Remember the school bully who took your lunch money? Ah, the good old days. Now that bully has his eyes on a much bigger prize. And we often send our kids to school with a huge target on their back designed to attract that bully: a pair of pretty white earbuds or over-ear headphones.

The tech devices kids carry to school are worth so much more than our lunch money was. And those headphones announce, in big letters, “I have something expensive in my pocket that would be easy to steal!” Earbuds—and a kid who’s absorbed in whatever’s on the screen of the device he’s connected to—are not only pointing to an expensive item but also saying to any bully or thief that his target will be deaf to his approach and too distracted to notice a thing till it’s too late.

“We tell kids,” says Ward Clapham, a former police officer and the vice president of Investigations and Recovery Services at Absolute Software, which makes LoJack for Mobile Devices, “that device is like five crisp hundred-dollar bills. Don’t wave it around!” You may have gotten the phone for free with a contract or passed down an older one and would not be devastated by its loss. Or it might be a loss you can’t easily afford. Whatever the phone means to you, it’s always worth a lot of money to a thief.

When you think of it that way, walking around distracted wearing earbuds is asking for trouble. “These are great times for thieves,” agrees Clapham. It’s not only teens who do this. I looked around recently and saw all sorts of people—women walking alone, kids, adults on bikes—doing this. It’s no wonder that 1.6 million smartphones were stolen in the U.S. in 2012. And many people were beaten up or killed during those thefts. Absolute Software looked at where those thefts occurred and created a Top 10 list of places where laptops are stolen. And K-12 schools are number one that list.

Time to sit the kids down for a chat about theft prevention? I think so.

The theft is bad enough. But when it comes to kids and technology, the harm doesn’t end there. Kids live their lives on their devices, which have photos, texts, log-ins to social media accounts and much more. If the bully who steals a phone can access the data on it, the results could be devastating socially and emotionally. How about if the mean kid who once took your lunch money had your private photos and texts and an easy way to post them online for the world to see?

Kids need to understand that their phone is like cash to anyone who can resell it—and a gold mine for a bully. So teach them to stop waving it around. “Don’t wear white earbuds,” suggests Clapham. “Or only wear one in one ear. Hide it behind your hair. Get a Bluetooth headset that goes behind your neck and under a collar or hair.”

And password protect that phone! If you lose the phone, it’s expensive. But if your personal life is suddenly in the hands of a cruel enemy, it can be devastating. A password will make it much harder for a bully to do irreparable damage.

“But do not fight to keep the phone!” Warns Clapham. “If a thief wants it, give it up. Let the police recover it.” He has, unfortunately, seen too many instances of people getting hurt or killed trying to keep a thief from taking a device. He also warns against trying to recover a phone yourself using its GPS location tools. “That’s very dangerous,” he says. “Let the police handle it.”

Clapham also suggests that you install his company’s software, LoJack for Mobile Devices. On certain Samsung phones, that recovery software will even survive a factory reset, a disincentive for thieves.

Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at