Scam Season: Teaching Kids and Seniors Internet Safety

A grandfather and grandson practice internet safety while surfing the web on their tablets.

Contributed by Nathan McVeigh

Just 20 years ago, “internet safety” wasn’t part of your vocabulary. Today, during the dawn of the digital age, everyone accesses the internet for a variety of reasons. If you’re young, you learn from it. If you’re older, you connect with it. If you’re in the middle, you work through it. If you’re human, you use it for all three reasons often all in one day. So while the internet affords great benefits for seniors, adults, and children, it’s also a double-edged sword— sometimes with a very sharp edge. As a caregiver, how do you teach internet safety to kids and seniors?

Teaching someone how to be safe online begins with knowing how to do it yourself. Unfortunately, the trouble is that even professional internet technicians are sometimes fooled by scams, hackers, and thieves. I learned the hard way, for example, that even using a trusted online payment service can sometimes allow other people to take advantage of you. Looking back on it, I can point out some warning signals I didn’t see at the time (that I should have noticed).

The lesson for me is the same for you. The key to internet safety is not preventing danger from happening, since that’s ultimately impossible. Instead, you simply need to be informed about the existing dangers and understand how to differentiate friend from foe.

You can teach kids, seniors, and yourself how to be safe in today’s digital world. Just keep these 3 principles in mind.


1. Teach them how to recognize nervousness.

All teachers teach. Great teachers, however, teach well because they remember what it was like to not understand a concept. That’s the same approach you must take when you teach someone how to navigate the internet. You have to remember that many children and seniors won’t understand what a trap is because all they see is the bait.

It’s a good idea to sit with them while they peruse the internet and see what comes naturally to them. Giving a little warning when you need to is the only way they will understand the difference between bait and everything else. The idea is to help them develop “healthy nervousness” in favor of internet safety.

Make sure they recognize when something is just too good to be true, especially when someone wants too much of their personal information.


2. Write down the most important reminders.

You should start with the basics. Make sure they at least write down the basics of email accounts and internet searches. Show them how to preview search results before clicking on them. For email, make sure they know how to move an unrecognized sender’s message from the inbox to the spam folder.

Notice that they are the ones who should write this down. You, as the teacher, are only responsible for making sure that they accurately communicate to themselves how to stay safe online. When they write down what they need to know for themselves, internet safety is better understood and achieved.


3. Install software that conducts security checks.

Most personal computers come pre-installed with anti-virus software. These are especially nice for kids and seniors since they are programmed to give warnings to anything that is blatantly malicious. That way, you can reassure them that they don’t have to be so uptight about what could happen. Still, make sure they know to err on the side of caution.



If you take the internet for granted, you’re already an expert. Why not share that expertise with your community? You can make a real difference in the lives of others just by teaching internet safety. There are vast opportunities and benefits to having a high-speed internet connection at home, so enabling children and seniors to take advantage of this resource is priceless.