As technology continues to advance at a sometimes terrifying pace, keeping up-to-date with what our children are doing online can be a daunting prospect, especially as some of us parents feel that our children know more about the internet than we do!
Whatever the age of your children, here are a few technical hints and tips for you to keep them as safe as possible online.
When they’re little, you can keep tabs on when and where your children are accessing the internet by setting passwords on all internet-enabled devices. This will also ensure they’re not able to make purchases when playing games or using apps. Just remember not to share those passwords!
You can also set your homepage to a child-friendly site like CBeebies and create a user account for your child on the family computer or device which only allows access to sites you’ve chosen.
Parental controls can be installed on your home broadband and most internet-enabled devices to allow you to manage the content your child can view and how they interact with others online. Internetmatters.org provides you with a handy guide to setting parental controls here.
Search engines such as Swiggle or Kids-search are safe for children to use and can easily be added to your ‘Favourites’. Safe search settings can also be activated on Google and other search engines, as well as YouTube.
When using an app, it’s a good idea to set your device to airplane mode so your children can’t make any surprise purchases or interact with anyone online without you knowing.
It’s worth noting that, if your child is accessing the internet using public WiFi, the safety features may not be activated. Some providers are part of family friendly WiFi schemes, such as Mumsnet Family Friendly WiFi and RDI Friendly WiFi, with filters to block inappropriate content so look out for their symbols when you’re on the move.
You’ll soon reach the point when you feel your child – & possibly you! – will benefit from them having their own device. Whatever device you choose, there are free controls you can use to stop your child from purchasing and using certain apps, seeing certain content, or limiting what they can share with others, like their location, for example.
As your children turn into teenagers, you can always discuss and adjust your parental controls to match their level of maturity.
Many games, apps, films and social networks do have age ratings so, before downloading them, do check that they are appropriate for your child to use. For Facebook & Instagram, for instance, the minimum age limit is 13.
Once your children are old enough to use social networking sites, it is a good idea to spend time together looking at the privacy settings. It’s always best to assume that default settings are public and should be changed to private. Your child can set privacy settings on most social networking sites so that only close friends can search for them, tag them in a photograph or share what they’ve posted.
There are a range of new apps and software that block, filter and monitor online behaviour, such as Net Nanny. You’ll need to decide as a family whether this is the right approach for you, taking into consideration your child’s age and maturity, and their need for privacy.
As you can see there is lots of technology available to you but, above all, we would encourage you to try to keep the conversation with your children about their online use open and honest and for you to review it with them periodically. You can start discussions about the benefits and risks of social networking at an early age, encouraging them to only accept friend requests from people they actually know; to only like and follow genuine pages; keep private information private; respect themselves and others online; and to let you know of anything that is worrying or upsetting them at all. You can also remind them how important it is not to give in to peer pressure to send inappropriate comments or images. Apps such as, Send this instead and Zipit, can help them deal with these situations.
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