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How to keep your child safe online

We know many of our customers have children and worry about how to keep them safe online. There is so much content on this topic and it’s a vast issue where the challenges parents face change with the age of the child. From how to set up parental controls, to the risks of online gaming, to how to educate your child about the risks and learn how to stay safe online. In this blog we provide a guide to what you need to know and where you can find support.

 

Talk to your child

It’s never too soon to start talking to your child about online safety, obviously the conversation will evolve with the age of the child. For younger children, discuss with them websites and games they are allowed to use and make sure they understand never to share information about themselves online, for example where they go to school or their home address. If by 6 or 7 they are using devices unsupervised, you should discuss with them what is safe and appropriate to post and share online, a good measure is if they wouldn’t do it or say it face to face, they shouldn’t do it online. Ensure they know never to ‘friend’ someone online unless you have confirmed their details in person. Ask them what they would do if they get messages from strangers. And ensure they know not to speak to people they do not know or arrange to meet someone in person they only know online. As the child gets older (especially once they have their own phone) it is important to know if people they are friends with are being mean to each other, or to other people, online or on phones, discuss cyber bullying and how devastating the consequences can be.

Once you child is a teenager it is important to talk honestly to your child about how they explore issues related to the health, wellbeing, body image and sexuality of themselves and others online. Have frank conversations about bullying, and posting hurtful, misleading or untrue comments. Make them aware of the dangers of behaviours like sexting and inappropriate use of webcams.

The most important thing is that your child knows if they are worried about anything, they can discuss it with you.

Click here for advice from Get safe online on cyberbullying.

The BBC have a website and app called Own It targeted at children for them to take ownership of their online behaviour and provide advice directly to them.

 

Use parental controls

Parental controls are one of the most powerful tools you can use to protect your child online, they help you block or filter upsetting or inappropriate content, you can also set limits and control purchases within apps and games. Parental controls can be set in multiple ways, via your home internet, or via devices and games consoles and even on your TV. It doesn’t hurt to set controls at multiple levels to ensure the highest level of protection. Parental controls can also help monitor and set screen time limits.

At the top level is setting controls on your home internet (although this protection depends on your child not using the internet outside the home or over 4G) You can set filters on what content your child can access and with a Wi-fi mesh system, you can create family profiles to control and limit internet access, you can even remotely turn off internet access to selected devices.

At the device level, be that a tablet, mobile, laptop each have settings that allow you to manage what your child can and can’t see or do online. If your child has access to a PC, set up their user account using the Microsoft Family feature – this will allow you to set limits on screen time, filter websites and control online purchases.

If you child has an iPhone, go in in to the ‘Screen Time’ settings and set up a profile for your child which again, controls what they can and can’t do with the various apps and functions of the phone.

Parental controls on games console often allow you to set up different profiles for each family member and turn off chat functions to stop your child hearing inappropriate comments and language and to stop them from talking to people they don’t know.

Internet Matters has some great advice for setting up parental controls that can be viewed here.

PC Mag UK has reviewed the best parental control software for 2020 here

However there should be a disclaimer with parental controls and screen time limits, children talk in the playground and a common topic is how to get around parental controls, so be mindful of this and be aware of what your child might try to evade your controls. There is a great article here which gives some of the top hacks kids use to circumvent parental controls.

Is it age appropriate?

Another minefield is knowing what apps, games and websites are suitable for your child. Any parent or carer knows their child will come home from school, desperate to play the ‘latest’ game or join the ‘cool’ new social media. It can be hard to know if it will be suitable for your child. Common sense media is a great tool for parents, it provides expert reviews, objective advice and helpful tools to understand the age appropriateness of Apps and Games. It also features reviews from other parents (and children) to give a full picture of what a game or app is actually like. (In addition to apps and games it also rates TV shows, books and movies.)

It is important to remember social media sites have minimum age restrictions, the majority require users to be 13 years of age to access and use their services, including Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram.

NSPCC has created a guide for apps games and social media sites. Net Aware reviews the most popular games and websites and provided guidance for parents on what they should know about the apps their children are accessing.

 

Be aware of internet connected devices

The internet is literally all around us, with internet connected devices throughout the home (that you may have not even considered as a risk). Internet connected devices can send and receive data, respond to voice commands and be controlled remotely using a smartphone app. Often referred to as ‘the internet of things,’ they include things like smart speakers, (such as Google Home and Amazon Echo), Fitbit, Garmins and Apple watches, toys with voice or image recognition, (such as Hello Barbie™ and Furby Connect) and toys controlled via an app (such as Dash and Dot). Not considering these as internet connected means they are often overlooked in protecting children. Hackers can access your devices without your knowledge and collect personal data, including audio and visual data. It is important to secure internet connected devices by setting a strong password on your Wi-Fi router, encrypt your web traffic using a VPN and update devices regularly.

Some internet connected devices have parental controls, for example with Amazon Alexa you can block songs with explicit language simply by saying “Alexa, block explicit songs”.

 

Toddlers to teenagers

As previously mentioned, the advice changes radically as your child grows, so in addition to the above you should consider;

Under 5’s – always keep devices out of reach and make sure they are password/pin protected so your child can’t use them without you, set screen time boundaries early so it becomes the norm and ensure anyone who looks after your child follows the same rules.

Primary school age – agree a list of websites your child is allowed to visit and be clear on time limits and rules for activities such as using the internet and games consoles. Don’t be pressured into letting your child play games or view content online before they are ready – just because their friends are. You know what is best for your child.

Tweens (10-12) – Often children at this age are getting their first mobile which, as a device that can connect to the internet without Wi-Fi, brings extra challenges. Ensure boundaries are discussed and in place before the child get this device. As they will likely be taking their phone out of the house, ensure the device is secure and the child is aware of the risk of theft or loss. Explain to your child that being online doesn’t give them anonymity or protection. Comments, photos and videos all form part of their ‘digital footprint’ and could be seen by anyone and available on the internet forever, even if it is subsequently deleted.

Teenagers – arguably the hardest age to keep safe online as they have far more autonomy and possibly more know how than you! However, they are still a child and need boundaries and guidance as to how to stay safe online. You know your child’s maturity level and can adjust parental controls as necessary, your child may want you to remove parental controls entirely this is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly and discussion will be needed over what is acceptable online behaviour. You need to ensure you create a balance between keeping your teenager safe and respecting their privacy.

 

Our final tip would be it’s much easier to put restrictions on gaming, internet and screen time in place right from the start, than try and limit it later when you realise it’s become excessive. There is so much to say about keeping children safe online this has really just scratched the surface, but throughout this blog are links to fantastic websites with technology and advice to help you protect your child.

Read our blog for more IT and cybersecurity tips

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