Think before you click: parents shirking online safety talks with children

Almost one in three parents have never spoken to their children about cybersecurity, a report reveals, shedding light on a knowledge gap that must be addressed.

The Keeper Security Parental Practices Report, which explores parental attitudes, practices, and concerns regarding cybersecurity discussions with their children, also revealed that two in five parents (41%) who admitted they don’t know how to create strong passwords still give their child access to their mobile phones. Almost a third (32%) give them access to their computers.

“In an era marked by digital immersion, parenting responsibilities extend beyond the traditional concerns. As children spend more time online, the discourse around cybersecurity has become a crucial element of modern parenting,” said Darren Guccione, CEO of Keeper Security.

“This study highlights the need for increased awareness and education on digital safety among parents, as well as the importance that schools play in filling this gap, and perhaps, taking action at an earlier age.”

No knowledge, no problem?

The situation is interesting, to say the least. For instance, 57% of parents reported greater comfort discussing password security than sex education, while only 16% felt more at ease with sex education. Almost one in five (19%) expressed discomfort discussing either subject, though, while 30% confessed to not addressing cybersecurity with their children at all.

That said, 75% of parents with 12-16-year-olds and 62% with 8-11-year-olds had engaged their children in discussions about cybersecurity.

Younger children's internet exposure without cybersecurity guidance raises serious concerns, as 44% own mobile phones and 46% have online gaming accounts, Keeper Security said in the report.

Understanding how to create strong and secure passwords is, of course, a key component of personal cybersecurity, especially with so many online accounts that store personal information and credit card details and are protected with passwords.

But, overall, only 45% of parents with children 8-11 say their kids know how to create strong passwords, while 70% of those with children 12-16 said the same. Besides that, parents with insufficient password security knowledge themselves admitted to granting their children access to their devices.

Stunningly, of the parents who admit not knowing how to create strong passwords, 29% give their child access to their TV accounts, 19% to their online games, 14% to their email accounts, and 7% to their online banking. Yes, you read that last one correctly: the place where they keep their money.

“The fact that a substantial number of parents who do not understand how to create

strong passwords grant their children access to their phones raises concerns about potential cybersecurity risks within households. This highlights the importance of parental education as well and empowerment regarding password security practices,” said Keeper Security.

American parents get it

From a regional perspective, US parents claimed the best understanding of the issue with 62% saying both they and their children know how to create strong passwords.

France is the least likely to have talked to children about cybersecurity at 34%. Somewhat worryingly, one in ten parents in the European country said no one was responsible for speaking to their kids about cybersecurity, as against the global average of 7%.

The United Kingdom relies the most on schools to provide education on cybersecurity, with 40% of parents saying schools take care of talking to their children about cybersecurity, while the US relies on schools the least, at 21%, followed by Germany at 23%, and France at 24%.

Finally, despite fathers claiming to be more comfortable than mothers when talking to their kids about cybersecurity, it’s mothers who conduct the majority of cybersecurity discussions – 56% of parents said mothers were responsible for cybersecurity talks with their children, with 52% citing fathers.

However, a much clearer disparity emerged in the US, with 62% attributing this responsibility to mothers.

Incidentally, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation said in May 2023 that cybercrime against children rose by 20% in 2022. The impact of an average cybercrime committed against a minor more than doubled in one year, rising from $92 in 2021 to $223, the FBI said.