Safeguarding your Kids Online
It's important to protect your kids online from inappropriate content, inappropriate contact with strangers, and other Internet-based threats. The information below will help you establish rules and safeguards around their use of a computer, mobile phone and video game system.
Before following the action items below, it is strongly recommended that you first review and follow the action items for Safeguarding your Windows Computer, as some of the action items below are based upon those changes to your computer.
- Discuss, set and enforce Internet Ground Rules with your kids.
Discuss with your kids the important safety tips they need to protect themselves online. Set the ground rules for what they can and cannot do without your permission. Make sure they understand that Internet access is a privilege, not a right, and one that can be taken away. Let them know that it's your responsibility as a parent to make sure they're following the rules by monitoring their online behavior. Post these ground rules next to your computer. Example ground rules may include:
- My friends are the people I know in the real world. Everyone else I meet online are strangers, and I should treat them just as I do strangers in the real world.
- I will get my parent's permission before I "friend" anybody online.
- Strangers can see the information I post online even when I think I'm just sending it to my friends, so I can't share any personal information about myself or my family, such as my name, address, phone number, which school I go to, any pictures or videos of myself, etc.
- I will ask you for permission to set up any new online account or before I visit a new website.
- I will be a good Internet Citizen. I won't say anything online that I wouldn't say in front of my family.
- I understand that there are sites on the Internet that are for adults, and strangers that may want to hurt me. If I come across anything that I think I shouldn't see, or that concerns me in any way, I'll let my parents know right away.
- There is a lot of software on the Internet that can hurt my computer. I won't download or install any software without my parent's permission, or open any messages or files from strangers.
- Move the computer into an open area.
Moving the computer into an open area, such as a family room, will allow you to keep better tabs on what they are doing online.
- Set up separate computer accounts for your kids.
You will want to apply parental controls to their accounts that you will not want for your own account as a parent. In order to make this work, you'll need to set up a computer account just for them. If you're a more advanced computer user, you can also set up file sharing permissions to their accounts to restrict access to your more important or personal files that you don't want accessed, modified or deleted. Make sure these accounts are non-administrator accounts to further prevent them from installing software without your permission and getting your computer infected with viruses.
- Install parental control software to protect them from accessing sites and services that you don't approve of, and monitor their activity on the ones you do.
Parental control software allows you to set restrictions on the websites they can visit, control their searching capabilities, set time limits on their computer use, prevent uploading of pictures and video, and more. NetNanny provides the largest feature set, is very user-friendly, and is the recommended choice. Purchase and install this to enforce and monitor the ground rules you established earlier.
- Set up and maintain all of their online accounts.
By you always setting up their online accounts, you can make sure that you are approving of their use of the website or service, and can set it up in a manner which gives them the most privacy and security possible.
- Use your own e-mail address to set up the account. If there is any problem or concern with the account, or notice of password change, you'll receive the message.
- Use a random, complex password for the account and store it in a password manager program like KeePass. This way you'll always know how to access their account.
- Avoid supplying personal information during account set-up, or use false information. If you are required to provide personal information for password reset or account verification answers, consider using false information and noting that in your password manager program.
- Opt-out of all e-mail lists and other services which aren't necessary.
- Review the account privacy settings and disable any unnecessary sharing of information.
- Set their default Internet browser home page to a kid-safe site.
If you set their default home page to a good, kid-safe site, you're reducing their chances of finding something inappropriate by browsing other websites on their own. The more interesting the home page, the less likely they will be to go to another site. For younger kids, "http://kids.yahoo.com" is an excellent choice. This site will give them very interesting kid-friendly content and prevent them from getting search results for inappropriate terms.
- Restrict and limit their web searching capability.
If you want to allow them to search with other engines beyond just Yahoo Kids, use Google and enable the Safe Search and Safe Search Lock options. These settings will limit the inappropriate content that could be returned from their search results. Microsoft's Bing, which is another popular search engine, provides poor and easy-to-bypass filters and is not recommended. Restrict all other search engines in your parental control software. If you are also allowing access to YouTube, enable the Safety Mode for searches there as well.
- Monitor their use regularly.
Set aside some time every week or month to review the reports from the parental control software and see what sites they are visiting. Also log into their online accounts and review their activity there as well.
If you have allowed your child to have a mobile phone you can also apply your rules and additional safeguards to them as well. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and other cell phone carriers have parental controls that you can enable. The controls that you can enable depend both upon the wireless carrier and the mobile phone you choose. These may include such controls as:
- Allowing calls and messages from only trusted numbers
- Blocking calls and messages from unwanted numbers
- Setting time restrictions and usage allowances
- Restricting access to inappropriate websites with content filters
- Tracking location of device
- Restricting camera use
If your child uses a video game system and it is connected to the Internet, check and see what type of on-line content they can access. Nintendo's Wii, Microsoft's XBOX and Sony's PlayStation 3 all feature parental controls that you should check and adjust as necessary.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Would it be better to give my kid their own computer?
- It depends on the circumstances, but for most people and situations this is usually not a good idea. You would need to safeguard their computer just as you do your computer, which means that you'll be purchasing software, patching and maintaining two systems. That means there is an added expense and more time required on your part. It's too easy to forget about maintaining their system properly. Their system may also be less visible to you, especially if it is a laptop, so you may be less likely to monitor their activity on a regular basis.
- How do I know which websites to block?
- Most parental control software makes this easy by presenting you with categories that you can choose from, such as "social media" or "gaming", or based upon age appropriateness. If there is a particular website that you want to block, you can add it to a blacklist, and you can add a site you want to allow to a whitelist.
- My anti-virus software says it comes with parental controls. Is that sufficient?
- The short answer is no, it's not. Several major anti-virus companies advertise their products as having parental controls, but they are very limited in features and more difficult to manage than dedicated products. For example, Symantec advertises their Norton 360 Premier product as having parental controls, but it's not the same as the Norton Online Family Premier product that they sell separately.
- There are lots of different types of parental control software. Why did you recommend NetNanny?
- NetNanny is consistently rated as the best parental control software by independent reviewers, and it is one of the easiest to use.
- Will the parental control software cause any problems with my anti-virus software?
- This is always a possibility, but there are not many reports of this. The most frequently reported issue seems to be when the parental controls are used to lock down almost every website, and the anti-virus software can no longer download its updates from the website.