Navigating the virtual spaces we live in today can be difficult and overwhelming for anyone, especially parents.
Thankfully, there are simple online safety tips every parent can take to help ensure a secure and positive online experience for their children.
Let’s face it, parents today face the challenge of keeping their children safe and protected in not just one, but two worlds.
Okay, what other world might you ask?
All aboard, Welcome to cyberspace.
It’s a growing age of apps, smart phones, smart cars, smart houses, online social networks, emojis, and even new languages, although questionable in language imho, smh. 🙂
And the race continues for the next, greatest technological advance, or app that will entice us and our children even deeper into the realm of cyberspace.
I can hear the faint whispers of a not so distant future, where we will share those “remember when” moments like, “Remember when people actually drove there own cars!”.
Every generation has their own “remember when” stories.
I can look back on the stories my parents told me as a kid, especially, the “When I was a kid…” stories, you know, usually when you were ill-behaved or especially ungrateful.
I can recall one specific time griping about having to wait for the school bus, and the long ride to school, when my father sternly interjected, “Boy, you should be grateful you have a bus! When I was a kid, I had to walk 12 miles to school, rain, sleet, or snow, barefooted!”.
I can LOL about it now, mostly because I am also a parent, telling stories of my own like, ” You should be grateful your mother drives you to school! When I was a kid, I had to wait for hours in the rain, sleet, or snow for a rundown school bus!”.
Ahhh yes, and the saga continues.
Each generation aspiring to do it better than the last, right?
However, with the rise of technology and the internet, parents today are forced to play catch up in a world that, for many, didn’t even exist when they were children.
So, what’s a parent supposed to do?
“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”.
Online safety, sometimes referred to as web safety, internet safety, or cyber safety, refers to the practices and precautions you should observe when using the internet and world wide web, in order to protect your personal information and electronic devices (computer, tablet, smart phone).
The best safeguard against any online danger is being an informed user.
As a parent, the first step is to simply become informed. What exactly are your children doing online? Who do they talk to? What sites do they visit? What games do they play? What social networks are they interacting with?
Educate yourself on the websites, software, and apps your children use so that you may evaluate whether or not they are appropriate.
Resource Nugget: FBI’s Resources for Parents
Above all, your children shouldn’t be more “tech & net savvy” than you are as a parent.
Have a Chat with Your Kids
Sure, there are many “tech” related gadgets, including software and online filters, that you can use to police your kid’s online activities, and they do provide great value and protection.
However, in my honest opinion as a parent, none of them can, nor should replace having frequent conversations with your kids about the benefits, AND the dangers of cyberspace. As they grow older they will be more and more exposed to the online world, and you won’t always have control over their viewing habits.
Try developing, and cultivating an interest in what your kids are doing online. Create a “safe place” for open conversation, and discussion of difficult topics and subject matter, along with important guidelines and rules.
Try the following as a guide to jump-start the conversation, and to learn the specifics of your child’s online access.
Who are your children talking to? Who are their friends?
- in chat rooms
- on social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr
- apps like Snapchat, Instagram
It is extremely important for your kids to understand that people are not always who they claim to be online. Online predators pretend to be whatever they think their potential victim wants them to be in order to take advantage of them or do them harm.
- What apps are they using?
- What websites do they visit?
- What apps, and websites are they allowed to use?
What devices are they using for online access?
- a personal computer
- iPad or iPhone
- Android smart phone
When are they accessing the internet?
Are there set times your children are allowed to use their electronic devices, and time limits on the amount of time they can use them?
Where are your children getting online?
- Friends house. ***Note, unless you’ve had a specific conversation with their friend’s parents, don’t assume their children follow the same rules you have laid out for your child. Again, frank and open discussion with your child will serve them best. Many children, as young as 11 years old, report seeing pornography for the first time while at a friends house.***
- coffee shop
- public library
How are they getting online?
- mobile phone data plan
- public WiFi
- friends’ or neighbors’ WiFi
- home WiFi and network
Resource Nugget: Google Safe Browsing Site Status
Jedi Mind Tricks and Parental Controls
Have you ever questioned your child when you already knew the answer, and then observed the puzzled, to lie or not to lie, look on their precious little faces as their thoughts race, how could they know?, do they know?, who told?, there’s Noooo way they could know?, what if?, awe crap they know, how’d they do that?
Well, parental control applications offer “backup” for when kids will be kids. They provide tools that allow you to monitor and control your child’s online access. Many parental control applications offer content filtering, options to restrict or limit online access, and reporting so you can see exactly what your child is doing online.
Content filtering enables you to block websites that fall into categories like violence, nudity, pornography, gambling, and many more. You can also control how and when your children access the internet by setting time limits and device restrictions.
Some versions of parental control software offer advanced protection for multiple devices with call & SMS/text monitoring, location tracking, app & game monitoring/blocking, geofencing, and social activity monitoring for social networks like Facebook.
Please note, no “one” parental control application or service is perfect. They all have their own “pros” and “cons”. The following products are a few of the top FREE applications I use and recommend.
If you haven’t had a chat with your child yet, I encourage you to do so. Otherwise, as you begin monitoring their online activity, they may rebel, and be even more inclined to try and evade or bypass even the most advanced parental controls.
Used by 1 in 3 schools in the U.S., and one of my personal favorites, OpenDNS provides parental control and monitoring at the network level regardless of the device platform. Simply put, any device that connects to your network, whether a PC, Mac, iPhone/iPad, Android smart phone, smart TV, or gaming device like X-box, will be covered.
The free version comes in two different flavors:
- Family Shield
Family Shield’s filter settings are preconfigured, which is ideal for parents looking for a “set it & forget it” simple, and straightforward solution. There’s no account to configure, no complicated settings to customize, and no downloads or software to install. Just follow two simple steps, and your immediately protected.
With a few more steps and instructions to follow, OpenDNS Home offers customizable filtering for those parents who want the option to choose their own settings, in addition to usage logs, reports, and access to view which sites are being blocked.
One OpenDNS Home feature I really like is the ability to create a whitelist and blacklist, which are just lists of sites that are always allowed (white), or always blocked (black). The Home version allows you to create 25 URLs in each list.
For example, I monitor photo sharing on my network with OpenDNS. My wife navigated to Disney PhotoPass to download our Disney pictures, and BAM, “Domain blocked, Contact Network Administrator“, who by the way is now in trouble. With the whitelist feature, I was able to quickly type the Disney PhotoPass domain/URL into OpenDNS, and voila, happy wife, happy life.
Both versions offer identity and fraud protection by blocking phishing sites, which are simply fake sites set up by malicious individuals to trick you into giving up your account information so they can then gain access to your online accounts.
Additionally, both services automatically block websites known as proxies and anonymizers, which are commonly used to bypass internet filters, rendering your efforts to secure your home internet useless. And believe me, at some point your kids will probably hear about anonymizing proxies, and maybe even give one a try.
And please, don’t be intimidated by the setup process for either version, especially OpenDNS Home. OpenDNS has easy to follow setup instructions, and community forums where you can ask questions and find help.
The only drawback I’ve had with OpenDNS free versions as a standalone solution is that devices must be connected to my network to be monitored. This can pose a problem if your child has a smart phone with a mobile data plan. Once they turn off the WiFi, and access the internet through the mobile network, your OpenDNS controls are useless.
However, OpenDNS does offer a paid option called OpenDNS Umbrella Prosumer which provides continued protection, whether your child is on your network, a mobile network, or at a friends house.
At $20.00/year per user, each user can protect up to 3 Windows, Mac, or iOS devices (Android is not currently supported). So if I had 3 children, I could sign up for 1 user account which would cover one device per child.
Qustodio’s compatibility options are excellent, with support for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS, as well as the Kindle and Nook.
Parents manage devices through a web-based “Family Portal”. This allows parents the flexibility to manage their children’s devices from their phone, tablet, or computer anywhere with no installation required.
While the premium version boasts many great features, Qustodio’s basic protection is free to install on one device, and allows parents access to their web filtering engine, time limits, and reporting features.
That may be all you need for the one device/child you need to monitor. If not, I’d still recommend giving the free version a test run. If you like the free version and want the added features, they have plans starting at $54.95/year.
For a little more than $4.00 a month you can protect up to 5 devices with,
- smart web filtering (private browsing mode included)
- call tracking
- access to text/SMS messages
- social network monitoring
- game & app blocking
- time controls by device
- location tracking
- email activity alerts
Qustodio really does a great job at addressing parent’s concerns with a well rounded solution. Unlike OpenDNS free versions, Qustodio provides protection on whatever network your child is connected.
Note, the iOS edition has limited features when compared to the Android edition. So if you have an iPhone/iPad, take a minute to look it over, here. I have it installed on an iPhone 6 running iOS 10.3.1, and it works great.
If you sign up for a free account, you are given three days of premium access. If you haven’t upgraded your account by the end of your three day trial, they will offer you an upgrade to a premium license for 10% off the regular price. So, even if you’ve decided to purchase a premium license, give it a test drive for free, and then save 10%.
A few more great options worth a look are,
A Family Affair
- Explore the internet with your children, and let them show you what they like
- Insist that they never post, or give out personal information like their address, phone number, or the name of their school
- For older children or teens, avoid sharing/posting information indicating you’re home alone, or home babysitting while your parents are away
- Let your children know never to send pictures of themselves without your permission
- Periodically google your child’s name to see if they have public profiles on social networking sites
- Teach your kids about cyber bullying, and respecting others while online
- Tell your children that “online” friends aren’t always who they claim to be, and they should never meet online friends in person
- Keep computers and other devices “out in the open”
- Enable Google Safe Search, which can help block inappropriate or explicit images from your Google Search results
- Try YouTube Kids for family-friendly videos
While opinions may vary on which parental control applications to enlist, it’s safe to say that open communication and trust are an extremely critical part of the equation.
Instead of employing parental control apps to just “spy” on your children, use them as a way to create conversations with your children about the dangers and pitfalls of the internet.
And remember, your children are always watching, so model proper “online behavior” for them.
Most kids have never known a world with NO internet. Navigating the internet will probably be more second nature to them than it will ever be for their parents.
So stay diligent, keep up with the latest internet trends, and share the knowledge with someone you know.
Wishing You & Yours safe travels through cyberspace,
P.S Did we miss something? Help us out below. Share your experience with online safety and parental controls. We’d love to hear your questions and comments as well!