Our kids and teenagers are definitely growing up in the digital age. They understand how to navigate the internet instinctively, and may be cheerfully setting up their own domains while you're still trying to work out what WiFi is. Even if you're a tech savvy parent, it can be alarming to think of your children wandering the unplumbed depths of the net without supervision. At the same time, it's almost impossible to keep an eye on your children all the time.
Here at Compare Broadband, we help you find the best plan to suit your household. Today, though, we're going to turn away from how to get your internet, and pay more attention to what you should do once you've got it. Looking at how to protect your kids – and yourself! – is a good way to start.
Click here for a guide to finding the best broadband connection for your family.
Let's take a look at some of the common dangers that kids face online, and the best way you can protect them.
Viruses and dangerous downloads
Whether you've got an eight year old boy searching for "coolest robot car shooting games of all time" or a twelve year old girl who has to illegally download the newest One Direction track right at this very moment, there are a lot of dodgy websites out there, and your computer can pick up some nasty infections from trudging through them.
Your computer getting infected with a virus or spyware isn't something that's only a risk when you've got children online, too. Viruses are everywhere, from apps on your mobile phone to in joke emails forwarded to a lot of people.
You should install some sort of virus software protection when you first get your computer, but if you haven't got one yet, now is definitely the time to do so! Look up a well respected brand like McAfee, Norton, or AVG. It's worth going into an actual electronics store in your city or town that looks respectable, as you don't want to download a fake virus software that is in fact there to plant viruses on your server.
Social networking has become a part of nearly everyone's life, including your children's. Though sites like Facebook tend to have standardized "age limits", their way of regulating that is asking new users to tick a box confirming that they're over thirteen – something a seven year old will do cheerfully. Being over thirteen, too, is no guarantee that your child is going to use social networking sites safely and responsibly.
The first rule of making sure that your child is staying safe online is communication. Ask them what they want to use Facebook – or whatever site they're using – for, and make sure that they don't have any misconceptions about what they can or should do. If you can, help them set up their profile in the first place, and then you can make sure that the privacy settings are secure. If they've already set it up, ask to review it.
A good idea is creating your own Facebook account and asking to be your child's friend. Then you can keep an eye on what they're talking about and who else they've added on Facebook, so you can make sure they're not adding any strangers nor suffering from any immediately obvious cyber bullying. We'd advise that you stay away from commenting on their statuses or making your presence too obvious – you don't want to wear out your welcome and have them 'defriend' you!
It's best not to ban your child from social networking. Unless you have a freakishly obedient one (in which case, please send us your recipe), you probably won't be able to stop them from sneaking on, or, at the very least, resenting you for it. In addition to that, they might suffer at school, where social networking plays an important role in status and blending in with the crowd.
Better is to restrict the time they're allowed on Facebook, setting a certain amount of hours that you feel comfortable for them to spend on Facebook per week. Try to restrict them only to weekends, so that it won't affect any homework they might have on school nights, or keep them up late.
If you're having trouble enforcing such rules, you could install some kind of web content filtering software. You can block certain websites completely, or just at certain times, and there are lots of options available. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) recommends Cyber Sentinel, Net Nanny, Cyber Sitter, and Norton Internet Security, and you could also try finding one via your router, which can also filter websites. Check your router's manual for instructions.
"Kids are mean" has been a mantra since we even understood children to be something other than tiny adults who couldn't work in the coal mines as long. The internet gives children a whole new medium to be cruel to each other on, and cyber bullying can cause real harm. The fact that children are being bullied in their homes via the computer gives them no escape or safe place, and very often cyber bullying follows the old story of people being willing to write things online that they would never dare to say out loud.
Cyber bullying can cause real harm for children, destroying self-esteem and leading to depression to the point of being suicidal. As a parent, it can be difficult to even notice that cyber bullying is taking place, as it lacks the telltale bruises and scrapes of more physical playground bullying.
So what can you do? Being aware of where your child spends their time online is a good start, as is teaching them about common courtesy and the importance of compassion for others so as to stop your child from being on the delivering end of cyber bullying (hey, don't take offense – kids are mean!).
Again, communication is important. Encourage your child to come straight to you if someone is cruel or even just rude to them online. Tell them that cyber bullying is something that you take seriously, and that they should never be embarrassed or ashamed to mention anything that someone has said to them. Cultivate an environment of trust, and assure your child that you will take their desires into consideration when working out how to deal with cyber bullying. Charging in to the school to get the teacher to chastise the other child or banning your child from social media may only exacerbate the problem.
There are social network parental monitoring tools like MinorMonitor and uKnowKids that you might want to purchase. They can monitor your child's social networking use, and alert you to any potentially dangerous behaviour going on. However, you might want to talk to your child before installing any of this software, making sure that they know it will only alert you to dangerous content, so that they know you're not infringing on their privacy.
The internet can get pretty dark, and pretty gross. There's a lot of things you might not want your child stumbling on, from social media accounts set up by predatory men who might encourage your child to meet up with them in real life to the porn sites that make up around 5% of the internet (a lot, if you consider how big the net is).
Again, website filters and communication with your child are going to be your guiding lights here. Website filters and parental control utilities (Google them and find some for yourself, or try a trusted brand, like AVG Family Safety or McAfee Family Protection) can set categories that you can block, and porn is a pretty easy one to ignore.
Make sure you talk to your child about the importance of not putting out too much information online. Full names, phone numbers, and addresses are things that should absolutely not go online – photos should be monitored carefully, both for what they look like and for where your child is putting them. Even putting out information like "we're going to the Gold Coast for a week!" in a status update on Facebook might be an easy tip off for thieves who know where you live.
Most children will adapt pretty easily to safety guidelines if you make sure to talk about them, and it can become as natural as knowing not to get in the van with the guy who offers to show you a cute puppy. Don't talk down to your child; explain that there are dangerous people out there and they should be careful never to share any personal details online without being very, very aware of who they're telling, and who else can see. Ask them to go and check with you before they share anything personal if they're not sure.
There are a couple of easy tips that you can also keep in mind when allowing your child to go online.
- First and foremost, set the family computer up in a room that lots of people use, like the living or dining room. Make sure that the screen is facing the rest of the room, so that you can keep an idle eye and see if they're on any website that looks unsavoury. This will keep your child from seeking out nasty websites just as much as it will let you know when they're on it.
- Make sure that family friendly settings are enabled on sites like Google. Google, as a common search engine that scans all of the web, will toss up anything, but it's fairly easy to make sure it's using family friendly filters, so that when your daughter Googles "pretty mermaids kissing sailors" she only gets the Disney version.
- Ask them if they mind you sitting in with them when they're online one afternoon, and watch what they do and where they go. There's a high chance they'll censor their activity a little, but it'll still give you an idea of what exactly they're up to.
- Check the browsing history on every computer in your household regularly. Weird websites that you don't want your child to be on can spring up at you, and then you can always either block the individual websites (if you see that your child's been accessing them a lot) or talk to your kid about them and why you don't want them using it.
- Value your child's privacy. Often we imagine terrible things are going on when children are online and won't let us see what they're doing, but more often than not they're just debating One Direction vs. Justin Bieber. If you show them that you trust them, they'll trust you, and they're more likely to turn to you when they actually do need help. Remember that this generation is growing up internet savvy, and there's a lot of education done about staying safe online in schools. You need to be responsible for your child, but you also need to respect that your child's intelligence and sense of judgment.
Hopefully, if you follow these basic guidelines and use your common sense, your child won't run into any trouble online. And for more advice about getting your household set up with a family friendly internet connection, give us a call on 1300 106 571.