Do you worry about what your kids are doing on the internet?
Of course, the answer is a resounding yes.
There are some scary facts out there.
30% of children online have replied to a message from a complete stranger. 1 in 5 have been sexually solicited.
And did you think older kids were safer? As it turns out, almost two thirds of missing children cases that began online actually involve kids 15 and over.
Yet, most parents stop monitoring their child at age 14.
As well as pedophiles, there’s adult content (and even content most adults would get squeamish at), cyberbullying, and the worrying rise in the sending and selling of nude photos.
Not to mention just plain old malware, hacking and cyberscams.
The list goes on and on.
No kid is safe, however much they don’t want to see or do anything inappropriate. And let’s face it, a lot of kids are curious, rebellious, and keen to do things above their age level. And the internet is bursting with options.
So how do you protect them? There’s so much out there, and you may know very little about technology. Even if you’re pretty clued up, it’s a safe bet your kids know more. It can feel completely overwhelming.
Here’s some extremely practical steps you can take today to start safeguarding your kids online.
Companies know exactly the kind of danger your kids are in, so they built-in these wonderful things called ‘parental controls’ into their devices.
Parental controls mean you can block your kid from doing things or accessing content that’s known to be dangerous. The best thing is, you only need to set it up once and you’re done.
There’s a ton available. Let’s take a look at your options.
Buy an all-on-one parental control device
If you want a one-stop peace-of-mind solution and don’t mind forking out some extra cash, look at products such as Circle with Disney.
These nifty little devices pair with your router and let you control almost every device in the house that’s connected to your home wifi. All through a simple app on your mobile phone. Genius.
You can easily see exactly what your kids are doing online, set sophisticated filters, and even time limits.
You can differentiate between users, setting rules for different siblings, and blocking sites for your kids but not for you.
What really stands out here is the level of sophistication.
For example, not happy with your son’s gaming levels? Restrict the PS4 usage to 1 hour a day, and block it after 10pm.
Is it homework time, but your daughter’s on social media? Block Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and whatever other apps, whilst still allowing her to use the computer for homework.
And is she actually doing her homework? You can see at a glance.
You can even ‘pause’ the internet connection for your kids when it’s dinnertime, or if they break a rule.
And the best thing about these are they use extremely high-end technology and are almost impossible to bypass. Kids can’t use any tricks, like using different ‘private’ browsers, setting up hidden accounts, changing their device settings, or even most VPNs, to fool you. You will see everything.
It really does give total control.
Technophobes might find the initial setup daunting, but once you’re up and running the apps are incredibly easy to use. There’s also devices available for every budget. (Tip: Circle with Disney’s 1st gen device is way cheaper than it’s newer 2nd gen option, and is still available).
Check your ISP
ISP is just a fancy term for the company you pay to provide your internet (internet service provider).
Most ISP’s offer their own parental controls, so you should definitely take advantage. You can usually just download an app on your phone to set it up
It’s nowhere near as fancy as the devices above, but it’s totally free.
You’ll be able to do things like block specific sites, adult content, or keywords.
Buy them a kid-friendly tablet
Are your kids are pestering you for a tablet but you’re worried they’re too young? Why not try a kid-friendly one? These have excellent parental controls included.
The only one currently available is the Amazon Fire, which has a Kids Edition with an age range of 3-12.
They’re great for younger kids, but older kids will find them too restrictive.
Hats off to Amazon for doing this (they now have a kid’s Kindle too, by the way).
Set up controls on devices
On top of this, a lot of individual devices and platforms have parental controls of their own, so grab your kids gadgets and get to work.
I would say these are slightly inferior to network level options, as devices are a bit more complex and easier to get around.
Controlling browsers is particularly difficult, as there are multiple ones available.
Still, they’re worth doing.
Let’s run through a few common device options for you.
Windows has some great parental control options. Go to the Family section of their website and add a child account. You can add multiple accounts and set separate rules for each child.
You can see their activity, and control their spending in the Windows Store.
You can also set specific time limits per device.
And you can control the apps and games they use based on their age.
You can even control XBox One consoles, plus Android devices if you download an app on your child’s phones.
Browser-wise, though, there’s a major downside. You can only restrict content on Microsoft browsers (Edge and Internet Explorer), which a lot of kids don’t use.
Therefore, you’ll either have to make a firm rule they can only use these browsers (and trust them to stick to it).
Or you’ll have to go into whatever browser they’re using, such as Chrome, separately and set up Chrome’s own parental controls. Bummer.
Google Play Store
You can control everything your child downloads by age rating on the Google Play Store. What’s more, it’s super easy. Just go to Settings and select ‘Parental Controls’.
All the categories on the Play Store are up for grabs.
Simply select the age rating you’re comfortable with, and you’re done.
Unfortunately, aside from controlling the Google Play store, Android’s parental controls suck.
For one, they’re only available on tablets, not phones.
And second, they’ve extremely basic. You can block apps and stop location information (but that’s pretty impractical to turn off nowadays), and that’s it.
Go to Settings, and click on Users. Add a ‘Restricted Profile’, and then choose which apps you want to block.
For Android phones, as mentioned you can control them via Windows if you download an app. There’s also various third-party apps you can download with parental controls.
Chrome did have parental controls, but recently discontinued them. They weren’t exactly foolproof, as kids could turn it off in their own settings. Rumour has it, they’re working on something better.
Fortunately, there’s a great third-party Extension available in the Chrome Web Store: Web Filter Free.
With this, you can block sites, keywords, and profanities.
It hangs out as a tiny icon to the right of your search bar, and it’s extremely simple to use. You can also set a password so your kid can’t change it around.
Apple has a slightly different approach to the Play Store. You can’t set by age rating, but you can set a password which you will have to type in every time they want to download an app.
iOS have slightly better parental controls than Android, though you have to set it up on your child’s device first.
The good news is you can restrict browser content via Safari, limiting adult websites and restricting Siri from searching the web or using profanities.
YouTube actually has a YouTube Kids app, which is awesome.
So just delete YouTube from all your kids devices, and download this instead.
This will save you having to fiddle around with the original YouTube’s parental controls.
Use a VPN
This isn’t exactly a parental control, but deals more with cyberscams and hacking. Children tend to be less safety-conscious than adults, leaving them vulnerable.
And if you ever let them use your device, or have given them your payment details to buy something on their device, well….you’re vulnerable by extension.
A VPN encrypts all your information, adding another layer of protection against malicious attacks and cybercriminals. NordVPN is currently our highest-rated VPN.
You have rules for the outside world, including knowing your kids whereabouts at all times.
So it should come as no surprise to them that you need to know where they’re at at all times in the online world too.
Place devices in the living room
Place PCs in a shared area (with the screen facing away from the wall, obviously), and make it a rule they can’t use their tablets, or even phones if you wish, unless they’re in the room also.
This is an easy peasy way to curb suspicious internet usage. You’re not looking over their shoulder the whole time, but the constant risk that you might will probably be enough to keep them from doing anything off-limits.
Make it clear monitoring is part and parcel of them spending time online.
There are a multitude of ways to monitor.
As we’ve covered, parental controls may monitor your kids automatically.
Otherwise, an unintrusive option is to friend or follow your child on social media.
You can also check browsing histories, but be aware these can be deleted or edited.
If you want to go all out, you can force your kids to give you all their user information and passwords, so you can see exactly what’s happening on the inside.
However you want to do it, set a reminder on your phone, say once a week, to have a quick check through what your kid is up to.
When it comes to monitoring, it may be worth only mentioning what you find if you believe it affects your kid’s safety.
If you judge or comment on every little thing they do or say, they may feel the need to resort to drastic measures just to express themselves freely.
This could include secret browsers, accounts, apps or even phones. This is a parent’s worst nightmare, as you will have no control and they’ll be even more vulnerable.
Set time limits
We all know it’s not healthy for kids to spend all their time online. But from a security point of view, the less time they’re online, the less risk they’re at.
Odds are, your kid is currently spending way more time than they should, and they’re not alone. Kids spend a staggering 9 hours a day using media, which is more than a full-time job.
Time limits are the name of the game, as well as cut-off times (e.g. no gaming after 9pm).
Ask your kids what they think is a reasonable, healthy amount of time to spend on their various activities, such as social media or gaming, and go from there.
If they complain that you’re cutting them off from their friends, it might be worth having a chat with their parents to see if you can all agree to cut down a bit.
Parental controls can enforce time limits effectively, or you can use just plain-old house rules.
It’s important to recognise that parental controls aren’t the be all and end all.
For example, you might be able to see exactly how much time they spend on Instagram, but you can’t know who exactly they’re talking to on there.
So you need to set some clear rules, so your child knows exactly when they’re crossing the line into dangerous territory.
Some examples are:
- Stay out of online chat rooms
- Never accept friend requests from strangers on Facebook (even friends of friends)
- Never IM a stranger without permission
- Tell me if a stranger tries to contact you
- Never give key information out like your school, town, phone number or email address
- No face to face meetings with strangers
- Never send personal photos
- Never live stream without permission
The KidSafe Foundation also has a great ‘Online Safety Contract’ with some general guidelines, which they recommend getting your kid to sign.
Do Some Research
Ah yes, the dreaded term…..research. You don’t need to become an expert at everything out there or know all the technical lingo, but learning the absolute basics will help heaps. And it’s never been easier.
Find out what your kid uses
Find out exactly the most common devices, apps, browsers and sites your kids use, and then do a little research to find out the basics of how they work and what inherent dangers they pose.
For example, what is the app centred around: posting updates, posting or viewing videos to complete strangers, messaging friends? How exactly would strangers contact them on the app, and how common is it?
Once you’ve got these basics down, it will be much easier to set specific rules, or ban something altogether if you don’t like it.
Common Sense Media has a great article explaining the most common apps and what parents need to watch out for.
If your kid is vehemently opposed to showing you what they do online, this should raise alarm bells.
Finally, check for secret apps. You might not think your child capable of such a thing, but they might be being manipulated or pressured in some way you aren’t aware of.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to tell: simply check your child’s purchase history on the App Store or Play Store.
Go online together
Let them know you want to spend time with them online. Kids spend so much of their time online these days it definitely counts as a hobby, so make it clear you want to be a part of it.
For example, are your kids really into gaming, social media or Reddit? Are they following particular YouTubers, bloggers or part of a forum? Do they perhaps have their own YouTube channel or blog? What are their favorite sites or apps to waste time in?
This is a win-win situation. You get to connect with your kids…..and in the process they’re more likely to open up to you about their online world.
You’re also much more likely to spot any suspicious activity. For example, if you’re gaming with your kid, someone might start talking to them through the game, and you can ask who it is. If that person isn’t a real-life friend, it’s time to have a talk.
If all else fails, at least try helping them with their homework. Most kids have social media apps like Facebook or Instagram open constantly, so if anyone suspicious is regularly messaging them, chances are you’ll see it.
Education is half the battle.
Just like in real life, you can’t be with them every moment of the day, especially as they get older.
The same is true of online. So you need to start teaching them how to protect themselves online, and what the dangers are.
This can be tricky, as you don’t want to scare your kids, or pique their curiosity.
Fortunately, there are some great resources out there to help you with ‘the talk’, such as this excellent example for educating your kids about social media.
And remember, attitude is everything.
It’s important that you make it clear that you want them that you’re pro-internet overall, and want them to have fun and feel free to express themselves.
You are not trying to make their life difficult, be controlling, or intrude on their private lives. You are not interested in reading every little message they send to their friends.
After all, you wouldn’t have liked your parents listening in on every conversation you had with your friends when you were young, either.
You’re just on the lookout for danger, and the more they can learn to protect themselves, the less you’ll have to intrude.
Here’s a summary of the action steps you can take for safeguarding your children on the internet.
The best option out there in terms of parental controls is definitely an all-in-one device, such as Circle with Disney. It allows complete, sophisticated control that your kids simply can’t get around.
Alternatively, your ISP will offer some free parental controls, as will various devices and platforms.
Place devices in the living room, monitor what your kids online activities regularly, and set healthy time limits.
Enforce clear boundaries of what kids are not to do online, such as not talking to strangers and steering clear of online.
Do Some Research
Find out what specific apps your kid is using, and look into the dangers. Spend some time online with them doing their favorite things. And finally, educate them to some extent about the dangers out there, so they can protect themselves.
We’ve even summarised all this information into a quick infographic for you.
Let’s face it, you know your kids aren’t going to be happy about these changes, especially if they’ve already been online a while. But after an adjustment period they’ll calm down, and you can rest easy knowing you’ve taken all reasonable precautions from some very real dangers.
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