OPSEC or Operational Security evokes thoughts of the cliché posters during World War II reminding everyone to keep troop movements a secret and not let the enemy win. However, Operational Security is just as important today and in many ways is a lot easier to violate. Social media encourages and enables individuals to turn what’s happening in their everyday lives into personal news stories.
It is easy for many adults to think that their status updates are just on Facebook and won’t get anyone in trouble. However, social media and other open sources are how a lot of foreign intelligence is gathered that can put our troops in harms way.
One of the most difficult parts of being a military parent is explaining OPSEC to children in a non-threatening way. How can you explain to a generation that is encouraged to post every last moment of their lives online that they need to be careful not to give “the enemy” too much information?
Much of the information about OPSEC is fear based and seems to be trying to cause paranoia. Scaring your children into not saying anything about deployment is really a negative way to go about a very important issue.
OPSEC: What To Avoid
A parent shouldn’t attempt to explain OPSEC unless they fully understand what it is. Rather than tell your children that they can’t tell anyone about deployment, give them specific examples of what to avoid in conversation and social media posts.
The general idea is to avoid giving specifics about what your service member does, where they are (beyond country), when they are on a mission or specifics about when they’ll return. For more information about OPSEC, check out this article.
The first thing you’ll want to talk about with your children is the different emotions associated with a parent getting deployed. Anger, sadness or just plain confusion are all normal reactions and you should reassure your child that it’s normal to express these emotions.
However, rather than post specifics about a parents deployment on a social media website, let them know that they can discuss those specifics with you, their siblings or other trusted adults.
Rather than explain Operational Security as something that will limit your child’s expression, consider phrasing it as a way for them to do their part to keep their parent and country safe.
Many children are proud of a parent’s service and you should let them know that following the OPSEC guidelines keeps everyone safe and is a way to be a hero too and contribute to the mission. Phrasing it like this will make your child feel included and important rather than excluded and limited.
Sometimes the best way to get your children to follow the rules of OPSEC is to have them be your monitor. We all slip up and mention a few things we probably shouldn’t and children are great monitors. Have them get used to what is appropriate to say by being your reminder if you slip up.
Review General Online Safety
Even though your children are constantly bombarded with messages telling them to be safe online, it never hurts to have a brief reminder before a deployment to emphasize the importance of online safety and OPSEC.
No long-winded explanations are necessary, just review that they understand talking to someone in a chat room doesn’t mean they’re suddenly best friends and you shouldn’t give away personal information online and this includes information about a parent’s deployment.
A General Tip
Sometimes it’s hard for adults to remember what it’s like as a kid when it seems like adults are keeping secrets from you. Children may take the absence of information about their job, location and return as a sign that you don’t trust or love them rather than a safety precaution.
It’s important to give them enough information so they know you’ll be coming back without telling them so much before you know they can handle keeping certain information quiet.
The best advice to parents about to go through a deployment is to explain OPSEC in a way that isn’t meant to scare them, and rather try to get them involved and feeling like they’re doing their part.