Last week at our son’s school there was a Cyber Safety presentation for parents. My wife attended to see what information was being talked about. She came home with a page of notes and a few interesting points raised on the night.
I’ve been online for over 20 years. I’ve seen the internet evolve from a network that only academics or Geeks were involved in, to something that is an integral part of our lives today. I like to think that I have a grasp on how to stay safe online, not get infected by viruses, caught out by phishing scams or fooled by spam.
It’s only recently that I have begun to think about how to keep my young children safe from things that even I never really think about.
At 5 years old, my son is wanting to use the computer more and more. Up until recently he’s been happy playing self contained games on the iPad. Now he wants to watch YouTube videos, and play games on kids websites. As modern parents we are all to aware of the amount of screen time this can add up to in a week on top of Television and school activities.
Until recently this was our only concern. Now that he is gaining more skills and curiosity, we need to start thinking about what he may come across while sitting in front of this innocuous screen.
We already have plans to move our family computer out into our main living area. The best protection you can provide is supervision. We will place the computer where the screen can be seen while we are busy with the evening and weekend routines. This means we can see the screen from the kitchen while preparing dinner, and hear what is coming from it’s speakers.
With older kids, who quite often now require laptops for school, you can have a house rule of “no private use”. This means no laptops, phones etc… in bedrooms. Setup a study area for school work and at bed time all devices in their place in the living area of the house.
The second element of our setup is web content filtering. For this we use multiple technologies. No one filter is perfect, and no combination of filters are perfect, but with multiple strategies you can cover most bases.
The first layer of protection is on the computer itself. We have a Mac, and it has pretty reasonable parental controls for children’s accounts. You can choose from two different types of filter, blacklisting or whitelisting. For young kids, whitelisting is the easiest option. You specify what sites you want the kids to be able to access. Depending on their age it might just be abc.net.au/abckids and disneyjunior.com.au.
For older kids who need to access more of the internet it is probably better to use a blacklist. This is where you specify the sites that you don’t want them accessing. For kids under 13, you might want to restrict access to social networks, forums, instant messages etc…
How to filter portable devices?
On top of the operating system controls, we have also turned on blocking at a network level. This is mainly for those things that you don’t want your kids ever to access in your house. This will help catch the case where you leave a computer logged in under an unrestricted profile, or in the case with a lot of devices kids access the internet on, there’s no way to install a filter on the device.
Network level filtering is setup on your router/modem. You can tell your devices to access the internet through certain servers (in our case OpenDNS), which have rules setup for what can and cannot be accessed. In our house this is for things like pornography and spam/ad networks.
Remember that even with these things turned on, kids will still find a way to get around the filters if they are motivated enough
Most of the big Internet companies work very hard to keep young people safe online. On Google, you can turn on Safe Search, and even lock it on so that it is very hard to turn off. This applies across all of their services, whether it be Search, YouTube, Google+ etc… Sometimes the most innocent of searches can lead to inappropriate content.
Education is King
The best method for making sure your kids are safe online however is education. Teaching kids right and wrong and encouraging them to come to you when something wrong comes up on screen for what ever reason will hopefully give your kids the tools to deal with bigger issues as they get older.
Make sure your kids know that they will never get in trouble for telling you when something inappropriate ends up on their computer, iPod, tablet or phone.
When your kids feel comfortable talking to you about these types of issues, they may be more inclined to talk to you later when cyber bullying rears its ugly head.
As parents the best way to understand all these issues is self education. The following links provide some good information about the things you may need to be aware of as well as practical steps to take.