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My first job out of college was a tech position at a tiny boarding school in upstate New York. I spent most of my time in the computer lab overseeing classes of students doing online research or taking the occasional email break. This was before the over-sharing days of Facebook and Twitter, but even then I had to monitor and educate our students about the dangers of chat rooms, making sure they knew who was at the other end of their email, and not downloading files from unknown sources.
It always surprised me that so many of our students grew up with computers in their homes, and yet knew very little about using them responsibly. But then, I suppose, things haven’t changed much. Today’s teens have grown up with social media and smartphones. They know there’s a risk involved in using both. But how many of them truly understand those risks, or take appropriate steps to help avoid them?
Turns out, not as many as we’d like to think. In a 2013 survey, LifeLock found that 77% of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 overshare personal information online.* That may not be a big surprise. We know social media can lead to oversharing – but the telling part of this survey was that of those same teens, only 11% thought they were oversharing.**
Another study, by the Family Online Safety Institute, found that 43% of teens haven’t set up privacy settings on all of their online or social networking accounts, and 1 in 3 teens have shared their log-in information with someone other than their parents or guardians.
Of course, social media isn’t the only way an identity thief can get your information, and teens are just as vulnerable to conventional means of identity theft—stolen mail, data breaches, etc. So what can we do to help teens protect themselves? The most important thing: talk to them. They can’t protect themselves against what they don’t understand.
Back in September I provided some useful tips on helping protect yourself from identity theft. Those can work for teens too. Of course, teens face some unique threats, such as when we send them off to college (or to small, private boarding schools). Thankfully, the Identity Theft Resource Center has some easy steps they can take to help protect themselves. And if you’re looking for ways to address online safety, head over to ShareAwesomeNow.org. You’ll find a number of useful resources and conversation starters.
Our generation is still learning about identity theft. But with a little advice from us, hopefully our teens won’t have to.
Jaramy Conners is the Corporate Communications Manager at LifeLock.
* Based on the responses of 700 US teenagers surveyed by LifeLock, June 2013.