Last updated: July 7, 2019
eSafety: How to Keep Kids Safe Online
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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. And some of them are out of touch with modern technology.
Few children are using email much. Instead, they are using social media networks and smartphone apps 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.
Keeping Kids Safe Online
In this section, we will give a general overview of the kinds of things you and do to keep your children safe, and things they can do themselves.
Guidelines for Parents
The FBI has published a useful guide that is well worth visiting and as you would expect from the US Department of Justice, it takes the protection of our children from online dangers very seriously indeed.
A fundamental issue that has to be addressed when talking about internet safety, is the fact that advances in computer and telecommunications technology not only offer the opportunity to access new sources of knowledge and widen their cultural experience, it also opens up the possibility of exposure to harmful material, exploitation, and even sexual predators, in some circumstances.
No parent would ever want their child to experience any of these traumatic and challenging scenario’s, which is why it is critical for parents to understand the dangers and monitor their child’s activity within reason, as well as spotting any behavioral changes in them that could indicate a problem.
You should never be immune to the fact that there are a small percentage of individuals who surf the internet with a view to making friends with a child and grooming them for sexual exploitation at a later date.
These predators are particularly adept at gradually lowering a child’s inhibitions over a period of time and will often pretend to be someone that they are not. A middle-aged man with bad intentions could easily create a profile that is very different to reality in order to befriend a child, so you should be prepared as a parent to ask who they are talking to if you are unsure in any way and also look out for noticeable changes in their behavior.
Warning signs can include spending large amounts of time online, especially during evening hours and there may be some examples of pornography on your child’s computer, which may have been introduced as a way of normalizing sex between adults and children.
If your child becomes withdrawn or shows any of the signs that you can find a list of in guides like the one compiled by the FBI, you should be prepared to talk openly with them about your suspicions and make them aware of the dangers they are facing.
If you do find evidence of inappropriate contact between an adult and your child or have any concerns at all, you should not hesitate to try and discuss the situation with your son or daughter and if necessary, contact your local law enforcement agency for further assistance.
Open communication is the key to avoiding major problems like sexual exploitation and cyberbullying from happening to your child, so use your parental instincts and act swiftly.
The National Safety Council also provides some useful tips for parents and there is also information and advice for parents via OnGuardOnline.Gov. All of these sites can help you provide the parental support and guidance that is necessary with such easy access to the internet within reach for most children.
Resources to Help Kids Stay Safe
- Sexual Predators Online: information and advice on how to avoid the dangers of online predators.
- Access to Kids: helpful information for parents to learn how predators can have access to kids.
- Online Predators: informative web page with information for parents on what to look for to prevent children from being a victim of an online predator.
- Facts About Online Predators: useful page that deals with the problems of online predators.
Kids and the Web
We want to aim for our kids to be smart digital citizens, as the internet is such a fundamental part of modern life and commerce.
Education and entertainment are all easily accessible and the Attorney General’s office has set up a national task force to help enforce school and campus safety for all children, so that kids can use the internet safely and not be exposed to issues like violence in schools and bullying.
Although dating violence is very much a physical problem and a very real concern, when you look at the statistics that show how worryingly common this phenomenon is, the internet can be used in a positive way to address this problem.
The results of a study carried out back in 2008 by LoveIsRespect.org, showed that 69% of teens who had sex by the age of 14, had suffered some type of abuse in a relationship and one in every five teenagers aged between 13 and 14 years, said they knew of friends or peers who had been struck in anger by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
As only 51% of tweens claimed to know the warning signs of a bad or hurtful relationship, this where you as a parent can fill that knowledge gap and use resources like LoveIsRespect to educate and address any problems with violence, especially during such crucial formative years.
Bullying is not exactly a new phenomenon but it has taken on a new form with the invention of the internet.
Cyber Bullying is the use of different technologies such as cell phones and any device connected to the internet, to send or post images or text that is designed to hurt or embarrass another person. These acts of aggression can even take place via video game systems which are connected to the internet, so you will need to be vigilant as a parent to spot any signs of this happening to your child.
Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter as well as popular chat rooms and forums, are all mediums that are used by cyber bullies to attack their victims in a number of different hurtful ways.
The acts can be rumor spreading, disclosure of personal information and can even involve the bully impersonating the victim.
Cyber bullying can be carried out overtly or covertly. The removal of this face-to-face exchange which used to be a feature of a playground bully in the physical world seems to make some of the perpetrators act more boldly in the cyber world.
According to statistics compiled by NoBullying.com, it is estimated that 43% of teens were victims of cyberbullying in the US during 2010. This is an alarming statistic and shows the need for parents to monitor their child as best they can and maintain an open dialogue about the subject with them.
Here are some useful resources to refer to on the subject
- Cyber Bullying Research Center: web site that deals with the problems and solutions of cyberbullying.
- Facts About Cyber Bullying: article that lists some little known facts about the problems of cyberbullying.
- Cyber Bullying Information: this helpful site contains information about the various aspects of cyberbullying.
- What is Cyber Bullying?: useful page that looks at the problem of bullying in cyberspace.
Protecting Personal Information
Not every parent is aware that they have control over any personal information collected online about their child, if they are younger 13 years of age.
It is an important law that helps you get the opportunity to consent to data being held about your child if they under 13 and it also means that the website has a legal obligation to keep any information it collects secure.
It is worth taking the time to read about privacy laws when it comes to protecting your child online and there are also some useful tips to refer to that are designed to help keep sensitive data away from unauthorized access.
Here are some sites that can help parents get up to speed and learn more about protecting personal information:
- Protecting Your Child’s Privacy Online: informative page from the Federal Trade Commission that looks at privacy issues.
- Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act : summary of the legislation that was enacted to protect children online.
- Protecting Personal Information: tips on how to protect personal information from being found online.
Tips for Kids
You should not give out any personal information without first asking permission from your parents and anything that could easily identify you such as your last name and home address should be avoided.
Think about a sensible screen name for yourself that does not include any genuine personal information like your name or date of birth and always tell your parents before meeting an online friend, as not everyone is who they claim to be online.
Take a look at some of these sites for some more help on how to be smart when online:
- Internet Safety Tips for Children and Teens: this article from the New York Public Library will help you find information and advice on keeping kids safe online.
- Internet Safety Tips: helpful page that lists useful tips for children about internet safety.
Tips for Parents
The Family Online Safety Institute offers plenty of helpful advice on how to practice good digital parenting and their aim is to give parents the confidence to help their children navigate their way safely around the online world.
The range of issues and subjects that you need to address with your children about internet safety will vary according to their age and it is definitely part of modern-day parenting that you have a sound understanding of what is going on in the digital world.
Technology has the ability to help you become a better parent and develop a trusting and collaborative relationship with your child when it comes to how they use the internet. This can only be successfully achieved if you have a broad understanding and knowledge of the sites they might have access to and the content they are likely to encounter.
Take a look at some of these sites for further guidance and information and always remember that practicing internet safety is an important aspect of ensuring your child has a positive experience from using the internet in their lives.
Here are some sites that you may wish to look at in order to help you achieve this goal:
- Good Digital Parenting: useful article that provides parents with safety tips for online usage.
- Internet Safety Tips (PDF): page that contains information on online safety issues for parents and kids.
The following sections 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 screen captures, 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.
With all these new online dangers, even your own home can be a 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.
You can also learn what specific steps you can take to make their experience safer while they have fun chatting online with friends and exploring the web.
Illustrated Guide to E-Safety
Children are using more technology at a younger age at a faster and faster rate. This provides a challenge to their parents who want them to be prepared for the modern world but also want to keep them safe.
In the following infographic, we provide a basic primer for parents caught in this situation.
It starts with the basic facts of the online playground: how many children are using what devices; what they are being used for; and so on.
Then it shows you the basics of making devices safe for your children. You don’t need to be a defeatist and think your kids will get around anything you do. Remember: you are the adult and with a little effort, you can learn to use and control smartphones and tablets way better than your children.
Finally, it discusses 10 safety rules for allowing children online and provides resources to learn more.
It will start you on your way!
How to Protect Your Children on Snapchat
Snapchat is a hugely popular messaging app that allows users to send photos, videos, or screen captures 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 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.
How to Protect Your Children on Kik
Kik is one of the most popular free modern messaging apps, with over 100 million 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.
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 has received: 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.
How to Protect Your Child on Badoo
If you are like most parents, you’ve never even heard of Badoo. And that’s terrifying! What else might your children be using that you’ve never heard of?
The sad truth is: a lot. There are over a billion smartphone apps. The vast majority of them are perfectly benign or even helpful: music players and public transit planners. A relatively small number of apps will connect your kids to potentially dangerous social media sites.
But Bandoo is one of those social media sites. Frankly, it isn’t a site your children should be on at all. It is primarily a dating site. And few parents will have any trouble imagining how such a site could lead to great harm to their children.
It’s not that Badoo is a bad or nefarious website. It is just that it is for adults. Depending on your beliefs, it’s perfectly fine for an adult to meet friends at a bar for a cold one. But it isn’t for children.
The same applies to Badoo. And it is very clear about this: “If you are under the age of 18 then unfortunately you can’t use Badoo yet because it’s a meeting place for adults only.”
But that doesn’t mean your kids won’t get around that. Remember On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog? That’s not as true anymore, but its mostly true — especially for a determined and precocious child.
Luckily, this infographic will help you manage the situation and keep your children safe.
Facebook Safety 101
The following infographic is different than the ones that came before, because it isn’t specifically about children. But you’ll want to read it if you want to keep your kids safe.
You’ll also want to read it even if you don’t have any children. There are a lot of dangers on Facebook, and you need to know how to protect yourself.
The good news is that Facebook allows you to protect yourself from most things that are dangerous like identity theft and data harvesting.
The bad news is that Facebook is not set up by default to keep you and your children as safe as they could be.
But the best news is that this infographic goes through the most important things to keep yourself and all your loved ones safe.
There’s no time to waste. If you’re on Facebook, get started now!
32 Internet Acronyms and Slang Every Parent Should Know
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.
Country Specific Information
Every country, province, and locality is different, even though the internet is global. We’ve put together a information for a few countries of special interest.
Canada is fairly typical of developed countries in terms of the threats its children face.
Snapchat is vying for the number one spot as probably the most popular smartphone messaging app that is in use by kids today.
According to GlobalWebIndex, 50% of 16-19-year-olds are using Snapchat on a monthly basis across the globe. Teen users in Canada are running a bit behind at about 40%.
This makes Snapchat more popular than WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
This high level of usage amongst young people equates to millions of photos and videos being sent and exchanged every day.
The computer security company AVG Technologies carried out a survey amongst parents from various countries — including Canada.
It concluded that many children actually know how to use a smartphone before they can write.
An incredible 89% of kids who are aged between 6 and 9 are active online. Canada’s youth are highly connected and are participating in online activities at a younger age than we have ever seen before.
MediaSmarts is a Canadian non-profit organization. They performed a comprehensive survey of internet access.
It revealed that an amazing 99% of all students have access to the internet outside of school. In addition, nearly 40% of them actually sleep with their cellphone with them.
It appears that smartphones are the most frequently used device for internet access. Roughly 35% of 9-16 year olds use this type of device to connect online.
The remainder use laptops and tablets to access the internet.
About 90% of 15-16 year olds in Canada are understood to have a profile on a social networking site.
Additionally, an estimated 40% of 11-12 year olds do too. This is shocking, given the fact that there is actually an age restriction of 13 for most social networking sites (eg, Facebook).
It is a worrying thought that about half of older teenagers are likely to have seen sexual images online in the past 12 months.
And if global statistics are a reliable guide, some 35% of Canadian girls aged between 13 and 16 years of age have encountered some form of harmful content or hate messages.
Where Parents Fail
It is believed that over 80% of parents have arranged to install some security software on their children’s laptops.
But less than 25% had arranged any similar protection for their child’s smartphone.
Parents need to make sure they adopt the same line of thinking when it comes to cyber security and safety for their kids’ smartphones as they have done for other devices.
- Kids Can Use Smartphones Before They Learn to Write Their Names and Tie Their Shoes
- Canada’s Youth Are Highly Connected, Girls Face Different Rules Online
- Royal Canadian Mounted Police: Internet Safety Resources
- Government of Canada: Get Cyber Safe
- CyberTip.ca: Internet Safety
- Canadian Centre for Child Protection
- Canadian Safety Council: Online Safety Rules for Kids
Australia is a very connected country. And that makes the job of keeping their children safe all the harder.
It is interesting to note that one of the reasons why Microsoft chose Australia as the venue to launch its new range of tablets over other countries around the globe, is because the country already has more tablets per capita than almost anywhere else.
It is estimated that almost 30% of households access the internet via a tablet, and Australians also spend about an hour longer than their counterparts in the US and the UK. Mobile access through smartphones has also surged by some 20% in recent years, while the use of a desktop is in steady decline.
The relevance of these statistics, is the portability aspect of how many of us now access the internet. Almost gone are the days where the family would have a computer in a central point in the house, which was shared by different users and also much easier to control when trying to restrict access or content.
It is believed that about 35% of kids in Australia have their own mobile and children who are as young as 8 years of age can be seen carrying a smartphone these days.
The smartphone ownership figures for children have double since 2007 and by the time your child is a teenager, they will probably be amongst the 94% of 16 and 17- year olds who carry a mobile phone around with them.
It is believed that about 85% of parents have arranged to install some security software on their kid’s laptops, but only about 22% had arranged any similar protection for their child’s smartphone.
Parents need to use the same thinking when it comes to cyber security and safety for their kid’s smartphones as they have done for other devices.
If you are going to give your child a smartphone, think carefully about the all the cyber safety implications.
Aim to establish a set of rules around your kids’ use of the phone. That includes educating them about the dangers they face on the internet and through the various apps that they are using.
- Rise in Number of Australian Kids With Smartphones
- Australia-First Study Reveals Our Changing Social Media Habits
- Australia Has Highest Tablet Take-Up in the World: Study
- Office of Children’s eSafety Commissioner
- Western Australia Police: Young People
- Australian Government Online Safety
Like most advanced economies, Ireland is well connected. And that translates to its children as well.
Snapchat is probably the most popular smartphone messaging app that is being used by kids today and according to GlobalWebIndex, 50% of 16-19-year-olds are using Snapchat on a monthly basis across the globe and teen users in Ireland are at about 40%, making it more popular than WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Another hugely popular app amongst teenagers and young adults in particular, is Kik Messenger. The unique appeal of this app is that it enables you to message anonymously.
Another app that has attracted some unwanted publicity is Ask.fm, which is a question-and-answer social networking site.
There have been a number of stories in the press about bullying issues and suicides linked to the use of the site, in various countries around the world.
How Young People Access the Internet
The European Commission funded a two-year research programme called Net Children Go Mobile, and Ireland was one of the participating countries in the survey, which spanned seven European destinations in total.
It seems that smartphones are the most frequently used device for internet access with about 35% of 9-16 year olds using this type of device to connect online, followed by 29% using laptops and 27% using tablets.
While over 60% of internet use is still actually based in the family home, about 46% of these children were accessing the web from their own bedroom, rather than in a supervised environment.
The relevance of these statistics is how many of our children are able to access internet data and communication outside of what you would consider to be normal parental supervision.
About 90% of 15-16-year-olds in Ireland have a profile on a social networking site and 40% of 11-12-year-olds also have a profile, despite the fact that there is actually an age restriction of 13 for most sites such as Facebook.
Another worrying statistic that came to light from the Net Children Go Mobile survey was that 47% of older teenagers had seen sexual images in the past 12 months and some 35% of girls aged between 13 and 16 years of age, had encountered some form of harmful content or hate messages.
In view of these findings, the sensible advice would be to consider giving any child under 13 years of age something more basic than a smartphone.
- Ireland Office of Internet Safety
- Safety Tips From Hotline.ie
- EU’s Net Children Go Mobile
New Zealand might be physically isolated, but it is as connected to the internet as well as any other advanced economy.
Social Media and Chatting
Snapchat is considered by many to be the leading smartphone messaging app and is being used by around 50% of 16-19-year-olds on a monthly basis across the globe, making it more popular than WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
The fact that the New Zealand Transport Agency used Snapchat recently to target drug users about the dangers of drug-driving, gives you a good idea of the level of reach that these popular apps now have within their under 25 community.
This high level of usage amongst young people also means that there are literally millions of photos and videos being sent and exchanged every day.
You need to have an open and positive discussion with your child about SnapChat and other things like Kik Messenger and Ask.fm.. They can be helpful in encouraging an acceptable level of independence and socialization, but they also need help to understand the potential dangers they are facing.
How Young People Access the Internet
It is estimated that over 70% of New Zealand children who are aged between 6 and 9 are active online and the country’s youth are definitely more highly connected and are participating in online activities at a younger age than their predecessors.
According to statistics, 22% of the New Zealand population was connected to the internet in 2000 but by the time the last figures were collected in 2012, that figure had shot up to 86% penetration.
A very high percentage of students in New Zealand and around the globe, have access to the internet outside of school and it is estimated that nearly 40% of them actually sleep with their cellphone with them to stay in touch around the clock.
A figure believed to be around 80% of 15-16-year-olds in New Zealand are understood to have a profile on a social networking site.
An estimated 40% of 11-12-year-olds also have a profile. Most social networking sites like Facebook have an age restriction of 13, so this is surprising.
Smartphone Usage Exposes Them to Online Dangers
It appears that smartphones are now the most frequently used device for gaining internet access with about 35% of 9-16-year-olds using this type of device to connect online. and the majority of the remainder using laptops and tablets to access the internet rather than a desktop PC.
It is also a disturbing thought that roughly half of older teenagers are likely to have seen sexual images online in the past 12 months and if global statistics are to be believed, approximately 35% of New Zealand girls aged between 13 and 16 years of age, are likely to have encountered some form of harmful content or hate messages.
Anything that you are likely to do on a tablet can also be done on a smartphone as well, but despite this, there is a noticeable gap between the level of security software on laptops and tablets, compared to smartphones.
Over 80% of parents have sensibly arranged to install some kind of security software on their child’s laptops, but less than 25% had arranged any similar protection for their child’s smartphone.
We want to protect our children from harm and to provide them with guidance about so many different aspects of life as they grow and develop. With this in mind, make it your goal to keep up to speed with all the latest technology and learn what your kids are doing online, so you can have the best possible chance of keeping them safe.
New Zealander Resources
- New Zealand Transport Agency
- Stats NZ’s Census Snapshot: Children
- Internet World Stats: New Zealand
- NetSafe: Online Safety for New Zealand
- New Zealand Police: Email and Internet Safety
- New Zealand Police: Online Child Safety
- Netsafe: Online Bullying and Harassment
- Kiwi Families: Technology for Grown Ups
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, But…
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 any number of other things. 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
Promoting good and safe computer use is not as hard as you may think. We’ll discuss the main things you need to do here.
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.
- How to create a new user in Windows
- How to create a new user in Mac OSX
- How to create a new user in Linux.
(Be sure that when you create a new user, you do not give that user Administrative permissions.)
Child Friendly Internet Browsing
In this sections we will cover special browsers made for children, popular plugins for browsers, content filtering tools, as well as browsers for special-needs children.
Child Friendly Browsers
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.
- 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.
- Open Dyslexic: a plugin for Chrome 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.
Positive Reading and Resources
Ultimately, the internet is a good thing for your children. You need to keep them safe, of course. But the internet can enrich your children’s lives in ways that were never possible before.
That’s why we have created guides, tutorials, and infographics related to helping children use and have more fun with computers and the internet. Here are a few:
- Educational Websites for Kids: over 40 educational and fun websites for kids on math, science, reading, writing, and history. Many are very appealing to adults too!
- Graphic Design for Kids: in the online world, knowing graphic design is as valuable as knowing how to program. Plus, these resources will teach your children other skills in a fun and engaging way.
- Using Minecraft in Education: find out how this game can be used to teach children various skills.
Fun Ways Kids Can Learn to Code
Your child doesn’t need to want to become a professional programmer to gain great skills and have a good time learning to program. That’s why we created the infographic Fun Ways Kids Can Learn to Code. There are special languages just for children to learn the concepts. And who knows? Maybe they will grow up to be a tech billionaire.