Online Safety for Kids

Online Safety for Kids

As parents, we have enough to worry about without also having to worry about computer viruses, malware, predatory advertising, anti-social messages, objectionable content and predators.

Online videos, social media, video games and email, basically the entire internet can be equally dangerous as it can be beneficial. So, our goal isn’t to ban the internet or eliminate screen time from the lives of our children. Instead, our goal is to harness the internet for our benefit.

Protection requires two things …. knowledge and vigilance. I can help you with one!

Parents, Guardians and caregivers must take an active role in setting up and maintaining the tools used to protect our most precious ones.

They may appear savvy but they need guidance to navigate the perils of the internet.

They may appear savvy but they need guidance to navigate the perils of the internet.

Monitor Accounts

If you haven’t done so already, you should set up email accounts for your child. Click here for a guide on setting up accounts for minors.

For older kids, they may have already beaten you to the punch, but it is not too late to recover. Have a conversation with your child about responsible internet use. This includes handing over their email account, mobile phone, laptop computer access credentials (a fancy phrase for password or PIN) and changing the password recovery account to your address. This ensures that they can’t change the password without your knowledge.

To monitor internet use across a range of devices, it may be best to install monitoring software or hardware like Kaspersky Safe Kids or Circle by Disney. There is also Net Nanny and Norton Family Premiere are on the pricier side. These solutions let you get real-time access to what your children are accessing and can be configured to block questionable content.

Further, as the parent administrator, you can remotes monitor and manage how, when and what your child can access across multiple platforms.

On mobile, tweaking parent controls to restrict adult content, app store purchases, and screen time is a good idea.

Set Boundaries

Hardware tied software like iOS Family Time and Android Family Link empower parents to establish and maintain boundaries,

Ideally, parents should set digital access rules for children; this is important in the home and arguably more important when your child is with friends. Reinforcing rules at home is hard enough, let alone when they visit friends that have more liberal rules (if any).

Back then, we didn’t have digital anything really, but I do remember forgetting the rules my parents set at sleepovers. And I bet you do too.

When we are not around to enforce the rules, adequately configured software can help.

Make a list what is and is not acceptable as it related to the duration of screen time, the apps that can be used, the information that can be shared, online purchased and who may be contacted and agree on that list with your child.

Make it absolutely clear that conversations online never turn into meetings IRL (in real life) without your express permission.

Take Action

Once the framework is set - you can see what's happening and limited how it can be done - then its time to take some specific steps to ensure safety and security.

Install Anti-virus Software

Immediately install, and regularly update anti-virus/anti-malware software. Suspicious links and attachments in email, popup ads and bogus websites are hard enough for us as adults to navigate let alone less savvy children. Having anti-virus software is back up in case the kid slept through the lesson on avoiding unknown attachments.

Increase Social Media Privacy

Children under 13 are not supposed to be on the most popular social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and the like. For older children, setting, reviewing, and as necessary, updating privacy settings are critical.

Working with your child, apply the most restrictive privacy setting possible. Then, because they often change (Facebook, I'm looking at you) check the privacy settings periodically and update to add another layer of protection for your child.

Another must do .... friend/follow your kids on social media. Too bad if they don't like it, it's in the "parenting manual".

Enable YouTube Restricted Mode and Install YouTube Kids

Similar to social media, children under 13 should not have their own YouTube account. Yet, there is a tonne of content specifically designed for children. Chances are, you've been in a pinch, found Junior's favourite show on YouTube and planted him in from of the screen just so you have had some peace.

I'm not knocking you. I've been there myself.

Consider turning off auto-play so that you and not YouTube are choosing the videos being watched and definitely use Restricted Mode to filter out some content not suitable for young viewers (as they say).

For really young viewers, there is YouTube Kids. This kid-friendly, dedicated app which is controlled by a parent Google account has curated content that is generally good for children with the occasional exception. Notable, interspersed with the animated, educational and entertaining videos are thinly veiled sales pitches for toys. Be wary.

Keep Talking

As the saying goes, we need to teach our children to not to be phished. Hmm. A bit of a mixed metaphor there, but you get the point.

Teach your children necessary online skills such as how to create strong passwords, how to back up their data, develop a healthy scepticism, keep devices physically safe and regularly audit and update privacy settings.

Be vigilant in your pursuit of online safety for children.

Be vigilant in your pursuit of online safety for children.

These teaching sessions need not be formal or structured. But they do need to happen. Teaching and learning go hand in hand … for the teacher. Be sure to listen to any challenges or concerns that are affecting your child … and their friends.

Like everything else in life worth doing, there are no shortcuts. As parents, we must lead by example, take the time to teach and make the time to monitor.

You are now armed with knowledge. Time to be vigilant.

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