In this era of technology and internet connectivity, we parents face challenges our parents never dreamed of. Among these new challenges is how to keep your kids safe online. Technology is changing so rapidly, it sometimes seems like a never ending game of catch up.
Times Are Different
Whenever I want to stun my children into silence, I bring up the fact that I didn’t own a computer until after I had graduated college or that I pre-date the internet. If I really want to shock them, I mention that not only did I not have a cell phone growing up, the home phone was actually tethered to the wall so that I had to stand or sit in one place while talking on the phone.
I’m pretty sure they have a mental image of me walking my pet dinosaur when I tell them these things since they have been raised in an era where that lifestyle is completely foreign to them. Because I didn’t grow up with a computer, the internet, YouTube or Facebook, I didn’t learn any lessons from my parents about how to help my children navigate the inherent dangers within them.
Because I am a pessimist at heart, turning a blind eye and hoping for the best wasn’t really an option for me. As an adult, I have fallen victim to aggressive or misleading advertising, inappropriate content, fraud attempts, computer viruses and spyware.
Once I had children, I had to consider how to safeguard them from not only these dangers but also online predators and cyber bullying. How can parents protect their children from all the inappropriate or malicious content and users on the internet without banning computer usage altogether?
Here are a few ideas and resources to help you protect your children from online threats.
Online Safety Tips
- Make sure your children understand the importance of not sharing personal information online. The fewer details about themselves, the better! They should NEVER provide their full name, age, contact information or any other details that would make it easy for a stranger to find and identify them.
- Encourage your children to come to you with ANY concerns about things they see or read online that makes them uncomfortable.
- Set up a family e-mail address to be used for registering for online accounts or filling in online forms that way you can monitor any messages sent to your children from websites or forums they visit.
- Use the parental control settings on your browser, search engines, and computer.
- If possible, position the computer in a high-traffic room so that you can monitor what your children are doing when they are online.
- Friend, follow, etc. your children’s social media profiles so that you can monitor their interactions.
- Some people will balk at this next one as an invasion of privacy, but I recommend requiring your children to provide you with all their passwords. This is helpful for them in case they ever forget a password, but it also gives you access to randomly check what they are doing online. My personal belief is that as long as I am their legal guardian, am paying for the computer, the electricity and the internet access, I am entitled to that information.
Online Safety Tools
Tell your children to check with you before using a new site. I recommend Common Sense Media to vet websites.
- Commonsensemedia.org provides reviews of websites (in addition to movies, television shows, games, apps, and music). This a great resource for determining whether or not a site is appropriate for your child. It is also helpful in finding kid-friendly sites if you are looking for recommendations.
- They’ve recently developed an app (available in Google Play, the App Store, and Amazon for the Kindle) that helps you immediately discover what is okay for your children “to watch, play, do, and download.”
- You can create profiles for each of your children so that recommendations will be tailored to their ages.
- You can scan barcodes to read reviews before you rent or purchase a game or video.
- You can find the editor’s top picks for each age.
Use software to go beyond the parental controls of your browser, search engine and computer.
- Net Nanny allows you to set filters for 18 different categories of online content, block pornography, set time limits or time frames for kids to be online, receive reports and e-mail alerts, and customize settings for each family member. Cost is $39.99/year for one computer or $59.98/year to cover three computers. You can also purchase Net Nanny Social which helps you monitor your kids’ social networks for $19.99/year.
- CyberPatrol allows you to set filters for each family member, prevent dangerous downloads, establish time limits and times of day for internet usage, monitor your kids’ internet behavior, block words and phrases used by predators and prevent personal information from being revealed. Cost is a flat, one-time charge for the software of $39.95 for up to three computers, $59.95 for four computers, and $74.95 for 5 computers.
- GetNetWise is a site that helps you find the best tools for your specific concerns (e.g. time limiting, filtering & blocking, or kid-oriented search engines). In addition, the site is a treasure trove of information related to kids’ online safety.
No matter what strategies and tools you employ to keep your children safe while they are online, don’t forget that nothing is more effective than your involvement, oversight and guidance. To learn more about what you can do visit Childnet International, a non-profit organization whose mission is to make the internet safe for children.