What is Cyber Hygiene, and Why is it Important for Your Child?

Last updated: Apr 4, 2023

As a parent, you’ve probably taught your child to wash their hands, brush and floss their teeth, cover their mouth when they cough, and shower regularly. These are all important habits for creating a solid foundation of personal hygiene.

However, have you taught them how to create a strong password or detect a spam email?

Just like building personal hygiene early on is essential, it’s also vital for children to learn cyber hygiene. Since children spend 4-6 hours online per day, they need to know early on how to stay safe online.


What is Cyber Hygiene, and Why Does It Matter?

Cyber hygiene is a set of practices and habits to help maintain the security and health of users, data, networks, and devices. Cyber hygiene keeps sensitive data secure and protects data from theft or attacks. For children, this means keeping their personal information safe. Similar to how people maintain their health with personal hygiene measures like handwashing to stop the spread of disease and brushing teeth regularly to prevent cavities, families can prevent data breaches and identity theft with cyber hygiene precautionary measures.


While you may not think about your child being under cyber-attack, anyone using a tablet, mobile phone, laptop, computer, or gaming console is susceptible. From identity theft and cyber-bullying to malware and ransomware, children can encounter many different cyber threats. So, learning the basics of cyber hygiene is critical for the whole family.


Cyber Hygiene Best Practices

The following guidelines can be used in your household to ensure everyone practices effective cyber hygiene.

Protect Personal Information

This is a key priority for children online. They should never share their name, address, phone numbers, passwords, where they go to school, or any pictures without a parent or guardian’s permission. Once personal information is public online, removing it can be very hard.

A mother teaching her son about cyber hygiene.

Think Before You Click

While web browsing, children should be careful not to click on links offering free music, games, or anything else “free.” That’s usually malware that hackers can use to steal your information. Children should also learn which types of websites may potentially host harmful and illegal content.


Review Emails With Caution

Malware can also lurk in suspicious links and email attachments as part of a phishing campaign. When taking classes online, kids will receive emails from teachers, classmates, and school administrators, which means there’s a good chance there will be phishing emails among these messages. They will seem to be from trusted sources, but they aren’t.


For example, the email message might say they have to download school-related material or reset a password to some online learning resource. Make sure your kids aren’t blindly clicking on links and attachments by showing them how to spot phishing attempts.


Keep Devices Up to Date

Phones, tablets, laptops — all electronic devices in your home should be updated to have the latest software and security patches to ensure they’re safe. Also, make sure all mobile apps are downloaded from reputable sources such as the App Store or Google Play.

A young girl using a laptop at home.

Secure Social Media Accounts

Placing restrictions on social media accounts to limit access to friends only is another way to ensure privacy and safety for children. After all, children may connect with a cybercriminal using a fake user profile and accidentally share personal information. Social media makes it easy for cybercriminals to target young users.


According to Liz Repking, founder of Cyber Safety Consulting, this danger is heightened now. "It's so easy to play on normal human nature of wanting to make friends, especially coming out of two years of a lot of isolation," Repking said, referencing the COVID-19 lockdowns.


"This summer we've seen a great increase in what we call ‘sextortion,’ where young people are being targeted on gaming platforms, a relationship is built, and then the predator somehow asks for a picture of the child."


In fact, one study found that 40% of fourth through eighth graders online have connected with a stranger.

So, you’ll want to make sure your kids are aware of the potential dangers of social media. In addition, you may want to monitor their Facebook chat history.


Use Strong Passwords

Children should learn strong password management, including:

  • How to create strong passwords
  • How often to change passwords
  • Not to share passwords
  • Not to log in with passwords on public devices or on public Wi-Fi
  • How two-factor authentication works

While it may be tempting for children to create one core password and use variations on it, or to use personally identifiable information in their passwords, these are both major no-nos. Instead, children need to learn how to create passwords they will remember, but hackers won’t figure out.


Don’t Be a Bully

Children should know that it’s important not to post or respond to hurtful comments, and not to post anything harmful themselves. If they see something, they should say something to a parent or trusted adult.


Communicate Regularly

Cyber hygiene in your household relies on open, transparent communication between parents or guardians and children. In our article, How to Talk to Your Child About Internet Safety and Cybersecurity: A Parent's Guide, you can discover tips on how to talk to your kids about cybersecurity and internet safety.


Cyber Hygiene for the Family

Learning cyber hygiene best practices is critical for the whole family to maintain cybersecurity and internet safety in the household. USF’s Cybersecurity for 7th-12th Grade Students and Parents course identifies important cyber hygiene practices for anyone using the internet or securing information online. Designed for students and parents, this course is self-paced in a convenient online format.


Learn more about USF's Cybersecurity Course for 7th-12th Grade Students.


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