Category: Online Safety for Kids

How to Explain the Complex Problem of Social Engineering to Kids

How to Explain the Complex Problem of Social Engineering to Kids

Among all the tips for helping kids stay safe online, many parents and educators often forget about the growing and complicated issue and threat of social engineering. On first impressions, social engineering doesn’t seem that harmful, but when you look at it more deeply, you can soon realize how devastating it can be.

Social engineering is – taking it at its very definition – a major security threat to individuals, businesses and institutions worldwide. It’s often grouped together with other frequent and pervasive types of cybercrime like phishing, given how social engineering tactics inherently prey on human emotions and responses. When you scratch beneath the surface, social engineering attacks are arguably more calculated and dangerous than viruses and malware.

While kids everywhere are rightfully taught about the dangers of misinformation, practicing online safety, and preventing cyberbullying, social engineering is one area that’s rarely explored in as much detail. With cybercrime growing rifer and more frequent with each passing day, it’s crucial that kids and teenagers understand the common manipulation tactics that criminals or fraudsters could use to attempt to trick them. Seemingly harmless and simple requests to hand over information, perform actions or send responses over the Internet can lead to a myriad of consequences.

When it comes to understanding and preventing social engineering, knowledge is power. Teaching children to identify and recognize what these types of attack methods look like will help them – and others – win the battle against online crime. By bolstering our defenses and awareness even a little bit, we can encourage more kids to stay safe online and prevent data, information or funds from falling into the hands of malicious actors.

Follow the guidance below to teach your children about some of the most common social engineering techniques, real-world examples, and practical advice you can give them to increase their awareness.

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering relies on natural human tendencies in interactions and communication. In a typical example, a perpetrator would knowingly exploit a victim by earning their trust and creating the impression that the former is ‘safe’. At this point, the victim’s guard is marginally lowered to the point where systems, logins, devices, data or information could be passed over to the perpetrator without question.

As opposed to bad actors using code or algorithms to execute sophisticated hacks on systems and networks, they use psychological tactics to manipulate users, adjusting attacks based on responses and emotions. Enterprise-grade defence solutions use sophisticated technology to catch hackers accessing networks and systems in the act, however, detecting an individual executing a calculated attack in person is more difficult. It can be argued that no technology is intuitive enough to detect a person’s true intentions, particularly if operating outside the digital space, which is why awareness is absolutely vital.

Social engineering tactics could see people impersonating trusted individuals from reputable companies like your bank or your school’s IT helpdesk. Sometimes perpetrators could knowingly leave infected devices like USB drives for easy access to lure unsuspecting victims to use‌ them, leading to malware being uploaded on devices, as an example.

Commonly, however, social engineering involves digital communication methods like email, with fraudsters invariably making up scenarios and posing as trusted people to obtain information. Most dialogue will be written with a sense of urgency or fear to get the victim to reveal information more quickly, click a malicious link or download a dangerous file.

Given that these techniques take advantage of people’s inclinations to trust others, and that they involve an element of human interaction, preventing these attacks can be challenging. Skilled social engineering experts can convince even technically savvy people to hand over sensitive data with ease.

Social Engineering Attack Examples

Understanding what a social engineering attack may look like in real life can help children identify warning signs early, and report activities to the relevant authorities.

Some examples of social engineering include:

  • Fake support calls – Someone phones claiming to be a tech support engineer for Microsoft or Apple and states that viruses have been detected on your device. They convey that you urgently need to download software on your device, which ultimately ends up being malware.
  • Fraudulent notifications – Emails that appear to be from banks or other trustworthy online services urging you to verify account information due to suspicious activity. The links go to fake websites or landing pages that look convincing, but due to the perceived urgency, the user doesn’t take time to validate the page, thus entering credentials which end up compromised.
  • Social media scams – Posts on Facebook, Instagram or TikTok offering free giveaways, gift cards, or charity donations may often request an exchange for personal details like your address. These end up being used for identity theft with no rewards or products sent to you in the end.

These examples illustrate how social engineering focuses on exploiting human nature and intuition. Even if children are well-informed about cybercrime in theory, skilled manipulators can still bypass those initial barriers of uncertainty. Given how children and teenagers may not be as familiar with interacting with adults on their own, it’s crucial that parents and teachers educate them on some baseline security steps.

Why Children are Vulnerable to Social Engineering

Kids and teenagers are prime targets for social engineering attacks because most are inclined to believe others by default, making it easier for fraudsters to manipulate them. In 2022 alone, there was a 20% increase in child cybercrime, which averages about seven children per day facing online exploitation.

They don’t have the life experience or frameworks built into their subconscious minds to recognize shady behavior and younger kids in particular struggle to think about the long-term consequences of their actions. This makes risky decisions seem harmless and odd behaviors easy to overlook, particularly if perpetrators claim to be their ‘friends’ and promise rewards of social acceptance.

What’s more, kids don’t realize how much value their personal data has and don’t always recognize the impacts of sharing it with anybody they meet, even if they appear friendly.

Tips for Effective Discussions with Kids

Having regular, open discussions with children is the most effective way to raise awareness of social engineering and prevent it from happening in the future. Teachers can engage kids with interactive training and videos to reinforce the importance of online safety, emphasizing the motivations of social engineers and how they may have hidden agendas.

On a deeper level, parents can emphasize how scams can tap into natural emotions like excitement or fear. The key is to convey the important facts but not to the point where children are frightened and upset. Younger kids have shorter attention spans, naturally, so communicating the important tips quickly and succinctly is key.

Most importantly, kids should be encouraged to ask questions openly without judgment to foster engagement and interest, as they will likely listen to active responses. Ultimately, with age-appropriate conversations happening early enough and continuing as they grow older, they’ll recognize the importance of turning to trusted adults for help or guidance.

Tips for Overcoming Attacks and Improving Security in the Future

If your child encounters a potential social engineering scam online or face to face, first calmly talk through what happened without blame. Overreacting can discourage them from confiding in you moving forward when they need help again.

Take pragmatic steps like changing compromised passwords, contacting affected account providers (e.g. banks), reporting the incident, and bolstering security with TFA (two-factor authentication) if not already enabled. Notify any websites or apps that were used fraudulently, divulging details of the attacker if known. Most importantly, turn the experience into an impactful lesson by reviewing how to spot and respond to similar manipulation tactics in the future.

Ongoing education is vital to help kids stay safe from evolving social engineering threats. Set a strong example online and advise kids to verify unusual requests and be wary of suspicious activity.

Encourage kids to use stronger privacy settings on apps and install reputable antivirus and malware software on devices, routinely scanning and patching as needed. Monitor their activities online appropriately as they mature, emphasizing how it’s okay for them to say no, stop engaging with people, and seek help from trusted adults.

It’s no secret that social engineering presents numerous complex challenges for kids growing up in an increasingly connected and digital world. However, by taking the time to have thoughtful, blame-free conversations about the issue, and understanding their concerns and behaviors, we can all help foster greater preparedness. Even understanding how social engineering works can encourage more kids to question requests before handing information over willingly. With empathy and consistency, kids can feel empowered to protect themselves and others.

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Melaleuca’s IT Boot Camp: Empowering Students with Skills for Safer Digital Futures

Melaleuca's IT Boot Camp: Empowering Students with Skills for Safer Digital Futures

In an era where kids have grown up amidst the rise of digital platforms, understanding the nuances of online safety is imperative. Melaleuca recognized this need and aimed to equip high school students with not just computer skills but also an understanding of how to navigate the online world safely.

This was the overarching theme of the recent computer science boot camp held at Melaleuca Global Headquarters.

Adrianna, an aspiring author, went into the boot camp with a modest understanding of computer science. She emerged with a newfound skill in website building, but more importantly, an appreciation for the layers of safety that need to be in place when working online.

“Before this camp, I knew nothing about coding. Now, I not only understand it but recognize the importance of securing what I create,” she reflected.

From July 24 to 28, over two dozen students delved deep into HTML and CSS coding under the expert guidance of Nathan Birch, an IT professor from BYU-Idaho. But intertwined with lessons on were sessions on cybersecurity, privacy settings, and the ethics of digital behavior.

Beyond this, IT experts from Melaleuca introduced students to real-world scenarios of how IT innovation can be both a tool for progress and, if not safely managed, a potential risk. These discussions broadened their perspectives, making them consider the wider implications of their online actions.

Cole Clinger, Melaleuca’s President, emphasized the boot camp’s dual focus.

“While we aim to give students technical skills, we equally prioritize ensuring they are equipped to use these skills responsibly in a digital age where safety is paramount,” he remarked.

Students like Seth walked away with more than just coding skills. They also learned the importance of secure platforms, the role of parental controls, and tools that can help safeguard their creations and communications online.

The tech boot camp is a part of Melaleuca’s broader vision to nurture well-rounded digital citizens who are both tech-savvy and internet smart. Todd Sorenson, Melaleuca’s Chief Information Officer, shared this sentiment:

“We are not just creating future IT professionals; we are shaping responsible digital users. Our kids should be ready and safe as they embark on their online journeys.”

After a week of intensive learning, students were awarded certificates, a testament to their newfound skills in coding and online safety. Melaleuca’s initiative is an encouraging reminder that companies can play a pivotal role in ensuring the internet becomes a more secure environment for our children.

Parents and students keen to know more about how they can participate in next year’s transformative boot camp are encouraged to contact Melaleuca at 208-522-0700.

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Talking to Kids About Good Online Behavior

Parents Talking to Kids About Online Safety

Today, access to the internet is pervasive. And while the internet has many benefits, it also carries some risks. As parents, we need to talk to our kids about how to navigate the digital world safely and responsibly.  This is not a one-time discussion. It’s ongoing because the internet is always changing and evolving.

Here’s how you can start the conversation and build a safe online environment for your family. 

1. Start early

Today, exposure to the internet begins at a young age. Yet 18% of teens say they haven’t talked with anybody about what good online behavior looks like. Don’t wait to start talking to your kids about proper internet behavior and setting appropriate boundaries.

For younger children, this might be as simple as setting time limits on screen use, disciplining yourself not to use technology as a pacifier to calm rowdy behavior, and encouraging offline play and interactions.

As your kids get older, budget more screen time paired with more responsibility and accountability. Eventually, you can also start introducing more mature topics of conversation, such as internet safety, cyberbullying, and privacy.

By opening the lines of communication early, you can set clear expectations from the start and help guide your kids along the way.     

2. Do your homework

Before you sit down with your child, brush up on the latest internet trends and social apps. If your kid uses social media, what channels are they active on?

Some of the most popular platforms for today’s teens and tweens include:

  • Instagram
  • Snapchat
  • Kik Messenger
  • Tumblr 
  • Tik Tok
  • Whatsapp
  • Twitch
  • Roblox
  • Omegle
  • Discord

Despite their popularity, these apps carry risks—particularly for budding teens and young adults who are still learning how to navigate the internet and digital relationships.

In order to give your child the best guidance, you need to understand what platforms they are using and how those apps work—including their privacy settings, age requirements, and the kind of information that is shared. Armed with that knowledge, you can set appropriate boundaries and educate your child on the risks and best practices for online safety. 

3. Explain the risks

Explain the risks of online activity

Once you understand how your kids engage online, you can better address the specific risks involved.

Talk to your kids about these risks (as developmentally appropriate). By outlining the dangers and consequences of certain behaviors, you can help your children understand not only what they should do, but why.

As you discuss internet safety, consider teaching your children about the following:

  • Privacy issues: Oversharing personal information or details could put you at risk for identity theft or embarrassment. 
  • Harassment or bullying: Many apps and social platforms make it easy for kids and adults alike to participate in bullying behavior—whether that’s spreading gossip, sharing others’ private content (like sensitive photos), or writing hurtful comments. 
  • Reputation management: What happens on the internet doesn’t just go away. Things that happened online years ago could come up again later in life, such as during college applications or job interviews.  

Explain that because of these risks, you will be setting certain rules and guidelines for how the family uses the internet. 

4. Set expectations 

As with other areas of parenting, internet use in your household should have clear guidelines based on your family values and each kid’s maturity level. Setting limits isn’t always easy—especially if you are parenting a teenager—but it is important to be open and honest about what you expect of them and how they will be held accountable.

The exact limits you set will depend on your child’s age and maturity. Keep in mind that you will likely need to revisit your “house rules” with the family periodically as your children grow and they adopt new technology (e.g., upgrading to a smartphone).

If parents are living apart and children are living in two different households, make sure both of you are on the same page setting consistent ground rules in each home.

In addition to time limits, consider outlining basic dos and don’ts of online behavior. These might include:

  • Never share passwords, addresses, or other private information over the internet.
  • Don’t illegally download content.
  • Don’t download unknown files from the internet (or ask an adult to check potential downloads).  
  • Avoid accepting friend requests or messages from strangers.
  • Never set up a meeting with someone you’ve only talked to online.
  • Be respectful; remember that online anonymity isn’t an excuse for bullying or other meanspirited behavior.
  • Don’t share friends’ information or content without permission. 
  • Always sign out of accounts when using public computers. 

Sit down with your children and explain your expectations and map these guidelines in a formal family media use plan.

Teaching your kids about internet safety and good online habits takes time and patience. It is not a one-off event but an ongoing conversation. As you stay involved in their lives—both online and offline—you will be able to guide them more effectively and help them develop into successful digital citizens.  

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App Traps: Hidden Dangers in Kid-Friendly Games

App Traps: Hidden Dangers in Kid-Friendly Games

Although video games have been around for decades, the landscape has dramatically changed from when we played Super Mario Brothers in the basement.  Today, video games are not only played on gaming consoles, but they are played on PCs, laptops, touchscreen tablets, and mobile devices.

With more devices and games to choose from than ever before, the global video game market has exploded to an estimated $217.06 billion in 2022. So, not only is gaming access and popularity increasing, but so is connectivity. Most video games now require an internet connection, further exposing children to some of the dangers of gaming, such as cyberbullying and predatory in-app purchases.

But it’s not simply these types of threats that parents should be concerned about; parents should also be worried about how spending too much time playing video games can affect a child’s physical and mental health, social behavior, and cognitive development. There is a distinct line between healthy and unhealthy gaming.

As parents, let’s take a closer look at the hidden dangers of video games, including the consequences of excessive consumption, and offer some healthy alternatives that can entertain while better fostering your child’s development.

Potential Threats Commonly Found in Kid-friendly Games and Apps

There are many threats found in kid-friendly games and apps that are hard to prevent your child from being exposed to. To make matters even worse, all of this is pretty much impossible to avoid nowadays.

However, the best thing you can do is educate yourself and your child about the dangers and provide a safe space for them to come to you and talk to you about anything. Open communication is critical.

At the same time, you should also know every game and app that your child uses and explore if they have parental controls that you can use.

For example, Roblox, one of the most popular games for children worldwide, has a feature where parents can limit and monitor who their child is playing and communicating with on the platform and several online privacy settings you can enable.

Many games and apps have similar features for parents, so be sure to conduct research before allowing your child to play a new game. Don’t be afraid to write an email to the developers themselves, either!

So, without further ado, let’s break down some of the most common threats children face when using online games and apps.

Cyberbullying/Online Predators

Cyberbullies and online predators are a constant threat that not only come from online gaming but also from social media. Although trying to keep your children safe from cyberbullying and online predators is a monumental task, you should know the red flags that indicate your child is being bullied online.

From mood swings and bouts of depression and anxiety to loss of sleep, lack of appetite, and withdrawal from family and friends, many emotional symptoms and behavioral changes could be clues that your child is being bullied.

When it comes to online predators, you must have consistent conversations with your children about not sharing personal information with strangers online and the dangers of “meeting up” with someone you only met through an online game or social media. Sometimes, people may not be who they say they are; instead, they have harmful intentions.

Hidden Fees/In-app Purchases

Hidden fees and in-app microtransactions are some of the biggest scams to hit video games and apps. From paying for virtual currencies, weaponry, and special abilities to eliminating in-game advertisements, video games have become incredibly creative about how they trick children into spending money.

Never attach a credit card to your child’s gaming profile, and if your child is using your smartphone or tablet to play games and use apps through Apple or Google Play, make sure you password-protect all purchases and switch off “in-app updates.”

If you want to educate your child about responsible spending, you can create an online-only debit card and put a part of their allowance in it, just to see how it feels spending their own money.


Sometimes, cybercriminals can modify popular and legitimate apps with malware and upload them to Google Play or Apple without being detected. These apps then install Trojans, adware, and spyware on your devices without you knowing.

Ensure you approve all of the games and apps your child would like to download before they do. Password-protect downloads if you have to. Also, pay attention to recent reviews and news stories about recently discovered breaches, and teach your child how to recognize scams and illegitimate apps. It’s an excuse for you to up your tech knowledge, too!

Links to external malicious sites

Another major threat from online games and apps, especially those that involve multi-player gameplay, is messages containing links to external malicious sites that can download malware and other harmful files.

The best way to prevent this is to teach your kids about internet safety from an early age, including the importance of never clicking on suspicious links and other common-sense safety rules about being online.

Adverse effects of excessive gaming and screen time

Again, there is a significant difference between healthy and unhealthy gaming. Extreme gaming for a child could be considered any amount that disrupts their normal daily functioning.

For instance, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), recommends no more than 2-5 hours of screen time, with only 1 hour being devoted to non-educational activities.

Also, excessive gaming and screen time have been linked to these adverse side effects.

  • Physical: obesity, insomnia, neck and back problems, and eye strain.
  • Mental: impulsive actions, behavioral problems, prone to violence, anxiety, and depression.
  • Emotional: mood swings, withdrawal from friends, family, and school, and stunted emotional growth

Again, it is impossible to eliminate all screen time. Between school work and entertainment, your child will be in front of a screen, using apps and playing games almost daily.

Just be mindful of how much time they spend in front of a screen and try to facilitate and encourage healthy alternatives that your child can enjoy.

Healthy Alternatives to Video Games and Screen Time

While the digital realm is often filled with addictive and predatory content, the real world offers a plethora of educational and safe alternatives. Engaging in physical, creative endeavors enhances a child’s motor skills and nurtures their imaginative capabilities.

Here are some everyday physical and creative activities outside the digital realm that can help your child’s mental, physical, emotional, and social development.

Art Projects

Suitable art activities can significantly contribute to a child’s development by allowing them to express themselves in a wholesome and unrestrictive environment. Parents may find that by swapping screen time with time spent on crafting, drawing, or painting; children are more likely to develop essential skills such as problem-solving, creativity, and even social abilities when working on group art projects.

Moreover, the absence of hidden digital threats ensures a safer, enriching experience. By replacing a portion of digital playtime with artistic pursuits, parents can provide a balanced, risk-free entertainment diet for their young ones.


There have been many studies about the benefits of sports for children. Sports offer a healthy alternative to screen time that can help build their coordination and balance as well as their bones, muscles, and ligaments. Kids who play sports also reduce their risk of obesity and are more likely to learn healthy physical habits that they carry into adulthood. Other benefits include improved sleep, greater concentration, and increased social skills.

Educational Travel/Field Trips

Educational travel and field trips are another great source of entertainment that keeps kids learning. Museums, art galleries, national parks, monuments, historical sites, and the theater entertain a child’s imagination and curiosity while contributing to healthy development.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is online games and apps are fun to play and a good source of entertainment. We are not trying to say that all online gaming is inherently evil and detrimental to children; we are saying that it is essential that you and your child are aware of all the potential risks, and that you know how to mitigate them.

At the same time, it is not just cybersecurity and social threats that should concern every parent; it’s online safety as a whole we need to focus on. That is why, besides educating children about online threats, we also need to limit the time they spend in front of a screen and provide them with healthy alternatives that entertain and foster healthy and enriching development.

About the Author:
Ryan Harris is a copywriter focused on eLearning and the digital transitions going on in the education realm. Before turning to writing full time, Ryan worked for five years as a teacher in Tulsa and then spent six years overseeing product development at many successful Edtech companies, including 2U, EPAM, and NovoEd.

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