Online Safety for Seniors – How to Keep Older Family Members Safe Online

Heard of the sandwich generation? Well, if you’ve got a tribe of kids and parents who are aging then you are a fully-fledged member! And as members of this special club, not only do we need to manage and keep our offspring in check, but we also have to reserve some energy to help our parents navigate life’s challenges which of course includes the online world. 

In the broadest sense, the sandwich generation is the ‘caught in the middle’ generation who have living parents and children to care for. More often than not, it’s people like us, smack-bang in middle age, who support both their parents and children financially, physically, and/or emotionally. And with life expectancies looking rosier than ever and many of us choosing to have careers before we become parents, it’s inevitable that us middle-aged folks are feeling a little squeezed at both ends! 

Digital Parenting Can Feel All Consuming 

Getting our head around keeping our kids safe online can feel overwhelming for many of us. Keeping up with the latest apps, games and platforms can often feel relentless and let’s not forget about trying to weave in cyber safety messages to ensure our kids make safe decisions online too. But when the downside of not being vigilant about online safety is so great, it’s essential that we extend our digital education messages to the older members of the family too! 

Over 90% of Aussie Seniors are Connected to the Internet 

One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that it gave a real push to those who were resisting getting online. And in most cases, that was the older member of our society. Research from ACMA shows that by 2020, over 90% of Australian seniors had internet connectivity in their homes compared to 68% in 2017. But as we all know, owning a car and driving it are 2 very different tasks!  

My parents, who are both in their late 70’s, do a pretty good job of managing their online lives. They bank online, are avid email senders and can even do a little Facetime, thanks to COVID! But they are a work in progress – like everyone. And while I try very hard to keep them up to date with new apps and risks, I have learnt over the years that less is more. That not overwhelming them is actually the key. In fact, the simpler I keep my updates and tips, the more likely they are to get onboard with my message.  

So, in the spirit of the experience with my much-loved mum and Dad, I‘d like to share with you the top things you can do to keep your much loved older family members safe when they go online. 

1. Invest in Protection Software 

I accept that there are no real guarantees in life but there are risk-minimizing decisions. And ensuring all devices have top-level security software is one of those. Not only will this protect your loved ones from downloading viruses and malware, but it will also allow them to shop with confidence at approved ‘safe’ websites, help them manage their passwords, locate their devices plus loads more. It’s such a small price to pay for increased peace of mind. Check out McAfee’s Total Protection software which can protect your family’s entire fleet of devices. 

2. It’s All About Passwords 

A secure password is a key to keeping one’s online life safe so taking some time to formulate a strategy for older family members is so worthwhile. Downloading a password manager was a total life changer for me. Not only did it help me create complex passwords that no human could ever generate but it remembers them for me too. I only have to remember the master password and it then automatically logs me in! Now, if this was set up carefully for older family members, this could be an amazing tool to protect their online life.  

I am also very aware that writing down passwords ‘in a special book’ is used very commonly. And if this is the only way that will work for your family members then try to make these passwords as complex as possible without overwhelming them. A complex, nonsensical sentence would work well here but just ensure each account has its own sentence in case the account gets hacked.      

3. Software Updates 

Out-of-date software is a little like leaving your front door unlocked – it makes it far easier for unwanted visitors. In almost every case, a software update includes a patch for a security vulnerability – a weak hole in the company’s software that could expose the user to risk. So, when I discovered that my parents were ignoring reminders for updates as they had become very annoying, I sprang into action! Most software updates can be automated so I strongly encourage taking some time to ensure all the software your family members use is set up to update automatically. 

4. ScamWatch 

Unfortunately, older Aussies are often the target of online scams. Scammers will work overtime to get their trust with the aim of extracting dollars or their personal details. I wish I had a silver bullet that would protect all vulnerable types from these cybercrims, but I don’t. The next best option is to talk about scams and some of the sneaky techniques scammers will use with them. I remind my parents regularly not to reply to emails from people they don’t know, not to even answer calls from numbers they aren’t familiar with and that if they receive a call from their bank and they aren’t sure whether it is legitimate, ask for the caller’s number so you can ring them bank – if the caller is legit, that won’t be a problem.  

If you think about it, keeping your older family members only is simply an extension of keeping your kids safe. The messages and strategies are almost identical! So, if your older family members use a Messenger app, why not set up a family group chat with both the younger and older family members? You can share news stories about online risks and better still, get the kids involved too! So, next time your parents have an issue with their phone – the kids will be able to help out! Awesome!! 

Take care 

Alex xx 

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