Having “the talk” with parents — the tech talk, that is

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Reviewing a lease, preparing a favorite recipe, applying for a loan … these are all things a typical college student might ask parents how to do. But these days, students are more likely to turn to a quick internet search for answers to just about everything.

Parents, however, still tend to depend on their children for tech-related questions. For example, my mom called recently to ask me whether an email was really from PayPal—after she clicked the link and entered several screens’ worth of information. Only after she was asked for her social security number and mother’s maiden name did she become suspicious.

Once kids leave for college (or move out) it makes it that much harder for parents to get answers. So before you leave the nest, make sure you have “the talk” to ensure your folks will be prepared when their tech guru isn’t around.

If your experience is anything like mine, here are the questions you should help them with before leaving:

Which of these settings should I have turned on on my phone? Typically, the big ones are Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Bluetooth is not needed unless you have a device that requires it to be turned on (smart watch, health devices, etc.). Wi-Fi, on the other hand, should be turned on when you are near a trusted Wi-Fi hotspot, such as your home or work. This will typically allow for much faster internet connection. When connecting to a new Wi-Fi network in public, always check with the business to confirm that you are connecting to the proper Wi-Fi network. Hackers sometimes set up fake Wi-Fi networks in order to steal people’s information when they connect to the fake network.

Should I click this link? No! Never click links when you are unsure about their validity. Instead, proceed to the main vendor page directly (for example, a bank’s website), log into your account, and see whether there are any notifications about the email you were sent.

Is this email really from who it says it is? Here are some common things to look for when it comes to email phishing. Does the email have misspellings or other mistakes? Does the “from” address match their webpage exactly? Is there any reason for this company to email you? If you have the slightest doubt about the email’s validity, trust your instincts. Do not click the link. Instead, proceed to the vendor’s site by typing their address into your browser.

My computer is running slow! What should I do? First, check to make sure you do not have a lot of applications open at the same time. Try closing some of these applications. If that doesn’t work, then reboot your computer to see if that helps (see below for instructions). If it doesn’t help, you should check to see whether you’re infected with malware, which can slow down operations. You can use a free online AV scanner such as ESET Online Scanner.

Why is my internet not working? Although rebooting doesn’t sound like rocket science, it is usually the solution to a lot of common computer problems. So make sure your parents know how to do this and where the modem and router are located. Feel free to share these instructions:

To reboot your Windows computer, press the Windows key on your keyboard or click the Start button, then choose Restart. Or press the Windows Key +D, then Alt +F4. If you can’t find these combinations, typically pressing the power button on your computer once will cause the computer to reboot. If your computer is completely frozen, hold the power button for several seconds.

To reboot the modem and router, unplug the power cable from the device then wait 30 seconds before plugging it back in.

Point them to a cybersecurity awareness class. This will help parents stay up to date on the newest trends in cybersecurity as well as the best practices associated with these trends. Hopefully this will also reduce the number of questions you are asked every time they get a new email or hear a news story about cybercrime.

Most important: Teach them how to use search engines. That way, if they run into a technical issue, they can look up the answer for themselves without calling you at all hours. Be sure to have them stick to the first page of results for the most reliable answers. If the answer is not on the first page, they can re-ask the question of the search engine in a slightly different way.

written by Ben Reed, ESET senior technical content strategist


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