As a father of two young girls and a cyber security professional, I am keenly aware of both the benefits and dangers of the Internet. Although the Internet can be a precarious place for a child, taking the right precautions can keep your child away from danger and still allow them to enjoy the social and educational benefits of being online. These five tips will alleviate the stress of having your child online and will go a long way in keeping them safe.
1. Discuss cyber safety with your kids, early and often.
Before allowing your child online, it’s important to discuss the dangers of the Internet with them and explain how to be safe and use the Internet appropriately. It’s also important, just like with other activities, to set safe boundaries for your children and to hold them accountable for adhering to those boundaries. Keep the lines of communication open and ensure your child knows they can talk to you if something online appears strange or makes them sad or uncomfortable. I would also recommend having “The Talk” with your children at least annually. “The Talk” is a discussion with your child and includes the following questions:
For families with young kids:
- What are your friends doing online?
- What are the coolest or newest websites? Can you show me?
- Would you show me your favorite sites?
- What do you know about cyberbullying? Do you know what to do if it happens?
- When you’ve been online, have you ever seen anything weird or that made you feel uncomfortable?
For families with older kids:
- Do you really know everybody on your friends list?
- Do you ever get messages from strangers? How do you handle them?
- Do you know anyone who has gone to meet someone offline they’d been talking to online?
- Are people in your group of friends ever mean to each other online or on the phone? What do they say? Have they ever been mean to you? Would you tell me if they were?
- Sometimes kids take nude or sexy photos and send them to others. Has that ever happened at your school?
These are not always easy conversations to have with your child, but open and honest communication is the most important tip for keeping your child safe online.
2. Keep computers and technology in open areas.
Keeping computers and other technology in high traffic areas serves two purposes. First, it can deter bad or inappropriate behavior, and second, it allows parents an opportunity to observe what their child is doing online and correct bad behavior.
3. Set rules and warn about dangers.
Rules and boundaries are important and often provide your child with a sense of freedom as well. The boundaries should be appropriate for the child’s age and should include things such as the amount of time allowed to be on technology, the types of sites he or she is allowed to visit, what software they can use, and what activities are allowed. It’s also important to provide them with information about handling specific dangers. For this, I would recommend visiting the U.S. CERT website for resources to support you and your child.
4. Partition your computer into separate accounts.
Most operating systems allow you to create different user accounts for each user. It’s best to create a separate account for each of your children and set their security and access privileges appropriately based on their age and the rules you have set for them. This will help keep your child safe and prevent your child from accidentally deleting or modifying important documents and programs. It’s equally important to ensure that the computer the child is using has up-to-date anti-malware software installed and that the browser’s settings are secure. Again, U.S. CERT has great resources.
5. Consider implementing parental controls.
Although this can be a very controversial topic, parents should consider enabling parental controls. For example, Internet Explorer allows a parent to restrict or allow certain websites to be viewed on your computer. As an example, when my kids were very young, the only site I allowed them to visit was ABC Mouse. There are also other resources you can use to control and/or monitor your child’s Internet activity, and some Internet Service Providers offer this technology for free.
I hope these tips help you keep your child safe online and make the Internet an enjoyable experience for everyone in your family.