The Ultimate Parent Guide for Protecting Your Child on the Internet
As parents, it is one of our many responsibilities to try to keep our children safe at all times. Technology has become of even greater importance in the lives of our children, and with the constant advancements, keeping up with what you need to know to keeps kids safe online in 2018 is more important than ever before.
1. What Is The Right Age To Introduce a Child Technology?
Do you remember how old your little one was when they were first introduced to technology?
With the rise in our use of technologies at home, including the infamous Alexa, and with many more advancements to come as AI takes significant strides forward, kids are now being introduced to tech so much sooner in their lives than ever before.
In figures released following a recent parent technology survey, just over 85% of parents admitted to using technology in order to occupy their children and keep them busy. By the time children two, they will most likely have already been given their first Internet-enabled device. It is reported that over 83% of households are now reporting to have tablets or smartphones, so it’s no wonder that children are becoming depending on technology to occupy their brains and keep them entertained more earlier in their lives than ever before.
If we take a look outside of the home, and venture into schools and educational settings, technology is present everywhere. Teachers and other learning professionals are setting homework that forces children to use technology for research, as well as providing recommendations of specific apps to use for various educational avenues and tasks.
With all this in mind, there is no right or wrong answer with regards to this question. The key to remember, and this goes for adults just as much as children is to control and monitor.
There are some grave threats online today, and where children are concerned, it is our responsibility to ensure we protect our children from the dangers that lurk online.
Thanks to modern technology, we are now able to protect kids online better than ever before. So, although the threats may have increased, so has our ability to monitor and control what our children see.
Take time to read this comprehensive guide to protecting your child’s online life. You might learn a few new tricks for yourself, but more importantly, you will be able to confidently give your child the freedom to explore the internet, without risk and with less worry from your side as to what they might or do.
2. When Was the Last Time You Checked Your Childs Activity Logs?
If you haven’t heard of an online activity log before, don’t worry. In alarming figures released as part of a campaign to help kids stay safe online, a survey revealed almost 70% of parents have never checked their child’s internet logs.
The truth is, that as parents of a certain age we never grew up with technology like our children are doing today. Mobile phones weren’t really a ‘thing’ back then, and for some, it isn’t always easy to get help or learn how to make sure your child is safe online.
While technology is changing at an exponential rate, one thing that is for certain is that it is here to stay. While we might consider things that happen online to not be ‘real-world’ activities. The way our kids see things is very, very different.
Checking activity logs is not spying, and it is not an invasion of their privacy. It is carefully keeping an eye on where they are going and what they are doing when they are online. Many parents who monitor their child’s activity logs feel like it helps them to understand their child better, it helps them feel reassured that they know what is going on, and more importantly, it enables parents to extend the courtesy of freedom to their child, to explore, but to do so with boundaries.
- Do you Snapchat? Do you Tweet?
- Do you know about the new anonymous social media messaging app that the kids are going crazy about?
Don’t worry. It doesn’t actually matter whether you do or don’t. One of the most important things you need to remember before we get stuck into the details of this guide to keeping your child safe online is that you do not need to be a technical mastermind. You do not need to worry about any complex terminology, and more importantly, once you have finished reading this guide, you should find the whole task of internet safety for kids, far easier to understand, and you will feel much more comfortable knowing that your child is still safe under your watchful eye while they are browsing the web.
3. Parental Controls
This is the very first step you need to take in securing the protection of your child online. Most often, they are provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and enable you to add certain restrictions to the types or categories of sites that can be accessed from your home network.
Parental Controls enable parents to restrict access to certain content. They can be found on mobile devices, your TV, computer games, and within other types of software. Your Internet Service Provider will also have a parental control feature.
The purpose of parental controls was to help parents prevent certain categories of content from being found and viewed by children. It could be content that is not age-appropriate or a particular type of content that is filtered based on the subject or category.
There are different types of parental controls.
Usage Controls – which can limit the time spent accessing content or preventing specific types of use.
Content Filters – which can prevent a child from accessing content that is age restricted.
Monitoring – which can detect locations and activities when using a specific device.
Computing Use Management Tools – which can enforce the usage of specific software
For anyone reading this who isn’t overly confident with technical controls or computing in general, the good news is that it is not hard to implement any of the parental controls mentioned above.
Another important thing to mention at this point is that it is important to talk with your child. Implementing controls is important, as a safety net; but talking with your child and setting out clear boundaries for what they can and cannot do online is also important. If they make a mistake, be there and be calm. Helping them to learn is all part of the process.
4. 7 Ways to Make Sure Your Child Is Safe Online
In this next section, we go into detail with the specific areas of the internet and the devices they use. We explain clear guidelines and depending on the age of your child, some of these will apply right now, and others will be applicable in the future.
1. Social Media
For many parents, social media wasn’t around when we were children. While parents have always been concerned with video games and TV content, Social Media is an entirely new ball game altogether.
With more and more children being exposed to social media from a younger age, and many children being allowed to use social media before the regulated age of 13, they are spending more time than ever on social media.
Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube are reported to be the most popular social media channels with teenagers. According to a recent report, 95% of teenagers now have access to a mobile device, with almost 50% of them being constantly connected. Another interesting statistic is that children ages between 13-17 spend almost nine hours per day online, while those aged between 8-12 spend almost 6 hours daily connected to the internet.
Another real worry and one which is echoed around the world is the addictiveness of social media platforms. Aside from this, it can also unlock the gates to other issues such as talking with strangers, bullying, and inappropriate content.
The difficulty is, social media is considered to be a central part of teenagers developing their social identity. It is a way they can communicate with people, and how they connect and share their lives, experiences, and feeling with their friends.
Blocking access is not the answer. Instead, talk with your child and establish fair boundaries so that they can have a positive experience, and more importantly, that they feel comfortable coming to talk to you about something if they are worried or have a question that needs answering.
Rules for Keeping your Child Safe on Social Media
- Don’t encourage your child to use social media until they reach the required age.
- Make sure the computer is kept in a place where you can see their activities.
- Set time limits for how much time your child can spend on social media.
- Make sure you keep a close eye on the content they are liking, sharing, and posting.
- Using privacy settings, make sure your child’s social media accounts are as private as possible.
- Block any location access settings to each and every social media app or platform in use.
Online Gaming and Computing Consoles
From as far back as time goes, gaming consoles have been a source of worry for parents across the globe. With games now seemingly packed with violence, obscenities, and sexual content, it is more important than ever before to keep a watchful eye on the types of games your kids are playing. Couple that with the addictiveness that comes with wanting to level-up, progress, and beat companions or rivals who play together online, and it is no wonder that online gaming and computing consoles pose such a risk where online safety for children is concerned.
Don’t be tricked into thinking that games which are certified as X-rated or suitable for 18+ are actually ok because your child tells you their friends are all playing it. If it states 18+ only, then stand your ground, it will have been given that rating for a reason.
Almost 90% of children in the states aged between 2-17 play video games. While those who are at the younger end of this scale will have no desire to seek out trouble, without the right controls in place, it is very easy for them to take a wrong turn.
Add to this the fact that most games will now have online chat areas, along with the ability to make purchases with a quick click of a button and you can start to see just why online gaming is another major area of concern, specifically where the online safety for children is concerned.
While games present a fun and interactive way for kids to learn and develop their skills, they can also result in children forming relationships online with others who are playing the same game, along with opening themselves up to cyberbullying and harassment.
Thankfully, almost all gaming consoles provide parental controls, allowing you to control and monitor their activities and gameplay.
Rules for Keeping your Child Safe when Gaming Online
- Set up parental controls in order to restrict the type of games they can access online
- Ensure that their gaming profile is set to private
- Don’t turn a blind eye or ignore what they are doing, encourage openness and try to understand why they enjoy playing the games they choose
- If you have more than one child, make sure they each have their own profile set up.
- Make sure you review the age guidance for the games they are playing online
- Limit the people they can talk to online when gaming or turn off the functionality altogether.
3. Mobile Applications and Devices
If Bill Gates is to be believed, the safest age to give a child a phone is 14. However, statistics report that the average child gets their first mobile device at the age of 10. There are many reasons parents choose to give their children a mobile or smartphone. For many, this is predominantly driven by safety. Ironically, the act of wanting to make sure they stay safe and can contact you whenever and wherever could indeed open the floodgates.
Knowing you can always contact your child wherever they may be or that they can let you know they arrived somewhere safely is hugely reassuring. What’s more, you can also use the GPS function to track their exact location. All of this brings peace of mind.
However, due to the fact that Smartphones can be misused, in some instances, they can cause a child to become vulnerable. Due to the fact that a phone is a small and very private object, it is not always so easy to see how a child is using them or what exactly they do on them.
If you are thinking about giving your child a mobile phone, it is important to make sure they understand how you expect them to use it. Having clear guidelines set-out and talking to them about the internet and the dangers that exist online is key. It is a big responsibility and should be treated as such.
Rules for Keeping your Child Safe with Mobile Phones
- Make sure you control when apps are added onto the phone. If you cannot do this, try to enforce a rule that your child needs to get permission from you first. In most cases, a password is required before a download is allowed.
- Educate your child as to the type of things to watch out for. Texts or calls from unknown numbers. Friend requests from people they do not know.
- Make sure your child does not give out their mobile phone number both online and offline to people without first getting your permission.
- Ensure they understand not to post nasty comments or say bad things. If you wouldn’t say something to someone in person, then don’t do it online.
- Be aware of any rules that the school has around mobile phone usage and ensure your child is familiar with and understands them clearly.
- Don’t let your child take their phone to bed with them. Not only will this prevent them from getting to sleep, but other children their own age would most likely not be using their phones in the evening and doing so would only most likely lead to unwanted attention.
Tip: An easy way to implement rule number 6 would be to set up a charging station for phones or devices in a central location downstairs. All devices will need overnight charging, and this is an easy way to make sure that your child is not on their phone during the night time when they should be sleeping.
Other rules you can adopt include setting up parental controls, mobile location tracking, and also set limits for the amount of time they can spend on their smartphone. Always lead by example, if you do not want your child to use their phone at the table, then do not sit on your phone during dinner.
Bullying no longer takes place on the way to school, on the school bus and in the local vicinity, it’s happening every minute of every day online. With teen suicides on the rise and online harassment being hailed as the cause for many of these, cyberbullying is a real issue with huge consequences.
It can occur on any platform, anywhere, anytime, and takes many forms. Cyberbullying is ugly. From threatening texts and messages, social media tagging rumours, doctoring of images, private photos being shared without permission, spoof posting, people imitating other children, and generally humiliating or degrading them. It all happens a lot more than any of us care to imagine.
Because the nature of the bullying can become very public, its impact is inflated. If a child was bullied at school, on the bus or in the playground, the impact was contained and witnessed only by a limited number of people. However, that is no longer the case. Now, even the most private of information can be spread online in a rapid fashion. Whatever the incriminating post is, it will more than likely remain online indefinitely, unless it is removed or taken down by a moderator. As a final note about cyberbullying, it is much harder to deal with than traditional bullying. Because the cyberbullies can make content 24/7, it is hard for the victims to get any kind of relief.
For those who partake in cyberbullying, and get caught, this can significantly impact future employment, university applications, and much more. In some instances, it could ever result in the individual obtaining a criminal record. This is why having an open conversation with your child about what constitutes cyberbullying, what forms it can take, the impacts it can have and the seriousness of the consequences that arise from anyone being caught.
The awful statistics behind this demonstrate that in the US alone, more than 20% of children who were of high school age have experienced bullying at some point in their lives. Of this figure, over 15% of that bullying took place online.
How to Tell If Your Child Is Being Bullied Online
While it is very difficult to know if your child is being subjected to cyberbullying, and many of those whom it happens to do not immediately speak up through fear or embarrassment; there are a couple of practical things which can be done to combat cyberbullying.
Pay close attention to your child’s behaviour at all times.
However, when they transition to high school, you need to be extra vigilant. Bullying can start almost instantly, so it’s important to ensure that you have an open dialogue with your child and that they feel comfortable talking with you. There are also a number of warning signals that you can watch out for to help you know if your child is being bullied.
- If they close down a social media account and create a new one.
- If they withdraw from wanting to be social, particularly if this is something they enjoyed in the past.
- People who are being bullied or even doing the bullying themselves will tend to want to hide their screens from others.
- They might shut down or become cagey if you ask them what they are doing online.
- Another key factor to look for is that they may seem to withdraw from family meals and activities, and appear to be stressed out, emotional, and even irrational with their attitude and behaviour towards others in the family.
5. Inappropriate Content on the Internet
Due to the openness of the internet and the almost unrestricted access to information and other forms of content, it is quite easy for anyone, adults and children to stumble across content that is deemed as inappropriate.
For children, the content they view could cause serious upset, confusion or even distress. Inappropriate content takes many forms, and not all of it is well-hidden with safety or access controls in place. It could be a video of something, it could be sexual content, or it could contain violence or swearing.
For any child, whatever their age, seeing something they shouldn’t online causes a mixed bag reaction. It is absolutely normal that they will not come straight to their parents. In some cases, they worry that their devices could be confiscated or that they might get told off. This is why having an open dialogue with them is so important.
Remember, they might be upset, angry, confused, embarrassed or even afraid following exposure to inappropriate content online. Always be calm and always remain rational. Be there for them, without judgement or prejudice.
Sexually Explicit Content
Depending on your child’s age, you may or may not have had a conversation about sex. Online pornography is a real issue and one that needs tackling head-on. There has been much research conduction that proves the detrimental impact porn can have on young people. While it is completely normal to be curious about the subject of sex and relationships in general, it is far better to have these curiosities and conversations dealt with in a controlled environment, rather than being left to the general realm of the Internet.
There are also many avenues of support, from educational establishments to appropriate online resources. You can talk with your child’s teacher about this as almost all schools will have to deal with this on a very regular basis.
Tips for Dealing with Inappropriate Content
- Open communication is key. Make sure your child always feels comfortable coming to you if there is something that is bothering them.
- Always deal with questions calmly and rationally. Don’t punish your child for being curious; it’s all part of the learning process. Being curious about sex is completely normal.
- Speak with your child’s school and find out what they are teaching them and how they are guiding their questions. If possible, try to mirror this approach to provide a consistent theme of materials about sex.
- Try to explore the subject with your child and don’t simply leave them to it. Take an active part in your child’s learning journey.
- Use parental controls to block access to pornography. While this won’t stop all types of content that you consider to be under the pornography category, it will prevent access to most of the content and websites that are categorized as porn.
- You can visit the settings in Google and switch it to ‘safe mode’. This prevents content from appearing in search results that could be considered to be explicit.
- Make sure that adverts and pop-ups are disabled as sometimes these can tend to display inappropriate content.
7. Smart TVs and Content Streaming
Similar to social media and mobile phones, TVs present a similar issue. In years gone by, children would watch TV with the family in the living room downstairs. There would be one computer that the people in the house would share.
Nowadays, kids have access to the same content they would have previously watched on the TV on their mobile device. What’s more, content is being streamed and watched from the comfort of their own private space, away from the watchful and guiding eye of the parent.
The benefits of streaming and indisputable.
- Content streaming is now more easily accessible than ever before.
- It costs less than ever, and there are more outlets to buy content from.
- It offers a huge range of documentaries and educational programs without needing to sign up to lengthy contracts or expensive subscriptions. This puts an endless amount of content at our children’s fingertips.
- The vast majority of content streaming services do not display ads, unlike YouTube.
- Parental controls are usually available from mainstream content streaming organizations.
- You can also create different profiles or your adult and child accounts who use it.
If you take advantage of the tools which are available, you can ensure that your child has access to the right level of content that is suitable for their age. The important thing is to remain vigilant and always try to keep a close eye on the content that your children are watching.
7. Online Privacy and Data Security
Online privacy is a lot harder now than it used to be. The real challenge that parents face is striking the right balance between enabling freedom and giving a child the space needed to explore and discover new things while remaining in control and knowing who can see and access private information.
The reality is that children are completely susceptible to threats that can have a number of varying impacts from emotional to financial. In fact, they are the same threats that adults are exposed to and come in various forms, such as phishing, malware, viruses, and identity theft.
Quite simply, you cannot expect a child to be as vigilant as an adult. Nor can you expect them to be able to spot something that appears to be genuine Vs. something that is not. For a child, sharing their name or birthday with someone might not seem like such a big deal. Clicking to buy more coins or hints from your phone *that is linked to your credit card* might not seem like a big deal either. However, we all know how these things can escalate and how, without setting account limits, these bills can slowly build up.
From offering free downloads of popular games or movies to free wallpapers and ringtones, there are lots of ways attackers will target children in order to trick them into taking actions online that can result in virus, malware or in the worst case financially driven identity theft.
Tips for Tackling Online Privacy with Children
As with all of the points in this guide to protecting kids online, a key theme is a dialogue. It goes without saying that you need to be able to talk with your child about things that can go wrong online. Of course, these conversations will need to be age appropriate and always try to have them in a way that will educate without causing too much fear or alarm.
- Ensure that personal information, such as full name, DOB, address, etc. is kept confidential. This also needs to extend to clubs and the name of your child’s school as well.
- Use a password generator for your child’s account. Having a strong and secure password is a distinct way you can ensure that a password is less likely to be given away or guessed.
- Try to avoid using public Wi-Fi. Hackers are easily able to use this to access a device. Pay a little more and get a family data plan.
- Make sure you use a paid-for anti-virus program installed on all devices that the family use. Free anti-virus software or software that expires is virtually redundant. What’s more, it can do more harm than good. Paying for a good level of anti-virus software can protect your equipment and your children, as well as yourself from becoming vulnerable or open to data theft and malware attacks.
- Get a VPN and use this explicitly across all devices. This can prevent your IP address from being revealed and provide countless security benefits. It makes it harder for hackers to steal or access your private data and ensures that your connection to the internet is fully encrypted at all times.
As a final point, ransomware attacks are on the rise. People will email you claiming to be from the dark-web and claiming to have been able to access your password and as such, hacking into your email accounts. Gone are the days where these attacks were only aimed at corporations and rich individuals, the tactics have changed, and they are using a huge myriad of tricks to target everyday people.
With many major companies falling victim to one of kind of data breach or another, some very big names have issued statements that passwords may have been compromised. While people have disregarded this matter or not fully been aware of the impact this can have, for those of you who use that one same password for everything, this presents a huge opportunity for attackers who can access that password and an even bigger threat for anyone who isn’t so tight on their security measure.
The answer to the question posed, of how to make sure your kids are staying safe online is made far easier through the use of technology. Using a combination of different technologies, such as a VPN, anti-virus software, and a secure password generator service, you can arm yourself and your child with the best possible defence and method of protection for staying safe when online.
Technology is one of the essential tools for staying safe online, and we know it is advancing all the time. However, as a parent, it is important to never try to use technology in place of conversation and education. Keeping an open dialogue with your child, being there for them to talk with you when they need you and staying rational and calm when they do present you with problems or questions is key.
Never shut them down. Always listen. Remember that they are learning, and it is your job to facilitate that learning in a safe and productive manner.
There is no need to worry about complicated technical jargon or tools that are difficult to use. Thankfully, social media, content streaming companies, and Internet Service Providers all play an important part in making it easier for your child to access the internet in a controlled or safe manner.
Please remember that you are not alone and that there is always help for you as the parent when it comes to knowing what to do in order to keep your child safe when they are online.
We hope that after reading this guide to helping your child stay safe online that you feel more confident in knowing how to prepare yourself and your child for some of the experiences that you might have online in the future.
If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to leave them here, and one of our team will be more than happy to respond.