In many families, the children are more experienced with computers than the parents are, but that doesn’t mean that the children know how to be safe online. It is essential for parents to understand that their child’s abilities to go places on the Internet may outpace their self-protection skills online. Just as you would child-proof your cupboards as your infant becomes a toddler capable of opening those upper cabinets, so must you child-proof or teen-proof the dangers accessible from your computer. Keep your family safe with these simple tips:
- Keep Passwords Safe: Don’t save passwords on your computer that allow access to websites or other areas that are not safe for your children. Also do not keep passwords to applications that might tempt your children, such as banking or online auction site passwords.
- Keep them visible: Keep the computer in an area of the home where you can see when your children use the computer, how long they are on, and what they are doing. If you can see what is happening on the monitor, you can talk to your child immediately when there is something risky happening. Also, your presence may inhibit your child from trying to visit inappropriate sites.
- Teach: Educate your children on risks to them and to the family that can occur from Internet sources. Explain age-appropriate information on how to avoid inappropriate materials, identity theft, stalking, cyber-bullying, threats to family member privacy and safety, threats to the family finances, threats to the family computer (viruses and malware), addiction and health risks.
- Limit usage: Set limits by restricting the ability to download to the computer hard-drive. You can set permissions so that only those with the administrator capability and password can download new software or files to the computer.
- Update regularly: Regularly update your security software and keep informed about the latest techniques for protecting your computer. When alerts come out about new spoofing tricks, spam emails that contain malware, or suspicious download sites, take steps both to block those sites or emails and warn your children in an age-appropriate way about these new risks.
- Keep an eye on your devices: Install protection and monitoring software to prevent access to inappropriate sites. Several monitoring software packages are available free or low cost to parents and allow you to block categories of sites, specific sites, and even to set times for access. Choose monitoring software that works for your needs and with your budget. Some monitoring applications such as K9 Web Protection from BlueCoat allow you to customize the list of blocked sites and allowed sites and to customize the response when someone at the computer attempts to go to a blocked website. Others such as Net Nanny have a more straightforward interface for those who are less computer literate to navigate. Whichever package you choose, safeguard your password, so your children don’t bypass your protections.
- Look at your history: Regularly check the browsing history on the computer and in the security software you installed. Some youth are skilled at deleting the search history. Empty browser history can be a red flag itself. If you have correctly installed parental security software, you can see what everyone has been looking at or attempting to look at even if the children have cleverly deleted the browser history.
- Teach by leading: Be a good role model for your children. Keep yourself and your data safe when you use the Internet. Keep healthy limits for yourself. Don’t share private information about yourself or your family when you are at chat, game or forum sites.
- Look for changes: Watch for secretive behavior and know who your children are talking to online. Just because your child has spoken online with someone for 6 months or more does not mean that the person is no longer a stranger. Children can be fooled by the sense of false intimacy that a prolonged computer acquaintance builds. There is no guarantee that the person at the other end of the conversation is anything like the character they have played when talking online with your child.
- Open lines of communication: Talk with your children about their interests and check online site reviews such as commonsensemedia.org to find out if a site is both age appropriate and a safe place before adding it to the allowed list. Be aware that sometimes a spoofing site will use a name similar to a safe popular children’s website.
These simple tips are a beginning, but the online world is continually changing and adding both new applications and new hazards. Keep talking with your children and other parents to share the latest information on online safety.