No doubt you’ve heard a lot of scare stories about the dangers facing children online, ranging from identity theft to bullying and also being the victims of predatory behaviour. Unfortunately, most of these threats are real.
You only need to take a peek into the dark web to see the lengths predators go to in targeting young people and children, how they swap tips and essentially encourage each other. Peer bullying is also rampant with even young children playing games such as Club Penguin or Moshi Monsters becoming victims. The good news is that you can do something about it.
Laying down some ground rules
Today’s generation are true digital natives, brought up with technology and using it as though it’s second nature, even from the age of two or three with tablets and simple online games.
Depending on their age some children may know more about using a laptop, tablet and the internet than you do. However, what they are probably not aware of are the dark parts of the web which could expose them to pornography, inappropriate content and downloads that could hide malware.
With this in mind it’s a good idea to have some ground rules in place:
- Only let them use a computing device when they are in a communal area rather than alone in their bedroom. This way you can see what they are up to.
- Ban them from downloading apps unless they first get your permission.
- Encourage them to tell you if they see something which makes them uncomfortable or upsets them.
- Think about the online chat services they might use and warn them about not replying to unsolicited emails or to sign up for free accounts without first checking in with you.
- Talk to them about what they do online. This way you can engage with them and get a sense of what they are interested in, what games they are playing and whether they are using social media platforms.
Websites: There are millions of websites out there and many of them contain content you wouldn’t want your child to see, such as pornography, gambling or promotion of illegal drugs.
Social networks: Facebook and other sites are great places for sharing photos and chatting, and children will use them avidly to keep in touch. Most don’t allow kids under 13 to open accounts – the only way to get around this is to lie about their age, and some do. You don’t want your kids sharing any personal details such as their address or phone number, for example, or letting everyone know that you’re going on holiday for two weeks and the house will be empty.
Instant messaging and email: Instant messaging makes it possible for large numbers of people to contact your child. Messages might appear to be innocent but there is a chance that a paedophile is ‘grooming’ your child. We don’t want to scare you because most instant message usage is innocuous but it’s also an avenue predators do use.
Bullying: It’s easy for other kids to bully a child through social networks and instant messages or even email. Photos can be posted online and lead to insults, taunts and threats. Because there’s nothing physical it can go unnoticed by parents if kids don’t say what’s happening. And if it is happening it can be horribly cruel and merciless.
Downloads and malware: The internet is rife with websites where teens in particular can download videos, music and games illegally. But illegal downloads can be traced back to the computer’s IP address, which means parents could end up with a whopping bill or the threat of legal action. These sites often play host to malware and viruses as well as links and pop-up adverts for other dubious sites such as pornography.
Keeping the kids safe
You can protect your kids by using technology too. For instance many browsers, but not all, have filtering features which allow you to restrict access to certain categories of web sites. This is perhaps one of the simplest approaches to safeguarding children.
- Internet Explorer: Provides built-in parental controls and also content filtering. Click the cog icon at the top-right corner, then Internet Options. Now click on the Content tab, and then Family Safety. Simply follow the instructions.
- Mozilla Firefox : Firefox doesn’t have parental controls, but you can install an ‘add-on’ at this link. It is a personal content filter that helps block pornographic and other inappropriate content.
- Chrome: You can manage which content is shown under ’Content Settings’. Go to ‘Settings’ and then ‘Advanced Settings’. In this area you can control whether any images are shown at all, which cookies are saved and also disable certain plugins to make certain sites unusable. You can also control exactly what your child can search for on Google. You can lock ‘Google’s safe search,’ so your child can’t search for anything inappropriate.
- Safe Search Kids : Safe Search Kids is a custom search engine using Google’s SafeSearch features with additional filtering to block more potentially harmful material. It’s a useful tool and you can set it as a default browser for children. The website is: http://www.safesearchkids.com/
- OpenDNS: OpenDNS is a service providing phishing protection and content filtering. It includes pre-configured settings to block adult content and is a very useful website filtering tool which protects against your children downloading or accessing inappropriate content.
Parental control software
Even with strict guidelines in place it can be difficult to monitor your children’s activity online by doing it manually. Parental control software can make the job easier by automating the processes.
BullGuard Internet Security for instance features parental controls that make the task of safeguarding the kids easier. You can block access to suspicious websites, put search filters in place, limit your kids’ time online, monitor their activity and even block certain applications.
It helps to keep your children safe from cyber bullying and stops them being exposed to inappropriate content by flagging up key words and phrases that signal dubious content and messages. The software is installed on a computer and you receive alerts on your own device. It can also be used on mobile Android devices.
This type of technology can be very useful and if it is used as part of a wider approach in which education about the dangers of online are taught to the children, it can make a real difference in keeping the children safe online.