Your Guide to Keeping Children Safe Online
For children the Internet is a wonderful, expansive place. However, parents know that their children can be harassed, bullied, groomed, stalked or targeted by savvy marketers. Parents also know their kids can come across inappropriate materials such as websites or apps with themes of a pornographic, racist, violent, gory, hateful, disturbing, bizarre or otherwise offensive nature.
Making matters worse, identity thieves are increasingly targeting children because these breaches go undetected for much longer.
For parents, this article provides an in-depth discussion of the techniques you can use for ensuring the online safety for kids and keeping them from harm online.
There is No Substitute for Attentive Parenting
The same parenting rules you should use in the real (offline) world also apply for the online world. This means trying to get to know what your children are doing online, participating as appropriate, and taking the necessary time to coach and mentor them.
Check-in periodically on your children when they are online and ask them about what’s going on. If they are chatting, ask them with whom. You do not need to conduct an inquisition but rather to show interest. As in the offline world, you want to know what your children are up to after school in their free time.
In a nutshell, spend time with your children and take an interest in what they are doing online.
The SafeKids.com’s Family Contract for Online Safety is a great way to start the process. There is a “pledge” that children (of different ages) and parents can take. This is a good way to get the issues on the table and start the dialogue.
Basic Security Measures for your Children
“Harden” the Computers and Handheld Devices your Kids Use
Online safety for kids starts with the computers and devices they use. As always, their operating system and anti-malware apps should be up-to-date and properly configured. For a reminder see our ‘Top 10 Essential Internet Tips’.
If possible, consider having your children’s computer (especially for younger children) in a common area such as the family room or living room. This alone can prevent a lot of potential mischief. This is much harder, if not impossible, to do with handheld devices such as tablets or smartphones, so hold off on these purchases for your kids until you think they are “online aware” enough for them.
It is also a good idea to configure the user accounts and profiles on the devices that your children use to have limited privileges. This limits both the inadvertent damage they can do on the device as well as the damage hackers or malicious websites can inflict should they target your child’s device.
Have a Wi-Fi Curfew
Just as you would in the real world, also consider introducing a curfew on how long your children can stay online. Most wireless Internet connection routers can be programmed to automatically stop Internet access between certain times. This can be a very effective way to automatically enforce the curfew; for example, at 9 pm the router simply stops working until the starting time the next day. No more arguments about when Internet time is over!
Web Browsing Protection for Kids
On the Internet, inappropriate websites are a mere keyword search and selection away. It is also possible for children to stumble on these materials quite innocently and accidentally. For this reason, consider using site blocking apps. These prevent your child’s device from connecting to and displaying such content. Though not always foolproof, a site blocking app can be a powerful tool to help protect your children.
The best site blocking app for you will greatly depend on your specific needs and the age of your children. It is recommended that you browse the offerings and read the various reviews to determine what is most suitable for you and your family (and your budget). You can check these sources for the latest offerings:
- for free apps, check resources such as CNet > Security Software > Parental Control (check the box ‘Free’)
- for premium apps, take this shortcut or manually navigate Amazon’s categories as follows, Software > Antivirus & Security > Parental Control
Social Media Safety
The safety tips we discuss in ‘What Information Never to Share or Post on Social Media’ apply especially to children. Instill in your children the good sense that they should not disclose their personal information on social media. They should also never set up meetings in person on the basis of online friendships unless you participate.
Interestingly, it is not just bullies, predators and hackers that we need to be wary of as a threat to online safety for kids. There are also privacy considerations too. Increasingly, online profiling and tracking firms, including savvy marketers, are targeting their efforts specifically at children. This sometimes takes the seemingly innocuous form of games and contests which entice children to submit personal information. This information is later used to build brand recognition as early as possible or to peddle products and services, sometimes directed at the parents through their children.
Children love to chat on social media and this may be the most difficult sort of Internet activity for you to take an interest. You could completely block your children from performing these activities, but this is probably not feasible or even desirable. You could also use a monitoring app (discussed below) to keep tabs on them, but that may be somewhat ethically troubling and do you really want to know everything your children are doing and chatting about online?
Child Safety Online Checklist
In the end, it may simply be best to trust your children and instill in them the general principles throughout this website that are most relevant to them. At a minimum, try making sure your children:
- don’t give out personal information
- don’t share their pictures or personal details with strangers
- don’t set up meetings in person without a parent being present
- don’t select links or accept attachments in messages from unknown sources
- don’t install apps without your supervision and help
- don’t have accounts with unlimited privileges (disable administrator level access for your kids)
- understand that people they interact with online may be disguising, exaggerating or misrepresenting their true identity or masquerading as someone else entirely
- tell you about any troubling or upsetting incidents that do occur
Monitoring Your Children’s Online Activities
There are plenty of monitoring apps available if you want to keep tabs on what your children are doing online. Monitoring apps are different from the parental control apps mentioned earlier. Parental control apps prevent your children from accessing certain web content whereas monitoring apps actually record and can alert you about your children’s online activity based on criteria of your choosing. Monitoring choices could cover web page visits, email messages, chat exchanges, items downloaded, apps launched, torrent file-sharing activity and, if you want, even every single keystroke they make.
Usually these apps will alert you by email or text message the moment any potentially inappropriate behavior is detected. Some of these apps will even let you play back everything your child was doing on their device, similar to an instant replay.
Obviously, not everyone is comfortable with this level of “spying”, even if for the sake of online safety for kids, but it’s good to know the options available. Plus you can always adjust the settings to detect only the most risky of behavior.
Browse Amazon’s most popular monitoring and parental control apps to find the one that’s best for your family.