With Christmas fast approaching, shiny new tablets, laptops and phones are being wrapped up and packed ready for Santa to deliver them to our increasingly tech-savvy children. But how prepared are we when it comes to protecting our children from online bullying, overexposure or inappropriate content?
As a parent myself, keeping our girls safe as they get older is one of the biggest concerns I have. With everything our children need to know literally available at a click, it’s not always easy to understand how we can protect them and if there are easy steps we can take to do this.
Just today I read a not too unfamiliar story about how a six-year-old boy was allegedly sent a series of sexually explicit comments by an unknown man while he was playing Minecraft on his Xbox. The comments were apparently received via audio and written messages, yet it is only since this happened that his father admits he has learnt how to make things safe by adjusting the settings on his device.
The ‘safe’ age to be online?
Recently one of my friends posted on Facebook that they were worried about what the age limit was for kids to use popular social networking sites. Comments included:
- “It’s up to you as parents what you decide to show them.”
- “I think the proper age is 13, but they all seem to have one.”
- “It would be 25 if I had my way! Too many young kids have got accounts. I know some are as young as nine or 10!”
- “My advice is to keep them away for as long as possible as it’ll be a nightmare to police. It’s bad enough my parents being on it!”
- “Whether you like it or not they will get an account via mates or school IT lessons. Accept it and educated them.”
Most of us will agree that we need to educate our kids and do it early enough that it becomes ingrained into their everyday thinking. But at the same time, it’s our responsibility to keep our kids safe by understanding technology ourselves as it moves forward and not just relying on schools or friends to educate them.
Online safety tools 2014-15
There is a lot to consider when it comes to controlling what your children can see online, whether they are using chat, games, webcams, searching online or sharing through social networking sites. You can find settings, tools and advice to help you with this via your internet provider, mobile operator, the device itself or through an online service.
Each internet provider will offer different features when it comes to online security and parental controls, so it’s worth doing some research and finding out which one suits your family. They may include things such as:
- blocking websites
- setting time limits
- filtering sites (YouTube, for example) by certain ages or content
- history of sites viewed
- usage reports of online activity from anywhere in the world
- spam filtering with image blocking
- instant alerts when your kids try to view blocked sites or post confidential information.
Ultimately it’s really important that we talk to our children about online safety from an early age. So, for example, the sorts of things that should not be shared publicly, the dangers of talking to strangers online, not disclosing their address or sending pictures to strangers, and so on. You can also take the following steps:
- Set up filters on your home internet to keep inappropriate content out.
- Understand and implement safety settings on social networks and online services and talk them through with your children.
- Consider using supervision tools so you can keep an eye on what your children are posting or sharing online.
- Adjust your web browser security settings and protect passwords.
- Protect your computer with antivirus and antispyware software and update it regularly.
- Limit access to just approved apps and games.
It can feel like a huge task, so as well as being aware of the software you can download for parental controls, there are apps that you may want to consider as more of a ‘one-stop shop’ for protecting your family.
Home Halo is a new internet safety product launched by father and IT expert, Chris Gray, which uses a simple smartphone app, available for iPhone and Andriod, that allows parents to limit the content, time and accessibility that their children have with online devices.
Unlike software that needs to be installed on every device and managed independently, HomeHalo manages every device that connects to the home WiFi and controls the settings per user via the app – it’s an integrated smart router, cloud service and smartphone app in one.
Real-time status updates will allow you to see if all the necessary tools are running. If there is anything wrong on your child’s device you can correct it, whether you are at home or travelling for work.
3. Netgear: Download the app for free (you need to have the Netgear router to do this).
With Netgear’s Parental Controls you can control your settings at the router level to all of your connected devices. For example, block inappropriate and dangerous sites, restrict access by time and protect every device on your home network against malware and phishing through one central control point, the WiFi router.
Parental Controls can be managed via the web, which means you can make changes to settings if needed when you are away from home as long as you can connect to the internet.
Please note that this is just a small selection of the tools available. Do feel free to comment below if you would like to share any others that you use or give me your thoughts on how you protect your kids or plan to in the future.
For more information and advice about how to protect your kids online please visit the Childnet International website, which has lots of really great tips and downloadable posters and toolkits to share with your family.