Where will your child's digital footprint take them on school break?

Winter break is approaching and kids will likely be home alone during the span between Christmas and New Year’s Day with their new gadgets and electronic devices. Experts warn that many parents don’t know the risks associated with smartphones, tablets and PCs, which include access to inappropriate websites, downloading malicious apps and social networking dangers.

Top tips to you ensure your child’s experience is positive and age-appropriate:

1. Get the right phone and data plan. Of all the wondrous things that cell phones can do, talking is probably the feature your child is least interested in. However, not all kids have the maturity to handle texting, voice mail, Internet access and taking photos and videos. Make a truly honest assessment of your child’s readiness.

You may find that a simple phone, with bare-bones features and a modest data plan, makes more sense than a flashy smartphone with all the latest apps. You can always upgrade the phone as your child grows. Also, if you do opt for a smartphone, assess whether or not you want its GPS capabilities activated. Its ability to instantly display your child’s exact whereabouts could potentially compromise his or her physical safety.

2. Establish clear ground rules. Mom and Dad buy the cell phone. And if it’s misused, Mom and Dad can take it away. Decide what’s right for your family, but we recommend three non-negotiables:

  • Enforce a digital curfew when phones, tablets, and other electronics are strictly off-limits
  • Enforce ‘no digital zones.’ For example, no phones at the dinner table, in the classroom, or in the bedroom.

3. Take a stay-true-to-your-values pledge. Remind your child that having a cell phone doesn’t change who he or she is. Mean texts are as off-limits as cruel talk. Ditto for uploading sexual, disrespectful or violent Internet content or forwarding inappropriate photos or hurtful messages from friends. And for older teens, make sure there’s no wiggle room: Texting and driving is never OK.

4. Consider a monitoring tool.  Make it easy to safeguard your child’s privacy and reputation by signing up for a system like SocialScout. SocialScout provides parents with daily reports online and by email so you can make sure your child is making good online and mobile choices.

For more advice, click here to watch Theresa Payton on Katie Couric’s ‘Katie’s Take’ talking about children’s digital safety.

Contributors: Theresa Payton, CIO during the Bush Administration (2008-10) and founder of Fortalice, along with Adam Levin, co-founder and chairman of Credit.com and IDentity Theft 911, have compiled the tips above to keep your kids safe.