No one needs to tell you that when it comes to your children, the Internet can be a dark and scary place, but it doesn’t have to be. Yes, the Internet has changed how our children interact with the world. Your kids now have access to the latest global happenings, information on all and any subjects at any time, and the ability to create connections with people all over the world. Of course, along with offering this captivating new way to connect with the world, the Internet exposes them to a plethora of new risks such as cyberbullying, online predators and the potential exposure to inappropriate material. By nature, children are kind, trusting beings, so it’s your job as their parent to keep them safe online. It’s not as hard as you think. We’re going to show you how!
The Kids are Alright…Right?
Have you noticed just how tech-savvy your kids are? It’s fascinating to see how kids as young as 5 are able to handle the latest and greatest gadgets, from the newest iPhones to tablets and laptops. And if you’ve got teenagers in your house, then they’re probably the ones who show you how to use the latest technology on offer. There’s been a lot of talk in the media about cutting screen time to raise healthy and well-adjusted children. A lot of old-school parenting manuals tried to limit kids’ screen time to two hours per day – good luck getting that stick between Angry Birds and Facebook! Strict guidelines on screen time are not only unrealistic, but will result in your children desperate to connect to the net by any means necessary. These old rules also don’t apply to how children these days use technology: phones, tablets and laptops offer a new world of learning experiences through gaming, Skype and connecting with their friends.
Parenting, as you know, hasn’t changed as technology has and there are rules that apply to your children’s real and virtual worlds. For example:
- Set limits: Your kids need them and it helps them prioritise their time.
- Teach kindness: Your kids must learn that kind behaviour extends to the web.
- Be involved: Know your children’s friends.
- Content matters: The quality of content is important, not the platform or time spent on electronics.
Of course, the biggest concern for a lot of parents is that your child will innocently click on an inappropriate pop-up out of curiosity. Finding a balance between safeguarding your child and smothering them is a mean feat, but it can be done.
Controlling Internet Time
Both Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox have made it easy to eliminate access to certain websites, but savvy kids are able to dodge parental controls when parental control software isn’t installed. Before turning to software, you can limit your children’s Internet access through SafeSearch options in the Google Search. When SafeSearch is on, sexually explicit video and images are filtered from Google Search result pages, along with any results that might link to explicit content. You can also lock SafeSearch to prevent others from turning SafeSearch off after you’ve turned it on. This helps if your kids are old enough to try to figure out ways around it!
Parental control software gives parents that extra peace of mind by making sure children aren’t able to access adult content or use any software that is adults-only. Sounds like this software should cost the moon, no? Well, lucky for you many of the options available for Windows PC users are completely free of charge! Here are our top 3:
- K9: K9 Web Protection provides a layer of safety for your kids online and runs from right inside your browser. Easy to use, you set up filters yourself to your exact specifications. There are various levels of blocking starting from simply logging traffic to blocking access to unrated sites. There’s also a handy online curfew option. Woof!
- Spyrix Free Keylogger: Say hello to the master spy software! Keylogger collects data on anything you want to know: keyboard entries, screenshots, webcam snapshots, sound recording, webcam video, clipboard value, any webpages visited, and search queries.
- Net Nanny: Net Nanny allows you to keep pornography from appearing on your computer, mask any profanity before it appears on the screen, and control access to set time limits on Internet usage. It also allows you to monitor usage and can send you alerts and reports to your email. You’re able to tailor protection to your individual family members’ needs and it’s compatible with Windows, Mac, and Android, so you can set it up on iPods, tablets, smartphones, laptops and PCs.
Preventing Illegal Downloading
Governments around the world are cracking down on illegal downloads, and it’s about time. Depending on the age of your children, you might want to consider installing PC filters that block and screen content and can also be customised to suit the online activities of each user in your house. Of course, the best way to nip illegal downloading in the bud is to explain to your children the repercussions of this bad behaviour. Illegal downloading is pretty self-explanatory in the sense that it’s got illegal in the name! Monitoring your kids will help you determine whether or not their guilty of this common crime. BE sure to monitor the following:
- Is your Internet running slow due to depleted bandwidth?
- Are you over your Internet cap?
- What’s on the hard drive? Check the downloads file!
- Are your kids staying up late? Are they tired?
- Is your computer prone to viruses
- Are your kids playing games/watching movies you know you didn’t purchase?
And one of the best questions to ask yourself is, Am I setting a good example? If your kids know that you download illegally, your argument isn’t going to hold much weight with them! Setting a good example is often the best defence.
To Spy or Not to Spy, That is the Question
Is it spying if they’re your kids? Kind of! But as a parent you have the right, and the responsibility to know what your kids are watching, reading and saying. Introducing controls and rules with devices is a great way to be clear about what is and isn’t O.K. during screen time. New gadgets make it pretty easy to capture the data being accessed through them. Tablets and ipads come with parental control settings, and there are all kinds of smartphone apps that can track calls, texts and emails, if you want to go that far. You’ll be able to avoid spying altogether if you can keep the dialogue open with your children: explain to them why you want to know what they’re up to online, tell them about the risks, and educate them on making the right choices.
It’s Play Time!
Think back to when you were a kid: did your parents have to ask you twice to get outside and play? Probably not. Well, times, as you know, have changed and we’re living a different lifestyle. That’s not to say that playtime isn’t important anymore, we’ve just got to be better at encouraging our children to play outdoors without their shiny, new gadgets! Children shouldn’t be spending between 40 and 60 hours per week attached to electronic umbilical cords. There’s got to be a balance between playing on electronics and time at school, sports and doing other extracurricular activities. Parents, educators, doctors and early childcare experts are concerned about the negative effects of spending life online, effects such as: reduced cognitive development
- Reduced problem solving and creativity
- Childhood obesity
- Reduced muscle development
- Physical ailments
Play is essential to your children’s development because it contributes to their cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being. Even children who are fortunate enough to have ample resources available and who live in peace might not be receiving the full benefits of play. Many of these children are living in households with an increasingly hurried and pressured style that limits the benefits they would gain from simply playing outdoors. As busy parents, it’s too easy to tell the kids to jump on their iPads or iPhones, instead of making the time to hang out with them. You might need some tips to encourage your children to get outside, but once they’re there, they’ll come up with plenty of their own ideas! They just might inspire you to get out there with them!
Tips for Parents and Mentors to Encourage Outdoor Play:
- Create a child-friendly backyard
- Give children a place in their house where they can display nature treasures that they find and want to keep
- Provide simple tools to aid discovery: bug boxes, shovels and trowels, magnifiers, but nets, and microscopes
- Let your kids explore at the park -stay nearby for safety, but don’t interfere or help unless you need to
- Walk to the library, store or school instead of driving
- Take children canoeing, kayaking or fishing to change it up
- Put out bird feeders that can be seen easily from windows and keep a bird book by the window to help them identify what they see
One of the best ways to encourage your kids to play outside is to play outside with them! So grab the rugby ball, or soccer ball, put down your phone or tablet, and get outside!
Be the Change You Want to See
As parents, we all know that our children mimic our behaviour. If you’re on your tablet, laptop or phone all the time, then why wouldn’t they be too? It’s too easy to whittle away our days online, and we should be placing the same restrictions on ourselves as we do our children! You can start small if you’re not willing to go cold turkey – for instance why not set a rule of no online activity two hours before bed? This allows brains, young and old, to wind down and allows for a better sleep. Or you could have one day of the week where you don’t use any devices, like a Sunday? Try keeping all devices in the living room too, so everyone can keep track of everyone else’s online activities. Using devices in an open environment fosters discussions around the types of content you’re reading is a good way of keeping tabs of what they’re accessing as an alternative to installing filters and software.
Bottom line: if you’re willing to spend less time on your own Facebook page or favourite news site, you’ll have more time for real experiences with your family. Block yourself from wasting precious time, and start spending it with the most important people in your life: your children.
If you want expert advice and assistance with setting up your devices so that your children are safe online then our Geeks can help.