Prepare Teens for College Amid COVID-19 and Cyberthreats


Sending children to college is a nerve-wracking event for families, even in the best of times. This year, with COVID-19 still lurking, we cannot forget the everyday threats facing young adults. The responsibilities of coming of age, such as owning a car, renting an apartment, or making credit card purchases, also come with significant risks.

In this final article of a two-part series on teens coming of age, USI Insurance Services’ personal risk experts share essential tips that can help parents and guardians enhance their child’s health, cybersafety and financial security during their college years. The article covers these key areas:

  • Returning to campus during COVID-19
  • Managing social media and other cyber-related threats
  • Maintaining a healthy financial lifestyle
  • Reducing the risk related to use of automobiles while at college

Returning to In-Campus Learning During a Pandemic

Families and students should be aware of college guidelines regarding COVID-19. An expanding list of U.S. colleges and universities require students receive a COVID-19 vaccine before arriving on campus this fall. Private colleges were first to make this decision; however, large public universities have now followed suit. To determine if your teen’s college is requiring a vaccine, visit

Students need to follow their school’s protocol for COVID-19 and understand the ramifications if rules are not followed. Most schools will require that students wear a mask indoors (and sometimes outdoors). This is in line with the current guidelines from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): it’s recommended that everyone in areas of substantial or high transmission wear a mask in public indoor places, even if they are fully vaccinated. Colleges will also require students to limit social gatherings and not congregate at large parties.

Noncompliance with COVID-19 rules can significantly impact a student’s degree progression and financial situation. Students who choose not to abide by the university guidelines may be moved to remote learning, suspended, or expelled. Expelled students are often ineligible for tuition refunds.

Manage Cyberthreats

Unlike corporations that spend millions of dollars training their employees in cyber best practices, colleges, especially public institutions, do not have the funds to conduct an extensive cyber education. Unfortunately, new students (most of who have limited credit history) are easy prey for common hacking techniques.

A USI client received an email from his son requesting $15,000 to assist with rent, purchasing books and living expenses for the quarter. Our client sent the money to his son as requested. Unbeknownst to our client, his son’s email had been hacked when using public Wi-Fi and the request for money was a scam. As a result of USI’s pre-college personal risk assessment, cyber coverage was in place, and the parents recouped their $15,000 loss. In addition, controls were implemented to avoid any additional impact to credit.

Families should educate their children of the potential dangers of public Wi-Fi and hackers. With better awareness, children can protect their own private information.

The following best practices can also help your teen protect their sensitive personal data::

  • Limit use of public Wi-Fi whenever possible.
  • Never share passwords with anyone.
  • Do not access bank accounts or other financial sites on shared computers.
  • Install antivirus protection on all computers and mobile devices.
  • Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication (2FA) when available.

Having spent the past year and a half with less in-person social interaction due to the pandemic, students have broadened their online social networks. Prior to leaving for college, parents and guardians should discuss limiting their child’s online presence to strictly family and friends. Families should also educate their children on social media etiquette and appropriate behavior.

As newfound freedom sets in, teens may make inappropriate comments, share explicit photos/content, or post opinionated, inappropriate material. It’s important for families to educate teens on exercising restraint online, especially on social media. A teen’s inability to constrain activities online may have a significant impact on their family’s reputation and finances. The risks may include legal responsibility for libel or slander, as well as difficulty obtaining gainful employment. In addition, transmitting photos or videos of other teenagers without their consent can lead to criminal and civil action against the person who transmitted the material. USI can help families implement measures to reduce exposures from online activity and obtain suitable cyber coverage, family protection and liability coverage to address these mentioned risks.


Build a Healthy Financial Lifestyle

Instilling strong financial habits in college-bound teens can help them avoid financial headaches later in life. Educating them on financial concepts, such as maintaining a savings account and keeping a daily budget to avoid overspending, can help lessen stress and instill healthy fiscal habits. Teens should be taught credit-building practices, such as paying bills on time, staying below the credit card limit, and periodically checking credit reports.

Families can also help their teens build a credit history by adding them as a joint credit cardholder or authorized user. The primary cardholder can limit the amount of money a teen spends each week or month and set other stipulations such as preapproving cash advances.

Proper protection can also be put in place to avoid incurring costs when teens do make mistakes. A daughter of a USI client attended a party at her college where she lost her wallet. She failed to put a freeze on her credit cards, as she thought the wallet would turn up eventually. Her parents received a notice that their daughter was attempting to buy car and place a $50,000 charge on their joint credit card.

Fortunately, the parents had consulted with USI and had already put identity theft protection in place, and the $50,000 charge was declined. USI personal risk advisers also walked the parents and daughter through steps they could take to protect their identities and prevent identity theft.

Consider sharing the following tips on credit card usage:

  • To avoid incurring late fees and interest charges, pay the balance on time and in full whenever possible. At the very least, pay more than the monthly minimum when the bill is due.
  • Do not exceed the credit limit. If you can pay for what you need with cash, check, or a debit card, do not use the credit card.
  • Do not finance living expenses with a credit card — reserve credit cards for emergencies.
  • Look for a card with a low annual percentage rate (APR). All credit cards have different terms and conditions. Learn what they offer before signing up.
  • Credit increases should not be permitted without approval from a parent or guardian.
  • Monitor teens’ progress by reviewing statements regularly. Opt for instant notifications from your banking institution for any charges above a pre-established amount.

Reduce Risky Driving Habits

Parents and guardians should be aware of this sobering statistic: one out of every four teenage drivers will be involved in a crash. Teen drivers, particularly those who are 15 to 19 years of age, have the highest rate of motor vehicle crashes among all age groups in the U.S. They contribute disproportionately to traffic fatalities, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. To assist in mitigating the liability exposure for such a risk, consider the following risk management strategies.

Families may want to consider keeping their vehicle at home rather than sending it to school with the teen driver. Many colleges offer transportation options to and from campus. Furthermore, keeping the vehicle at home affords a credit on the automobile policy, which saves premium and simultaneously reduces liability exposure.

If the teen does take the vehicle to school, rules should be established prior to the teen leaving. First and foremost, no one should be permitted to drive the vehicle except for your child. Insurance follows the vehicle. If your teen permits another person to drive the vehicle and there is an accident, then you have the liability exposure, not the teen driver. Parents and guardians may want to consider increasing liability coverage on the auto policy and/or adding an umbrella policy to offset this exposure. USI personal risk experts often assist clients with placing this coverage.

Families should also advise their teens on distracted driving, a leading cause of teenage auto accidents. Teenagers are more likely to read, send texts, eat, and listen to loud music while driving. A USI client’s son was texting and driving when he was involved in a car accident. The other party suffered serious physical injuries, resulting in permanent disabilities.

Medical damages alone exceeded $250,000 prior to rehabilitation and physical therapy. The injured party sued our client for $2,500,000 in damages. Fortunately, USI had consulted with the client at the time the son had originally obtained his license. Both the client’s automobile and excess liability policies responded to the suit, saving our client legal fees and court-awarded damages from the at-fault automobile accident.

Lack of sleep, which is common among students who stay up all night to study or engage in social events, can also lead to accidents. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, drivers ages 16 to 24 years are 80% more likely to be involved in a drowsy driving accident.

Families should stress to their young drivers the dangers of texting or taking their eyes off the road to glance at phones. Although phone use while driving should be discouraged entirely, parents and guardians can help by investing in Bluetooth technology to facilitate hands-free calling when absolutely necessary.     

Following are additional safe driving tips that parents and guardians can emphasize:

  • Create rules around your teen’s driving privileges and the consequences of violating them. The rules may include not driving after dark, always buckling up, and zero tolerance for drinking and driving or texting and driving.
  • Consider installing a phone blocker that prevents your teen from being able to use the phone while in the car. These gadgets can also be obtained from certain insurers for free.
  • Set a good example. As a parent or guardian, do not drive 90 mph on the interstate or text while driving. If you do it, your teen will think it’s OK to do it, too.
  • If you decide to keep your teenager on your policy, consider establishing a separate insurance policy for them or increasing your liability insurance for greater protection.
  • Encourage your teen to use ride-sharing services, especially for late-night social events that involve driving longer distances.