In an increasingly security-conscious world, many of us know the basics about phishing, strong password parameters, VPNs and benefits of encryption. Why we sometimes choose to disregard those rules is another question: the important thing is that we know them and we make informed decisions, which is not always true when it comes to our children. Being security-conscious cyber citizens is not enough anymore. We must protect our children until we teach them the basics of online security. Here are some tools that can help you make the internet a safer place for your kids.
This is your first line of defense, so to speak. If you do not want your child going online unsupervised at all, you should protect your devices with some kind of lock screen, such as a passcode or touch ID; these features are available in all major operating systems, both desktop and mobile. Lock screens are especially helpful if you have toddlers in the house who unfamiliar with the sophistication of digital technology and the cause and effect principle. If you do not want to find snaps of your bathroom floor featured as your Facebook profile photo (as it happened to yours truly courtesy of her 3-year-old), your smartphone should have a better protection than a simple “swipe to unlock” – not to mention that lock screens can also protect your devices from unwanted access by intruders.
When it comes to childproofing, this is the second step you should take. Whether you give your tablet to your preschooler to calm a tantrum or to introduce an educational game does not really matter. If you allow them access, you should create a safe space. Our parents used to hide the remote control to prevent us from accessing dubious content. Today we can do the same and even better by equipping our family devices with safe launchers. These programs create a space your child can explore allowing them access only to select games, programs and files while blocking everything else. This measure is appropriate for young children, who can then benefit from the educational potential of technology in the safe-walled garden.
When you allow your child to explore the internet, you can take measures to prevent them encountering inappropriate content. Though some may argue this is censorship, and children still live in an unfiltered world, some content can be harmful and dangerous. There are various ways to filter the content from the web, such as DSL routers, DNS and internet proxy services and VPN settings. You can choose the most suitable filtering tool depending on your internet connection, devices you own, operating system, specific content and sites you wish to block and other factors (such as your personal tolerance to over-blocking). There are many free blocking tools: Windows, Mac, Android and iOS all come with built-in software that allows basic control over devices’ access to internet content. You should note, however, that these are relatively basic tools, which focus primarily on blocking the access to pornography and other inappropriate content. They do not log anything and do not allow monitoring.
Parental Control Software
This group of tools is more flexible and versatile with regard to features and possibilities. Parental controls differ between desktop and mobile, with mobile devices having more variety in terms of the tools you can choose. Parental controls for iOS usually have many options of controlling and limiting device usage (for example, blocking particular apps or complete shutdown). The more advanced, yet trickier to handle software offers monitoring functionality, like an account of your child’s online activities and even physical location thanks to GPS tracking (in the case of mobile devices). The primary focus of such software is not limitation but transparency. Parental controls can encourage responsible behavior and a mindful approach to your child’s digital footprint. Parents may also choose to monitor teenagers who want more freedom but still need some guidance in navigating the digital sea.
If your child is old enough to join the community of law-abiding cyber citizens, and you choose to introduce them to social networks, the first thing to do is set the profile on “private.” The majority of popular social networks make newly created profiles “public” by default. You can customize the privacy settings for your child in an age-appropriate way and according to your comfort level for information sharing. Once privacy settings are in order, discuss what types of content is and is not appropriate to post online. Consider setting family rules that adults and kids will follow, such as consulting the family members before posting any information about them on social media, and not revealing when you are away from home in your posts.
Most importantly, you should keep an ongoing conversation about internet safety and privacy issues. Update your children on any online scams you learn about and initiate discussions about cyberbullying, predators, sexting and more. Remember, there is no better way to protect your children from bad decisions that nurturing critical thinking and raising awareness. For tips on talking to your kids about online safety, see Rethink Cyber Safety Rules and the “Tech Talk” With Your Teens.
About the Author
Paula Green is security-focused IT specialist from New York. She is also a mother concerned with child safety online and internet addiction. Her passions are technology, online marketing and blogging.