The Internet can be wonderful for our kids. They can use it to research school reports, communicate with teachers and other kids, and play interactive games. But social media, like all forms of public communication, comes with some risks. Giving children free rein over their device is like throwing them in an ocean full of sharks. We can all agree that unfettered Internet access can be a dangerous place filled with inappropriate content, cyberbullying, pornography, violence, horror, and drugs.
This is why as a parent (or caretaker), it’s your responsibility to make your smartphone safe for your kids. Likewise if you decide it is time to provide your child with his or her own phone, you need to make sure it is secure.
You must be wondering: “But where do I even start?”
The good news is, there are plenty of ways you can give your kids access to the web and let them use internet-connected devices, in a safe way. In this article, we have collated the top tips to keep your kids safe in the online world, from child-friendly browsers to having tough discussions about privacy and downloading issues. Check out our top internet safety advice to make sure going online is a positive experience for you and your child!
#1. Discover the Internet together
Be the one to introduce your child to the internet. For both parent and child, it is an advantage to discover the internet together. Let your child show you which websites they like visiting and what they do there. To be able to guide your child with regard to Internet use, it is important to understand how children use the Internet and know what they like to do online. Try to find websites that are exciting and fun so that together you achieve a positive attitude to internet exploration. This could make it easier to share both positive and negative experiences in the future.
#2. Limit access to violent content
1. Child-safe search engine
Search engines are the most used tool on the web. Almost everyone has used Google or Bing to do searches, and when they’re used properly, search engines are an indispensable tool. However, they can return inappropriate search results. This is why it’s important to use child-safe search engines. Most search engines offer the option to block potentially adult content that may involve pornographic material, scenes of violence, weapons, or extreme political and religious material. Bing has its own safe searching turned on as a default and it therefore safer. But if you choose to use Google, then be sure to use Google SafeSearch. Google SafeSearch blocks explicit images, videos, and websites from Google Search results.
>> Guide to turn Google Safe Search on your device:
Additionally, there are multiple options for parents who want to limit what their child sees through a search engine. KidzSearch, for example, which uses a custom version of Google’s search engine, is a highly popular safe search engine. Your kids are free to look up anything they like, and KidzSearch ensures that no explicit material is returned in search results. Other search engines which keep your kids safe are:
- Kiddle – Kiddle search for and ranks content based on its suitability for children. It shows sites which are specifically written for children towards the top of the search results, where they’re most likely to be clicked, and well-known sites which are written for an adult audience further down.
- Kidtopia – Both a search engine and an educational resource, Kidtopia is aimed mainly towards younger children. With Google custom search function and a wealth of resources tailored for kids, Kidtopia makes it impossible for children to search for unsuitable content
2. Child-safe browsers
Of course, child-safe search engines can only protect your children online to a certain degree. There’s always the chance that when using a normal web browser, your child will simply navigate out of the child-safe space and begin using sites you have little control over. What’s the solution for this problem? There are several child-safe browsers under development, which are entire stand-alone applications like Google Chrome or Internet Explorer, which create a safe internet experience for children.
Chrome offers this to a degree through their supervised accounts, which only allows connection to sites parents have pre-approved, through the use of a child-lock. Parents can also get an extra layer of protection by using the free Blocksi extension. Bloksi runs on top of Chrome to identify and block sensitive material instantly. This is a fairly robust method of making sure kids can’t access known explicit sites.
>>> Learn more at: https://youtu.be/nfeC47ixmCs
3. Youtube restricted mode or kids mode
If you’ve ever searched for videos on YouTube, you know how some YouTubers like to “clickbait” viewers by posting sexually provocative videos or thumbnails. This could range from scenes of fighting to animal abuse, and it’s bound to shock and affect your child. Although YouTube has strict policies and works to remove violent content, it’s still sometimes online for a few minutes or hours before it’s taken down. Luckily, YouTube recognizes this issue, and as a result, they’ve launched YouTube Kids. This app has content tailored exclusively for young kids and is a downloadable app on Android and iOS devices. It also provides you parental controls, such as blocking videos you don’t want your kids to watch, reporting videos to notify YouTube of inappropriate videos that shouldn’t be in the app, setting up a timer so you can limit how long your kids can watch videos, or keeping tabs on the videos your kids are watching.
>>> Learn more about YouTube Kids: https://support.google.com/youtubekids#topic=7555881
#3. Do Not Allow Kids to Browse Alone
Set a rule that your child should use the electronic device for browsing in the common area of your house or in the presence of an adult. Don’t allow kids to have a computer in their room. You’d be surprised by how much the mere presence of a parent who may or may not be looking over a child’s shoulder while they use the computer can keep a child in line. This way, the adults can ensure that the child does not view unsuitable content online, and also supervise the child’s online activities.
#4. Teach your child to be aware of video sharing services
If you’re the parent of a teenager, you’ve more than likely heard of TikToc, a highly popular video sharing service. There are many sites like this, but they all center around user-generated content such as short videos and clips. Normally, these video sharing services are a bit of harmless fun. Many users can apply filters to themselves, which modifies the way they look or use voice changers to make funny short singing and dancing clips. However, there’s a sinister side to these sites too.
Online predators may be using these sites to connect with teenagers online, and may even be posing as a teenager to make connections. While these communities have strict guidelines and usually take a hard stance on adult content or sexual harassment, you should also ensure your children are not sharing suggestive content on video-sharing apps, as this could attract unwanted attention.
Similarly, it’s important to make sure your child isn’t sharing content, which could be potentially embarrassing or prompt bullying from their peers. All children do things that are embarrassing when looking back as an adult, but as we’ve discussed, content on the internet can be widely shared and maybe around forever. Make sure whatever videos your children are sharing contain content they wouldn’t be embarrassed to see posted elsewhere at a later date.
#5. Encourage your child to be careful when disclosing personal information
Every parent has heard horror stories of their children’s personal data being shared online, such as images, sensitive information, and aspects of their private lives. That’s why it’s important to set clear boundaries with your children about what they should and shouldn’t post online. A simple rule for younger children should be that the child should not give out their name, phone number or photo without your approval. Older children using social networking sites like Facebook should be encouraged to be selective about what personal information and photos they post to online spaces. Regardless of privacy settings, once material is online you can no longer control who sees it or how it is used.
#6. Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children
Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder. Remember to monitor their compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer. A child or teenager’s excessive use of online services or bulletin boards, especially late at night, may be a clue that there is a potential problem. Remember that personal computers and online services should not be used as electronic babysitters.
#7. Set limits for internet usage and screen time
This point crosses over into the general health and wellbeing of your child as well as keeping them safe online. In the 21st century, so much of children’s life is spent online that they may get too emotionally invested in their online life, and neglect their other pastimes. This can have serious negative consequences on their social lives and mental health. Children who spend more than 7 hours a day on screens are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety. There are plenty of solutions that can be downloaded to limit your children’s time online. It’s especially easy to download these apps for mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. For example, OurPact lets parents moderate their children’s device usage. Both a parental control app and locator, OurPact makes it easy to limit your children’s screen time. Parents can use the app to set times that mirror their children’s routine, for instance, to lock their phones an hour before bed until the morning, or limit screen time to a set amount of hours per day. OurPact also allows certain apps to be blocked completely, such as the Facebook app, until you grant permission.
>> For more ideas, check out E2’s infographic: Unplug your screen-addicted kids
As kids get older, it gets a little trickier to monitor their time spent online. They may carry a smartphone with them at all times. They probably want – and need – some privacy. This is healthy and normal, as they’re becoming more independent from their parents. The Internet can provide a safe “virtual” environment for exploring some newfound freedom if precautions are taken. However, don’t forget to talk about the sites and apps your teens use and their online experiences. Discuss the dangers of interacting with strangers online and remind them that people online don’t always tell the truth. Explain that passwords are there to protect against things like identity theft. Taking an active role in your kids’ Internet activities helps ensure that they benefit from them without being exposed to the potential dangers. Talk with your kids, use tools to protect them, and keep an eye on their activities. By helping your child understand what the risks are, you can play a big part in preventing them from turning into problems.