remote school, texting, gaming, and using multiple devices, going online is an unavoidable part of life for most children and teens. Unfortunately, some people take advantage of kids' natural curiosity to lure them into online scams. So how does the modern parent talk to their children about phishing scams and how can your kids tell if someone is trying to scam the online? Here are some expert tips for protecting your children:

Talk about online scams

“It’s never too early to start conversations about practicing good cyber-hygiene with your kids,” Eva Velasquez, president and chief executive officer of the Identity Theft Resource Center, tells Yahoo Life. “For younger children, use short teachable moments, supervise their activity, and model the online behaviors you want to see.”

For older children, talk to them about common scams and why they shouldn't reply to messages asking for personal information, such as passwords. Also, talk to them about the importance of privacy settings. The Federal Trade Commission suggests turning on privacy settings on apps and social media. 

Talk to your child about ways you combat phishing attempts. (Photo: Getty)
Talk to your child about ways you combat phishing attempts. (Photo: Getty)

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Set clear expectations about what online behavior requires adult supervision (photo: Getty)
Set clear expectations about what online behavior requires adult supervision (photo: Getty)

Model the behavior

Modeling good behavior is one of the best ways children learn. "We teach children to cross the street by allowing them to see us, model our behavior, and tell them that we always wait for the light, look both ways, etc." says Velasquez. "The same principle applies to teaching children about online safety and how to avoid sharing personal information online.”

If you receive a phishing email, Velasquez recommends talking to your child about it in an age-appropriate way. This way, they learn firsthand how to tell if someone is trying to scam you online.

“For example, if you receive a phishing email, you can share that story with your child," says Velasquez, who suggests saying something like: “'I received an email that was from someone trying to get information from me that they shouldn’t have. I didn’t respond.'"

Set clear expectations

Both younger and even older kids appreciate having clear boundaries. That's why it's important to talk to your children about your expectations when it comes to being online, especially when it comes to potentially sharing any personal information.

Perhaps you have a rule that your tween has to share an email account with you until he reaches a certain age, or that your child needs to ask permission before downloading any games online. Or maybe all online purchases need to be handled by you, instead of giving your teen permission to use your credit card. 

Velasquez explains that it's also important to have an open conversation about what your children can view on the internet privately and what content and downloads require adult supervision.

“For older children with more autonomy when using their devices and accounts, we recommend having a conversation about what the expectations are and what is allowed,” Velasquez says. Have a family meeting to come up with rules that are agreed upon as a family — and then write them down.

“Document the conversation by putting it in writing and posting it where the family can see it as a reminder of what was agreed upon," suggests Velasquez. "There are some great resources if you’re looking for more detail on how to structure it. is a great free tool to help parents get started, and it was developed in partnership with the National PTA.”

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