A Guide To Protecting Your Children Online

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The internet has opened us up to a world of possibilities, you can shop, do your banking, ask questions, check the weather and connect with friends 2,000 miles away with just the click of a button. But despite the great opportunities it presents, the internet can also be a very dangerous place if you’re not careful.  In fact, cybercriminals, inappropriate content, social media bullies and fake accounts are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dark side of the internet.

Sadly, this can be damaging enough to an adult, but as the next generation of children are growing up in this digital world, they too can be affected by the content they’re accessing online. This is why it’s so important to protect your little ones from being exposed to harmful material or from sharing too much about themselves with strangers online. Below we’ll look at six ways you can keep your children safe online, even if you’re not always there to watch over their shoulder.

1. Educate yourself on the dangers of the internet

One of the problems that a lot of parents face is that they weren’t raised in the era of the internet like their children were and therefore they aren’t always as knowledgeable about computers, mobile devices or the activities taking place on the internet. But the best way to be able to educate your kids and keep them safe is by getting clued up yourself. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for advice, pick up a book or run your queries through a search engine to help you better understand the internet. Once you’ve bolstered your own knowledge of the online world, you’ll feel better equipped to protect your children.

2. Teach your child about online safety

Now you’re armed with your new-found knowledge, it’s time to educate your children. Before allowing them to go online by themselves, it’s a good idea to sit them down and have an open and honest discussion about the dangers of the internet. Of course, you don’t have to go into all the horrible details but making them aware of the dangers will keep them wary when using their devices. At this stage, you should drive home the stranger danger issue as well. It’s best to try and keep your little ones out of chat rooms as best you can but reinforcing the ‘never talk to strangers’ rule is vital, even when these strangers are online and not in person.

It’s also important that they understand never to share any personal information with a stranger and never to upload any photos online without your permission.  And of course, under no circumstances should they agree to meet up with someone they don’t know! This can all seem a little ‘doom and gloom’ especially when talking to much younger children but putting that bit of fear into them could be what it takes to keep them safe and cautious online.

3. Place computers in common areas

If children have computers or mobile devices in their rooms, it can be much harder for you to monitor their usage. Instead, you should limit computers or the use of mobile devices to common rooms in the house. You’ll be amazed how your mere presence as a parent can help to keep your child abiding by the rules. After all, you might not actually be able to see what they’re looking at on their screens, but they don’t have to know that.

4. Set fair usage and time limits for your children

As a general rule, it’s a good idea to limit your child’s internet usage anyway. Firstly because this can reduce the risk of them finding content or websites they shouldn’t see, but also because it’s not healthy for children to be glued to their devices all day. Set boundaries for what sites they can and can’t visit and give them dedicated screen time each day. For example, they can play games for an hour a day before dinner or watch a video before bed. You may wish to extend this time if they’re genuinely doing homework, but otherwise healthy, reasonable limits are a good idea.  

5. Spend time on the internet with your children

Another great way to keep an eye on your children’s internet usage and educate them on best practice is by spending some time with them online. This can be easier to do with younger children, but tweens and teenagers tend to be more difficult to interact with in this way. Make some time to sit down with them in the evening and ask them to show you the games they’re playing. Alternatively, you could sit and help them research their homework or school projects. By spending time with them in this way you can point out any strange pop-ups or websites they should avoid, and generally just teach them how to safely navigate the internet.

6. Put blocks or restrictions on your chosen websites

This is perhaps one of the best tools you have as a parent trying to keep your children safe online. As internet users have become younger and younger, more internet providers and third parties have begun creating systems that allow adults to put blocks or age restrictions on certain websites. Many providers offer filtering tools and parental controls to help give you peace of mind, so you should speak to your provider about what they offer.

Some third-party systems even operate as the middleman between the provider and your children’s device – all you have to do is plug it into the wall. These allow you to block the internet at the touch of a button using the partnering app. This gives you ultimate control over your children’s internet usage and you don’t even have to be in the house to do it. If you’re feeling concerned about what they’re doing when you’re out of the house, or if they’ve not done their homework you can simply block the internet until they’re allowed to use it again. It is that simple.

Stuart Cooke is the Marketing Manager at Evalian.co.uk, data protection and cyber-security consultants who train businesses and educators on how to protect their website and themselves from online threats.