Parent's Guide to Internet Safety

Introduction

Raising children can suddenly make the world seem a frightening and dangerous place.

While you may have grown up wandering the streets or visiting friends or the mall without telling your parents where you were going, giving your own children that kind of freedom is unthinkable for many parents today. In the age of smartphones, we're accustomed to knowing where our kids are at all times.

But while smartphones can help keep your children safe by keeping them in constant contact, that technology can also put them in danger online.

Children and teens today are more tech-savvy than ever, having grown up with the technology we've seen evolve so quickly over time. But even when your kids have as much technical know-how as adults, they don't yet have the experience and discernment necessary to keep them safe online.

No parent can monitor their children round the clock, and it may be tempting to take the easy way out and block access entirely. But the Internet is a valuable tool, more integral to our modern lives than ever, and necessary for children to learn to navigate safely.

While there are general guidelines to follow to keep your children safe online, many of them are common-sense and too general to help in many situations. Some of them are out of touch with modern technology, such as the FBI's Parent's Guide to Internet Safety, which advises you to monitor your children's email: most children today don't communicate primarily through email anymore, or even through texts.

Instead, social media networks and smartphone apps are more popular for chatting and sharing multimedia online. Chances are your child is chatting with an app like Snapchat or Kick, or a social network like Ask.fm.

Illustrated Guides

The following chapters cover the most popular online apps and websites that parents should understand.

Snapchat is one of the most popular smartphone messaging apps being used by kids today: about a third of all teens in the United States use Snapchat, sending millions of photos and videos every day. With Snapchat, users can send their friends photos, videos, and screencaptures, which are supposed to auto-destruct within a few seconds. But the images can easily be undeleted or screen captured on another device, leaving a permanent record of whatever images your child chooses to share.

Kik Messenger is another popular app among teens and young adults. It allows you to message others without giving out your phone number, making it popular for users who want to retain their anonymity. Just looking at the app reviews, it's clear that Kik is very popular for sending explicit messages. The app itself is rated 17+ in the app store for "Frequent/Intense Mature/Suggestive Themes,” but that doesn't stop kids from downloading and using it.

Then there's Ask.fm, a question-and-answer social networking website which has received a lot of press surrounding bullying issues and related suicides around the world. Users 13 and older are allowed, and there are no systems for monitoring content. Due to the lack of moderation and encouraged anonymity, the network has become a mecca for cyberbullying.

Illustrated Guide to E-Safety

e-Safety Visual Guide

With all these new online dangers, even your own home can be dangerous place for children. By staying informed about the most popular websites and apps your children are likely to be using, you can learn how to talk to your child about using them safely, and what specific steps you can take to make their experience safer while they have fun chatting online with friends and exploring the web.

How to Protect Your Children on Snapchat

Snapchat is a hugely popular messaging app that allows users to send photos, videos, or screencaptures to friends whose Snapchat usernames they know. Like a “Mission: Impossible” briefing, the messages self-destruct in just a few seconds.

In addition to images and videos, Snapchat also added video chatting and text messaging features to their app, making it an all-in-one communications network for teens. The service is most popular with teens and young adults. According to Snapshot's terms of service, you only have to be 13 years old and up to use their app.

But, as the saying goes, the Internet is forever. Deleted messages on Snapchat can be recovered with a bit of technical knowledge, and those who know how to take a screenshot on their own smartphones can easily and permanently save any image that comes across their screens.

And while Snapchat maintains that the majority of messages are harmless, the service has gained a reputation for being used for sexting.

If your child is using Snapchat, don’t panic: there are settings you can configure to protect your child’s privacy and keep strangers from sending them inappropriate messages. Check out the graphic below to discover how to keep your child safe while they use this popular app.

Snapchat Safety

How to Protect Your Children on Kik

Kik is one of the most popular free modern messaging apps, with over 100 millions users. Using Kik, you can send not just text messages, but photos and videos, surveys, and virtual stickers. It’s popular among those who want to chat without giving out their personal phone number, since you only need someone’s Kik username to message them.

The fact that your children don’t need to give out their actual phone number can give them a false sense of safety, but while it may seem safe to supply an anonymous online username, on Kik it can be anything but.

Kik has become very popular for sexting, which is why it’s rated 17+ by the app store and Common Sense Media. However, Kik's own terms of service states that it’s for anyone 13 and up. But just by browsing the blatant app reviews seeking partners for explicit messaging, any parent can see that Kik is not an appropriate messaging app for children.

Does your child use Kik? Depending on their account privacy settings, they may be able to receive messages from any stranger online. Scroll down to find out what makes Kik so dangerous, and how you can keep your child safe from predators using this popular app.

Kik Safety

How to Protect Your Child on Ask.fm

You know your child may be on the big giants of social media websites: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr. But there’s another social networking site that’s skyrocketing in popularity, especially among kids under 18: Ask.fm. This popular social networking website allows you ask anonymous questions of any user, and answer others’ questions on your own public profile.

If you have heard of Ask.fm, it’s probably due to all the media attention it’s been receiving lately: Ask.fm was linked to a suicide case in Florida recently, where a young girl was anonymously bullied on Ask.fm. British Prime Minister David Cameron called Ask.fm “vile” due to several similar cyberbullying cases, and schools in Britain have advised students not to use it.

The social network has become known as a haven for cyberbullies, and has been linked to suicides around the world. That’s because its users, who are required to be at least 13 years old, are allowed to ask questions of specific users anonymously, and content is not monitored. The official Ask.fm website states that they have “no liability to you for content that you may find objectionable, obscene or in poor taste."

Because of all the risks associated with Ask.fm, and its skyrocketing popularity among kids and teens, it’s important to know how to find out if your child is using it and how they can keep safe. Here’s how you can protect your child from dangerous cyberbullying on Ask.fm.

Ask.fm guide for parents

32 Internet Acronyms & Slang Every Parent Should Know

Just a few generations ago, it was normal to let your children walk to school alone or play ball in the street unsupervised.

But the world has changed since the days parents let their children freely roam the neighborhood. Today, most parents know where their children are 24/7 thanks to the advent of technology, and many wouldn’t dream of letting their children wander around without adult supervision.

While technology may make it easier to keep tabs on your children, it also opens up a whole new world of risk. Thanks to the ubiquity of the Internet, staying indoors can be even more dangerous than wandering the streets unsupervised.

Children and teens now have access to limitless information and can chat with anyone around the world through their computers, tablets, and smartphones.

Besides the obvious danger of strangers with malicious intent, there are also the risks of your child accessing dangerous or inappropriate information, chatting with friends about illegal drugs or underage drinking, or even being cyberbullied or participating in the bullying of others.

It’s tempting to assume that your children are too smart to get caught up in these kinds of activities, but peer pressure and impulsive decision making can put even the smartest of children at risk.

And children and teens are often experts at keeping secrets from their parents, so you may not even realize that anything’s wrong before it’s too late.

It’s important to have an open dialogue with your children, trust them with privacy to live their own lives, and grant them the space to learn and grow through experience. But one of a parent’s hardest tasks is balancing this with the need to keep your children safe and not make mistakes they can’t recover from.

You can give your child the space and privacy they need while still keeping an eye on their Internet activities for hints of dangerous behavior. One of the most effective ways to do so is by familiarizing yourself with current slang and acronyms.

While most of their slang is harmless, some of it can hint to dangerous behavior that could get your child into trouble or hurt. Check out the list below to see some of the latest Internet slang and acronyms used by children and teens today.

Internet Acroynms and Slang

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Thinking about Child-Friendly Computing

The internet is an amazing resource for learning about the world, interacting with other people, and having fun. Not only that, but using the internet for work and research has become an important part of modern life. It makes sense, then, that parents would want to help their young children learn to use the internet.

But we all know that, like the real world, the internet is full unsavory, unsafe, and unhelpful things. From explicit sexual content to violent imagery, there is a lot available on the internet that children should not have access to. Unfortunately, unlike in the “real world,” on the internet this is all just a few mouse-clicks away.

As parents and educators we need to help shape the online experiences of the children under our care. But content filtering isn’t the only thing we should worry about — it isn’t enough just to make sure they don’t accidentally see any porn (though that is certainly very important).

Goals for a Child-Friendly Internet Experience

There are several different objectives we should be pursuing. These can be divided into two categories — negative (things to censor, block, or filter) and positive (things to encourage or promote).

  • “Negative” Goals
    • Censor objectionable content (primarily sex and violence).
    • Protect kids from adult predators.
    • Protect them from peer bullying.
    • Stop them from spending money (in-app purchases).
    • Stop children from compromising computer security.
  • “Positive Goals
    • Promote learning.
    • Encourage healthy online relationships.
    • Help kids become familiar and fluent with technology.

Getting over our technology hangups

Parents say a lot of funny things about their children when it comes to technology:

  • “My kid knows technology better than I do.”
  • “I had to ask my seven-year-old how to use the internet.”
  • “Kids today are so smart about computers. They’re on them all the time.”

Behind these is a question — a fear — sometimes spoken outloud and sometimes not:

“How can I protect my children online? They’re smarter than me! They can get around any blocks or filters I put on them. Why bother? What can I do?

This defeatist attitude is not just unhelpful, it is dangerous. Thankfully, it is also built on faulty assumptions.

Kids aren’t actually smarter about technology

There are, of course, exceptions — some kids are brilliant, and some of those brilliant kids get interested in computers. But most of our children are not going to grow up to be Computer Scientists and programmers.

Just because a child is more fluent in using technology, doesn’t mean that child has a deep understanding of how that technology works. Think about the things you use every single day — your car, your refrigerator, the locks on your front door. Do you really know how this stuff works? Could you fix it if it broke?

Practically unbeatable security is possible

Even if your children are really good with computers — unless they are exceptionally bright and particularly knowledgeable — it is in fact possible to set up a safe computing environment that your children cannot bypass (at least not without you knowing).

Getting over our parenting hangups

Even once we figure out how to deal with the technology, many parents still feel at a loss when it comes to protecting their children online. Many feel hopeless, assuming that access to harmful content is inevitable. This, also is wrong.

It does matter, even if they see it at a friend’s house

So you go through all the trouble, and your kid still watches dirty movies at a friends house. Or plays violent video games. Or talks to strangers. Or whatever.

It is still worth it.

For one thing, the example you set about what is and is not appropriate is hugely important — more important, maybe, than anything else.

Secondly, visiting bad content from time to time is much less damaging than inviting it into your home, where it can become a habit or even an addiction.

We all do unhealthy things on occasion — whether its eating bad foods, drinking too much, or viewing pornography. What is dangerous is the normalization of those behaviors.

You probably cannot stop your kid from engaging in unhealthy behavior. You can keep it from becoming a normal part of everyday life.

How to promote Child-friendly computer use

Setting up a safe computing environment

Most people want a single app they can install — a child friendly browser or content filtering program that will make their computer safe. That is not enough.

If you want to actually stop your children from easily circumventing any parental controls you put on your computer, you are going to have to block them from having administrative access.

All computer systems today (Windows, Mac, and Linux) have the ability to set up separate Users. You should set up a special User login to your computer for your children to use, and password-protect the Administrator login. (And don’t write the password down. The kids will find it.)

This lets you block your children from installing new applications that you didn’t approve — applications they could use to circumvent parental controls and content filters.

(Be sure that when you create a new user, you do not give that user Administrative permissions.)

Child Friendly Internet Browsing

In this chapter we will cover special browsers made for children, popular plugins for browsers, content filtering tool, and also browsers for special-needs

Child Friendly Browsers

web browser page

For younger kids (under 8), you may want to use a special browser that provides a fun, cartoon-like interface and access to age-appropriate games and education content.

These can be helpful, but be careful — just because something is labeled “educational” doesn’t mean it is good for your kids. If you wouldn’t let your children watch cartoons on TV all day long, you shouldn’t let them play on the computer all day either.

Content Filtering and Monitoring

At some point kids really need to transition to grown-up browsers like Chrome or Firefox. A 10 year old doesn’t need the computer to look like a cartoon, and a 12 year old certainly doesn’t want it to.

As they become preteens and early teenagers is when they start to need a real computer experience, but it’s also when they actively start seeking out all the things you are trying to protect them from.

Some of the more popular options for online content filtering are:

  • K9 — Probably the most frequently used content filter in schools.
  • X3Watch — Specifically aimed at porn filtering, and originally designed for adults trying to overcome porn addiciton.
  • NetNanny — Probably the most popular at-home filter.
  • OpenDNS -- A more robust system used by many companies for monitoring and filtering employee internet use.

Browser Plugins:

  • WebFilter - Plugin for Chrome and Firefox.
  • FoxFilter - Browser plugin for Firefox. Personal content filter that blocks inappropriate content.

Considering special needs

Many children have special needs which can impair their ability to engage in a productive online experience. Thankfully, there are many tools available to make the internet a more welcoming place.

  • ZAC Browser — A specialized online environment for children with autism.
  • Open Dyslexic Plugin for Chrome and for Firefox — A browser extension that displays page content using a font designed to be readable by people with dyslexia.
  • Dyslite — A similar, but premium, cross-browser plugin with more font options.
  • WebbIE — A browser for the blind and visually-impaired, designed to work well with screen readers and text-to-speech software.

Further Resources

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