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Keeping kids safe online!!!

I have encountered parents that allow their kids to access the Internet without controls beyond “don’t do X.

More parents need to be made aware that on the tubes of the Internet, “there be danger.”

iPhones and iPads are NOT babysitters. Please get this clear in your mind. Yes, I have been known to use these as child suppression devices for long car rides but, we need to be honest with ourselves. Far too often they become surrogates and this needs to stop. Before computers and mobile devices parents use to plop their kids down in front of the TV. That was the iBabysitter of the time.

I have had conversations about what is the best software to install on a system to monitor a child’s activity with many parents. Often that is a conversation born out of fear of the unknown. Non-technical parents outnumber the technically savvy ones by an order of magnitude and we can’t forget this fact. There are numerous choices out there that you can install on your computer but, the software package that is frequently overlooked is common sense.

All kidding aside, there seems to be a precondition in modern society to offload and outsource responsibility. Kids are curious and they will click links and talk to folks online without the understanding that there are bad actors out there. It is incumbent upon us, the adults, to address that situation through education. Talk with your kids so that they understand what the issues are that they need to be aware of when they’re online. More importantly, if you as a parent aren’t aware of the dangers that are online you need to educate yourself.

1) Ask yourself if Internet access is even necessary. For children under 10, there may be few legitimate reasons to be online at all, at least without a parent present. Older children may only need limited access to materials for research.

2) Teach your kids the meaning of privacy (and why it’s important). They should learn from a very early age never to give out their names, where they live or go to school, practice sports, or other information when talking to someone online—and they shouldn’t give out their parents’ information either. Warn them against talking to strangers, and particularly ensure they never arrange to meet up with anyone they only know online.

3) Give a child an older smartphone or tablet without a cellular plan or a Wi-fi password, or one with parental controls. You can download games, books, or other content in advance. They’ll be entertained on long car rides, and they’ll feel like a “big kid” because they have their own phone. PC Magazine has a rundown of parental control apps.

4) Turn on parental controls and/or limit Internet use to a few trusted apps on any devices that offer that option, even if you don’t expect your kids to be using them unsupervised. Some parents create profiles for their children on services like Netflix with pre-selected movies and shows. You can also use a kid friendly browser .

5) Don’t let kids play online games unsupervised, either on smart devices or gaming consoles (e.g. a PlayStation or Xbox). Better still, only allow them to play games with real-life friends. If you’re still concerned, you can put in parental controls.

6) Monitor kids’ access to the Internet. Keep the family computer in a common room like the living room. You can “reward” your child with a large monitor which they’ll think is amazing but will allow you to better see over their shoulders as they surf. You can also install Internet filtering software (Net Nanny is a paid option, and TechRadar offers a few free options).  and  Tech Radar

7) Be very careful with social media. It’s never a good idea to allow a child to lie about their age to get an online account. In the U.S. a child needs to be at least 13 years old to have accounts on blogging and social media websites. And even if they are older than 13, you should tread carefully, since most social media sites are really not kid-friendly. If you allow your children on these sites, make sure their profiles are set to private or friends only.

8) Practice safe password policies. Don’t leave login information somewhere children can access it (if it’s written down somewhere, you should assume they’ll find it). Instead, use a local or online password management system and be sure to keep all that behind a master password that you memorize.

9) Don’t let YouTube fool you. While there are lots of kid-friendly videos, there are also many that cross the line (as TechCrunch puts it, YouTube is not for kids). Because YouTube suggests content (and will auto-play videos once one has finished), it can be dangerous for unsupervised children. If you do give your kids access, be sure to set parental controls (but recognize that these settings aren’t infallible) .      or

10) Same with email. While email may seem harmless enough, once a kid has an email account they can communicate with strangers as well as friends—the same as they might on social media. Plus without an email account, it’s more difficult to sign up for many online services.

11) Be aware of the potential to abuse other online services. Recently kids were discovered using Google Docs as a makeshift chatroom to bully other children. Even the most innocent of online apps can be a minefield if you don’t pay attention.

12)Raise good citizens of the web. Lead by example. Hate, trolling, and bullying have no place in the real, or digital world, so show them the way. Today’s children will have a very long, and very public record online. Basically, whatever you or they write, say, or do will be with you and your family forever in the digital world. Whether they’re using the Internet for games, social media, or school work, explore everything together first so you can set the right security precautions together.

Please don’t think of this as a “one-size fits all” list of recommendations for how to keep children safe online. Consider your own family’s needs so you can make appropriate decisions on when to allow your children online, what sites you’ll allow, or when you can grant unsupervised access.

Open Communication is Key

It’s worth recognizing that, no matter how safe you make your home, when it comes to the Internet, kids will find a way to get online without supervision. They’ll gain access at a friend’s house, or at school, or the library, or on an unprotected mobile device.

Rather than worry incessantly about keeping your children safe online, the best thing you can do is to foster open communication at all times about the Internet.

Every so often, talk to them about different hazards in the online world, such as advertising and how it’s designed to make you want to buy things, or games that trick you into giving information or spending money. They should know not to give out their personal information, including emails and home addresses, to anyone online.

Believe it or not, these conversations can (and should!) start very early, possibly as soon as age 6 or 7. Talking to them now means that when they do end up online, they will feel more comfortable coming to you to discuss anything that disturbs or frightens them.

When it comes to online safety and privacy, consider your own online practices where your children are concerned. If you share photos of your kids on social media, be sure your profile is set to ‘private’ or ‘friends only.’ You should also refrain from sharing names and locations as well as anything they might find embarrassing when they get older. For more information, check out our tips on keeping private information private.