The internet is an amazing thing, but it can also be a very dangerous place – especially for children. Whether you’re thinking of buying your kids their own tablet for Christmas, or even if they just play on yours from time to time, make sure you read these tips from Carey van Vlaanderen CEO of ESET Southern Africa, an antivirus protection company, before letting them go online.
Familiarise yourself with internet and related technology
It’s important to know what you’re talking about, to understand the tools and websites that are popular with children of all ages and have some understanding of the risks of being online.
You’re effectively in the dark about the pros and cons of technology and the web if you have no basic grasp about this area. Whether it’s reading about the signs of online abuse, learning about the threat posed to gamers or familiarising yourself with social networks that are popular with teens, every nugget of information helps.
Introduce technology and online safety as soon as possible
Some parents may be cautious about introducing technology and even the web from an early age, but as long as it is done in a controlled manner, you can feel confident about what your kids are seeing and doing. This important task is so vital that it should be introduced before nursery, in fact. While we don’t advocate giving babes in arms immediate and unrestricted access to the cyberfrontier, it’s worth trying to give children a gentle, guided introduction: encourage them to try things, ask questions, and engage in constructive dialogue.
Keep having a conversation about social media and privacy
This is perhaps one of the most challenging areas to manage in terms of balancing best practice and being overbearing. In the end, it is up to every parent to work out what boundaries they feel comfortable with and ultimately play it by ear as their children grow up. However, throughout their development, it is essential that you keep the social media conversation “active”. Stress the centrality of these networks in modern life (keeping in touch, sharing and learning) but also the dangers associated with them, such as solicitation from strangers and online predators.
Make sure all your mobile devices are secure and protected
It used to be the case that the average family had one computer, a single static access point for connecting to the internet. That’s changed radically. From smartphones to tablets, laptops to computers, and Smart TVs to internet-connected games consoles, we now have numerous, web-friendly and portable devices at our disposal.
Given how difficult and impractical it is to always keep an eye on children at all times, there’s an even greater need for parents to feel confident that they can supervise their kids’ online activity even when they are away from home.
With parental control apps, for example, that’s possible. This technology allows moms and dads to “safeguard children on smartphones and tablets in this complex digital era”, while also preventing them from racking up an expensive bill with in-app purchases!
What makes this kind of security very effective is its adaptability – parents can alter settings based on their child’s age, as a case in point. Together, you and your youngsters can agree on what’s best in terms of settings. Not only is this empowering for them, it leaves you feeling comfortable about the freedom you’ve given them.
What are parental control tools used for?
Parents can control and monitor internet access by setting a role for each user of the computer. You can thereby customise various internet access permissions, privileges on important files and even the installation of new software, such as video games.
Restricting access by category
One of the main features is that parents can restrict access to websites by adding or removing items from a list of web categories for each role. Hence we can limit traffic by taking into account various sites with different content. An obvious example is to apply filters that modify access to online gaming sites, but in turn allow children free access to the permitted search engines to do their homework.
This is the ability to restrict access to inappropriate content by blocking certain websites. Depending on the role you are setting up, you can restrict or allow access. In this section, you can block sites which have violent or sexual content, and even sites that have a poor reputation.
It is also important to mention that, in many cases, this functionality will enable pop-up blocking for pornographic sites, which children often reach by mistake.
With the tool, parents can view an activity log, e.g. blocked pages or the account the site has been blocked for and why. By monitoring the sites that have been viewed, we can generate a pattern of behaviour for the child, to assist with educating them about the information logged that we believe they should be protected from online.
Control of apps and time
With these tools, you can decide which apps can be used and when they can be used, as well as setting a time limit. You can therefore ensure that your children are not connected for too long or using video games online for excessive periods. For example, this solution protects children from excessive video game use, which can be addictive, by setting a maximum amount of time they can be used.
This is where it becomes very important to use a secure password to ensure that the safety settings you have implemented cannot be altered by any other user apart from the parents. While for many parents, parental controls are simply used to block access to the internet, the best solution remains to educate your children.
Parental control apps must be used bearing in mind the purpose for which they are used. The age of the child using the device to access the internet will have a big influence on this. There is clearly a difference between having these controls on a computer used by young children, whose internet use consists of playing or viewing visually attractive content, and having them installed on devices used by teenagers, who exchange personal information and meet new people every day, and so on.
Trust between parents and children is crucial to establish a link that can really help them enjoy the internet safely. Using these tools to spy on children’s activities or radically restrict their activities can lead to some uncomfortable situations, so it’s always best to start by teaching them the correct way to use computers and the internet.
The focus, then, should be to make them aware of the risks and dangers that can result from misuse, making it clear that parental control tools are installed for their own safety.
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day.