Children Safe Online: By Chris Hauk
The online world is a perilous place for children. In this article, I’ll show you ways to protect your kids while they’re online
1 in 5 children who use the internet have been sexually solicited. 1 in 4 has seen unwanted pornography. Nearly 60% of teens have received an email or instant message from a stranger (half have replied.)
Do I have your attention?
The internet is a great place to hang out. Not only can all sorts of information be found there (some correct, some not so much), but it’s also a great way to stay in touch with friends and family.
Sadly, the internet is also a dangerous place to hang out – particularly for children.
Cyberstalkers, child molesters, inappropriate content, cyberbullies, and more are lurking, waiting for an opportunity to reach out to your children. Such an experience could possibly damage a child for the rest of their life.
In this article, I’ll share my knowledge about protecting your kids from the dark side of the internet. We’ll look at how to monitor their computer and mobile device usage, how to set parental controls to ensure they can’t view inappropriate content, and much more.
We’ll also take a look at what it might mean if your child suddenly closes an app or shuts off their computer or mobile device when you walk into the room. Also, we’ll discuss what to do if your child is being cyberbullied.
I’ll offer suggestions about how to share the internet experience with your child and how to make sure they’re okay when you’re not around to watch. We’ll cover how to control what they can see on websites, how to manage what they can purchase and download in the popular iOS and Android App Stores, and even how to set curfews for internet use.
We’ll also explore the parental controls available to you on the Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android platforms. All 4 platforms offer excellent controls for parents to set limits for what apps can be used, how they can be used, and where children can go on the web as well as much more.
There are a number of great third-party hardware tools available to parents today that help them monitor and control their offspring’s internet usage. We’ll look at devices that make it easy to control internet access, including a Disney-branded device that actually puts the old “man-in-the-middle” hacker attack to good use.
And, kids love to watch videos on their computer or mobile device. So, we’ll also take a look at the controls YouTube and iTunes offer for parents to control what type of videos their kids can access.
The Dangers of The Internet For Children Safe Online
I sat for a long while after typing the header for this section. “The Dangers of the Internet for Children.” Where do I start? Okay, let’s first take a look at some sobering statistics.
How does this happen? Parents closely monitor their children’s online activity, right? Not so much.
I’m not trying to lash out at parents who don’t keep track of every move their kids make on the web. It’s impossible to keep track of their every keypress. In today’s world, more and more devices offer internet access. Today’s kids are learning to use those devices at an ever-younger age. Plus, in a growing number of families, both parents work, and they simply can’t be around to monitor their offspring every minute of the day.
There are ways for even busy parents to protect their family members from the horrors of the more dangerous parts of the internet. We’ll be discussing what parents can do to make things safer in just a bit.
Just what type of content and dangers can kids be exposed to on the internet?
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office says everything from bomb sites to pornographic sites can be found on the net, and any variation you can think of that might fall somewhere in between.
Almost any search of the internet can result in a child’s exposure to objectionable content, even when filters and parental controls are in the equation. An innocent Google search for help with homework can lead to links that shouldn’t be seen by anyone, much less a child.
Unsupervised chat rooms are some of the most dangerous areas on the net for young users. “Cybermolesters” pose as other children in such chat rooms, befriending and gaining the confidence of their victims.
Cyberbullying is another peril for today’s online youth. What is cyberbullying? It can be best described as using internet-connected communication devices to make a person feel sad, angry, scared – and in some sad cases, suicidal.
Examples of such behavior would be sending hurtful texts or emails and posting hurtful items on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok. Other examples include spreading hurtful rumors publicly via social networks, group texts, or social postings.
It is difficult to estimate exactly how common cyberbullying is among kids. The definition of cyberbullying changes according to who is doing the measuring. However, the respected Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that around 15.5% of high-schoolers are affected by cyberbullying. For a bit of a comparison, in-person bullying is estimated to affect a little over 20% of high school students.
How to Protect Your Kids When They’re Online
As I’ve mentioned before, it is unrealistic to think parents can continually physically be looking over the shoulder of their offspring while they use the internet. (Virtually is another thing entirely, and we’ll get to that in a while.) However, there are ways you can encourage safe internet usage, even when you’re not around.
What You Can Do Immediately
Just to get started, let’s list some things you can do almost immediately to help keep your kids safe while they’re online.
It won’t take a lot of time to try these suggestions, and while we’ll talk later on about setting up parental controls on your kids’ computers and mobile devices, the following steps can give you some peace of mind until you can do so.
Place computers in a common area of the house
Don’t allow kids to have a computer in their room. You’d be surprised by how much the mere presence of a parent who may or may not be looking over a child’s shoulder while they use the computer can keep a child in line. They have no way of knowing if your eyes actually are good enough to see across the room, now do they? Make sure the computer’s screen is visible from other parts of the room and isn’t turned toward a wall.
Learn more about computers and the internet
While folks are now more knowledgeable about computers and mobile devices than ever, it never hurts to learn a bit more. Look for information from your Internet Service Provider (ISP), online resources, or yes, the library. Don’t be embarrassed to pick up a “Dummies” book on the subject. (You can buy it on your Kindle or from iBooks. No one will ever be the wiser.)
Spend time online with your kids
The family that surfs together…Well, I can’t think of a rhyme at the moment, but make browsing the web a family thing (just like watching television was for most of us when we were kids, lo those many years ago.) Hang out with your kids and help them with their homework online, searching for information together. But, make sure to put the Google search filter on “safe.”
Set reasonable time and usage limits
Set rules about what your child can and can’t do when on the internet. Set time limits on their computer use. If they say they’re researching homework, maybe you don’t include that in the time limits. But make sure they’re actually using it for homework. (Hint: watching episodes of “Rick and Morty” is hardly ever a required element in homework assignments.)
Discuss the dangers of the web with your child
Sit down and have a discussion about the dangers of the internet. Talk openly and honestly about what’s out there and the kind of stuff they want to avoid. Scare the crap out of them, if needed. Forewarned is forearmed.
Keep the youngsters out of online chat rooms, and do your best to reinforce the old rule, “never talk to strangers.”
Chat rooms are a popular place for sex offenders to meet their prey. If possible, keep your kids out of chat rooms altogether. Make sure your child knows that no matter how nice an online “friend” may seem to be, they are still a stranger, and may not be who they appear to be.
No personal information given out, and no “face-to-face” meetings
Kids may not understand how giving out personal info like their phone number or address could be harmful. They may also want to meet their new “buddy” in real life for ice cream or a Coke. Say no, and never allow that.
NEVER let your child upload or download photos without your permission
Online predators will often send photos supposedly of themselves or request photos of the child. If your child does receive photos from an online “buddy,” and they’re at all questionable, immediately contact the police or your ISP.
Check with your Internet Service Provider for any parental controls, blocking, and filtering tools they may offer
Examples are covered in the next section.
Tools Parents Can Use to Protect Their Kids on the Internet
ISP Parental Controls
As I mentioned in point 9 of the list above, most Internet Service Providers – including Xfinity, Cox, Charter/Spectrum, and others – offer free parental controls for users to make the internet a safer place for their younger family members.
While there are a number of other parental control software packages available for sale, find out what free options your ISP offers first. You may find it fits your needs, and you’ll save a few bucks in the process.
In some cases, the parental controls are built right into the cable modem/router supplied as a part of your cable subscription.
For more information, visit your cable provider’s support website.
Circle with Disney
Now, I want to tell you about an ingenious little device offered by a partner of Disney. Yes, the Toy Story and Frozen folks. I’ve been finding out all I can about this device, and let me assure you, even though it’s a Disney-related product, there is nothing Mickey Mouse about it in any way.
Circle with Disney is a device that pairs with your home network (wireless or wired) and allows you to manage every connected device. Using an app on your mobile device, you can then use it to control internet access for every device on the network.
Circle is a low-key device, looking for all the world like an Apple product. By that, I mean the device is a 3.25-inch square-shaped white device that resembles an oversized iPhone charger.
Circle basically works the same way as a man-in-the-middle hacker attack does, but uses its powers for good. Circle uses a technique called “ARP spoofing,” which is how hackers compromise network security – except Circle actually works to make your family safer.
The device sits in the gap between the home Wi-Fi router and all of the connected devices in the house. This means that all internet usage has to pass through the Circle. That’s where the granular parental controls come in.
Parents use the Circle app – available for both iOS and Android devices – to set rules for each device. It should be noted that all limits are set by the device, not by the user. So, it would be possible for my son to grab my daughter’s iPad for some extra time on Facebook – but you’ve gotta trust the kids at least a little, right?
While everything is by device, you can connect a device to a user. My son has an iPhone, a computer, and a PS4. If I set his daily internet time limit to 4 hours, he gets a total of 4 hours across all the devices. Any usage of any individual device counts against his individual allotment.
In addition to time allotments, devices can be completely blocked from using the internet. My daughter is grounded, with no iPad time? I turn it off from the control app. My son didn’t do his chores? No PlayStation for him today!
Control can go down to as fine a level as controlling how much time each user gets per app. Don’t want the kids staying on Facebook too long? Limit them to an hour per day. Kids burning up too much time watching videos on YouTube? Limit them to 30 minutes per day.
Circle also allows pausing the entire internet connection, making it the perfect tool for when you want to have a “no device” family dinner or family board game night. (And yes, my wife could “pause” my iPhone connection if I spend too much time watching the playoffs on my phone instead of focusing on the family.)
While Circle doesn’t offer any features that aren’t already available via parental control software, or possibly your wireless router’s own settings, it puts it all into one convenient device and interface. It offers much simpler controls to allow even the most technophobic parent the chance to finally control their family’s internet usage.
Circle will run you around $99 at Amazon, Target, Best Buy, and the Circle website.
Setting Parental Controls on Computers and Devices
What if you don’t want to spring 99 bucks for a fancy little box?
No worries – you can also control your youngsters’ internet access on each one of their computers and mobile devices.
In this section, we’ll look at the parental controls offered by the Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android operating systems. All 4 operating systems offer controls flexible enough that they should meet any parent’s needs – it just might take some fiddling with the knobs to get there.
How to Set Up Parental Controls in Windows 10
While I’m aware there are various versions of Windows still in use today, ranging from Windows XP up to Windows 10, I will assume most Windows users are running, or will soon be running, Windows 10 on their family’s PCs.
Love it or hate it, Windows 10 is the current flavor of Microsoft’s operating system, and eventually, you’ll either upgrade or it’ll be on your next computer.
Windows 10 makes it easier to apply parental controls to each individual computer in your family due to its ability to set up child accounts that can be controlled from a parental account. Windows 10 does this by requiring child accounts to log in to a Microsoft account (in place of a local account), allowing parents to apply controls via an online interface.
Any changes made to parental controls on each child’s account are automatically applied to the child’s Windows-powered PC, mobile device, or Xbox game system. Parents can change the settings for web browsing, apps and games, screen time, spending, and Xbox privacy.
Parents can block inappropriate websites, including adult content. They can also turn on safe search and even add URLs that would always be allowed, or always be blocked, no matter what the general blocked content settings are adjusted to.
As far as apps and media controls go, parents can allow or not allow kids to download apps and games that are rated “mature,” as well as select distinct age ratings for game and media content.
Time limits can be set for a start and end time, as well as a time limit. (For instance, you could set it so your youngster can use the computer any time between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays, but only for a total of 3 hours.) If the child exceeds the time limits or attempts to use the PC outside of the set timeframe, a warning pops up, and a parental unit will need to log in to allow continued access to the computer.
Parents can also review a child account’s purchases, as well as add money to their account for spending, effectively limiting the child’s spending and charges to the parents’ credit cards.
If your child has an Xbox Live account, you can control whether they can see other Xbox Live member’s profiles, view videos on Xbox Live, share or see custom content, and more. Parents can also restrict downloads to only free games or block the ability to participate in multiplayer games/
How to Set Up Parental Controls in macOS
Setting the Parental Controls on a Mac must be performed locally – although, once they are in place, they can be adjusted remotely from another Mac. The controls allow parents to determine which apps can be used, which websites can be accessed, whether or not a child can access the iTunes or App Stores, when and how long the Mac can be used, privacy limits, and other options, like whether or not Siri can be used.
Setting Parental Controls in macOS is performed via the System Preferences. Simply click the Apple logo in the upper left-hand corner of the Mac Desktop and then click “System Preferences…” in the pull-down menu that appears.
Next, click the “Parental Controls” icon in the System Preferences window, and you’ll be ready to select the account to manage. If you see the message “There are no user accounts to manage,” you’ll need to add a managed user.
Select a user to apply Parental Controls to, and you’ll see a series of tabs at the top of the Parental Controls windows. They are, from left to right: “Apps,” “Web,” “Stores,” “Time,” “Privacy” and the always-intriguing “Other.”
On the “Apps” tab, parents can control whether or not to allow their offspring to use the Mac’s built-in webcam. (Keep in mind, predators love to see their prey). They can also specify whether or not a child can join Game Center multiplayer games. Use of the Mac’s built-in Mail app can be limited to allowed contacts only or left completely open. Parents can also specify which apps their little ones are allowed to use.
….. TO BE CONTINUED….