Cybersecurity for Homeschooled Teens

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By Dan

Homeschooling offers a rich variety of benefits for our teenagers. Aside from the practicalities of an education that fits the family schedule, this educational approach can provide opportunities for teenagers to engage with a curriculum tailored to their needs and interests. Our contemporary digital age has helped enhance this approach to learning, providing tools and platforms that give students access to a world of knowledge. But this advantage is not without its cybersecurity risks.

Cybersecurity is not only a concern for large companies, or adults who may be the target of financial scams; students who are reliant upon using the internet for their education are at risk, too. Hackers today are not simply interested in accessing bank accounts or controlling systems; their motives can range from identity theft to just plain disruption. As a result, homeschooled students need to engage with practices that keep them safe while they explore their digitally-enhanced learning space.

As with many aspects of homeschooling, the dangers evident in the real world can also double up as teachable experiences. We’ll take a look at some of the threats homeschooled teens face from cybercriminals, and how these can be both addressed and utilized as educationally valuable material. Our teenagers are entering a world that is reliant upon technology; we can provide them the tools to navigate it successfully.

Personal Data

The fact that our students are growing up as digital natives is extremely beneficial. They have an innate understanding of technology that means they’re often confident in discovering ways to use it in order to effectively follow their curiosity. However, their openness to putting themselves out there in the digital landscape can also make them a target for those who have something to gain from the theft of their identities.

While students should be made aware of the potential dangers to their personal data based on their online behavior, scare tactics are not necessarily the most effective tools when teaching teens. Instead, this can be merged into their curriculum in a way that makes it clear that they are in fact exploring methods to take control of their online identity. Cybersecurity instruction can be approached as encouraging their efforts to better understand how their data is collected and used, in order for them to make informed, responsible, and safe decisions about their own personal information.

This can also be incorporated into their daily routine, too. Make it a requirement that, before entering information on a website, or agreeing to data collection, they review a checklist of safe behaviors. Encourage them to explore valuable tools such as proxy services, virtual private networks (VPNs), and password management software. Provide them with resources that allow them to keep informed of the risks, and encourages self-driven protective behavior.

Social Media

Social media has the power to introduce homeschoolers to different cultures, and connect with other students and mentors from across the globe. Unfortunately, for all its benefits, we are all too aware of how it can present one of the primary online risks to teens. Alongside the potential as a tool for predators, and bullying from their own peers, social media can also be a gateway to becoming a victim of cybercrime.

Educational opportunities can come from helping students understand how these cybercrime risks present themselves on each platform they utilize. Include modules in your curriculum which provide visual examples on how to spot malicious ads and links that can contain malware. Show them the differences between genuine YouTube links and those which lead to downloading device hijacking software or phishing scam. Teach them to take a responsible approach to direct messaging, and highlight the behaviors cybercriminals use to persuade teenagers to provide personal information

Let’s be clear, though — these risks are not necessarily a reason for a prohibition. While it is certainly each parent’s prerogative to set appropriate boundaries for their homeschoolers, a complete ban can do more harm than good. While it might appear to be protective, it can also be denying them a vital educational resource and social tool. Like any piece of equipment, though, the right guidance is important.

Academic Subject Matter

We often take the approach of teaching safe online behavior through the context of how it should be used in their browsing activities. Yet, it’s worth considering whether cybersecurity in itself can be treated as a useful and engaging academic discipline for homeschoolers. This provides those students with an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields with skills that protect them during their studies and provide a route to gaining abilities that are in demand across a variety of industries.

Much like other popular tech-facing subjects such as coding and games development, there are resources available online. Organizations such as CodeHS have developed full curriculums on the subject, along with lesson plans and activities. We are also beginning to see the emergence of cybersecurity camps — both in-person and online — that provide students with expert guidance and valuable opportunities to connect with peers with similar interests.

The academic discipline can also be extended into extracurricular activities, with a growing range of Hackathon events for young people across the U.S. These are not excuses for keen hackers to illicitly gain access to systems, rather they are problem-solving events which build on their enthusiasm for coding and cybersecurity. By engaging them more deeply on this subject, they not only gain practical tools, but also a deeper understanding of how their behavior should be adjusted while online.

Conclusion

Homeschooling can be an incredible opportunity for teenagers to engage with a curriculum that is both meaningful and diverse. However, it doesn’t protect them from the dangers of the online world — whether that’s cyberbullying or identity theft. However, these threats can provide educational opportunities that provide students with both practical knowledge to keep them safe, and academic skills relevant to our digital landscape. By closely blending cybersecurity activities with other aspects of their curriculum, teenage students can thrive in an educational environment that also prepares them for the world beyond schooling.

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