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How to keep kids safe online

Written by  Aug 18, 2019

Much of the internet is a great resource for kids, whether it's Wikipedia for helping with homework, online games, social networks, videos, music and more.

However, there are a much larger number of websites that you wouldn’t want them going anywhere near.

One of the greatest challenges facing parents these days is how to ensure that their children remain safe online. With so many kids now having tablets, smartphones, or PCs of their own, it’s increasingly difficult to know what content they access and who they’re meeting on the web.

Please read on to have a better understanding of what steps you can take to to make browsing the internet safer for your children.. Much of our advice is common sense, but in addition there are some settings you can make to limit the content and apps available on a phone, tablet or PC.

Set rules

Kids these days have grown up with the internet and have no concept of what life was like without it. They’re completely at home with technology: using a trackpad or touchscreen is second nature.

In fact, children tend to learn to use a touchscreen way before they can read or write, using colours, images and symbols instead of words to navigate around apps and websites in order to get to a video or game they like.

Facebook messaging

Whatever the age of your kids, it’s important to keep them safe when browsing websites, using social networking services such as Facebook, Snapchat and TikTok, plus when chatting with friends using instant messaging programs. Always encourage your kids to talk to you if they feel uneasy about a friend request from a stranger or to tell  you about any form of online bullying.

Although your children may know more about using their devices than you do, it’s your responsibility to ensure they're protected from the parts of the web that present a danger to them. The dangers (see below) may sound bad, but the good news is that you can prevent most of them happening without too much time, effort or cost.

Common sense plays a bigger part than you might think. For a start, we’d recommend not allowing children to use a device - laptop, tablet or phone - in their own room. Asking them to use it in a communal area should discourage most inappropriate activities as it will be obvious what they’re up to even if you only glance in their direction.

The most important thing to do is to talk to each child and explain (in a way appropriate to their age) the dangers that the internet could pose to them, and why they can’t use their devices in their room.

If your children see something makes them uncomfortable or upsets them, you can delete inappropriate websites from your browser's history, and add the site's address to a parental control filter list (explained below).

Also encourage them to tell you if they receive any threatening or frightening messages or emails - you can add the sender's address to most email programs' blocked list.

You should also make it clear what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable online. That’s something only you can decide, but you can’t expect your kids to know they’re doing something wrong if you haven’t set any boundaries.

You might, for example, tell your child that they're not allowed to download apps or files without your permission beforehand, nor share a file with anyone without your consent. You could also set rules about whether they can use any instant messaging services, tell them not to reply to unsolicited emails or sign up for free accounts without you first checking that it's ok. If you are familiar with the apps that they use and notice an app shortcut on the screen that you know wasn't there before question it.

hotel wifiAlso see: Free hotel wifi can be risky!

Internet dangers

While much of the media focus tends to revolve around the problems children can encounter on social media sites, recent research from security experts Kaspersky labs has found that online gaming is now a real source of concern.

In a study of 11-16 yr olds, Kaspersky discovered that 38 percent of children had encountered people pretending to be someone else on gaming platforms, while 23 percent had been asked personal or suspicious personal questions while online.

Perhaps the most worrying statistic though was that 20 percent of the children interviewed said that they trusted the gaming platform so much that they would see no problem meeting contacts from it in real life.

This is compounded by the fact that nearly a third of the children in the study said that their parents had no idea who they talked to when they played games online.

It's always worth glancing over their shoulders to see who they are chatting to and ask question them if you have doubts or suspicions.

Setting boundaries

In the end, you are still the parent, and thus remain in charge. If you feel your child is ignoring warnings, or actively seeking out the wrong sites, then you can remove their internet privileges, at least temporarily.

Parental control apps, such as Qustodio are very handy especially for younger children, it will allow you to set up content filters, block particular apps and websites, monitor SMS and social media communications, and set time limits for when a device can be used.

For older children this may be a little heavy handed and make them feel as if they are being spied upon, which could cause resentment.

Talk to your children rather than rely on a software solution, this is the most sensible approach and cannot be emphasised enough.

But, software solutions are needed as well, after all you can't keep an eye on them all of the time. here are some ways in which you can use settings and applications to help you protect your kids.

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How to make YouTube and Facebook safer for kids

Facebook

Two of the most popular websites for kids (adults too) are YouTube and Facebook. Facebook has unpredictable content. There are no filters that can restrict explicit content, although the friends you follow obviously have a great effect on the kind of material that appears in your newsfeed.

You can block individual users and apps in the settings options, but that’s about it. It’s worth remembering that the minimum age requirement of a Facebook account is 13 years old, so it’s not really intended to be entirely child-friendly. Many of the family security software packages available, often include social media features. So, if your child is a regular Facebook user then it would be worth investigating some of these.

YouTube

YouTube is also extremely popular and well known to children, especially due to the huge amount of music videos on the site.

Google offers the YouTube Kids app for Android and another for Apple products. This is free and should certainly be used instead of the main YouTube app. It has a simpler interface and uses algorithms to filter search results to videos suitable for kids.

youtube kids

It isn't fullproof of course, but it's far safer than handing over a phone or tablet and allowing them to use the full YouTube app. You can turn search on if you like, or turn it off and let them use the interface to discover new videos. Unfortunately, this version of YouTube can only be used via the iOS and Android apps, not in web browsers.

Google does provide a Restricted Mode option on the full YouTube site, and once applied it covers any instance of YouTube that logs in with the same account. To enable it, go to your PC and navigate to the YouTube site. Click your account icon in the top right corner, then select Settings from the drop-down menu.

Scroll to the bottom of the page, and click on the Restricted Mode: box. Here you’ll see an explanation of how it works, and the limitations it applies. Click the On option then Save and your child's searches should now be a bit safer than they might have been before.

Restricted Mode in YouTube in Safari Chrome and Firefox on iPhone

Again, it’s not foolproof, but it will at least limit the amount of unsuitable material that might otherwise get through.

Netflix

You can create a kids profile in Netflix, and also set a PIN along with a restriction level for content. That's good, but even better is the features where Netflix allows you to block specific TV shows and films: you just type in the name and add it to your own block list. Tt is a good idea for the child to ask you first before watching any content that they are not sure about.

How to set parental control on Netflix 3

Microsoft Family Security in Windows 10

Back in Windows 8 Microsoft introduced family security settings. These allowed parents to create children’s accounts, restrict the type of content they could access, as well as set time limits for when the young ones could use the devices. Windows 10 also provides these options and we would encourage you to use them, at least as a starting point.

familyoptionswdsc

Don't share too much

It’s all well securing your devices, but it can all be for nothing if you then go and plaster pictures of your child all over Facebook, a very common thing for parents to do.

In a recent study conducted by Nominet, the UK’s internet infrastructure specialists, is was revealed that, on average, parents share nearly 1500 pictures of their child by the time the little one reaches his/her fifth birthday.

This becomes more of an issue when it was also discovered that 85% of parents hadn’t checked their privacy settings in over a year, while only 10% were even confident of knowing what to do.

When pictures are shared online there is little chance that they ever truly disappear, so bear in mind that your child’s image becomes essentially public the moment you post it to social media.

How to make the internet safer

While there exists many tweaks and features within browsers and software that can make your internet access more secure, one almost fool proof step you can take is to actually go to the source itself – the router. This device is your gateway to the internet, and it’s actually possible to use special apps such as Family Shield by OpenDNS to directly filter all of the content.

But there are very few ways of controlling what it actually filters. You choose from either High, Moderate, or Low filters, but this applies to everybody on the network, not just your children.

There are ways around this, as seen in the guide, but they can be somewhat complicated. It’s not just Family Shield that suffers from this broad-brush approach. Many UK Internet Service Providers, offer family security filters, but all content will be filtered to the children’s version for everyone.

But things are slowly changing, with offerings such as Sky’s Broadband Shield allowing you to set time limits, so access is opened up after a watershed time when the kids are in bed. Obviously the advantage of this approach is that all devices connecting to your home Wi-Fi will have the same restrictions, so you don’t need to go around setting up each tablet or PC.

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Conclusion

The job of a parent has been made much more challenging by the internet. While we’ve gathered together as much helpful information as possible in this article, and there are some very good tools out there, in truth none of them are a guarantee that your child will be safe online. That’s not to say that they won’t help, they must only be used in conjunction with your own presence and on going engagement with your children to really work.

Combining many of the features together though, will at least limit the potential of your child seeing unsuitable content. But, remember to take time to talk with your children about how they use the internet, what they like, and what their friends are into. It could just be the most effective filter of all.

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