With the summer holidays well and truly underway, children will inevitably have more access to screen time, especially in the form of the internet.
Internet safety has become an increasingly worrying problem amongst parents, but speaking to Fabulous, internet expert Allison Troutner from VPNOverview.com has listed the best ways to keep your child safe online.
1. Consider a family ‘tech agreement’
According to Allison, one way to set ground rules with your child is to create a Family Tech Agreement.
“A family tech agreement answers as many questions as possible about internet and device use so boundaries are clear to all family members,” she explains.
It’s a good way for the whole family to talk about safe and responsible online behaviours.”
To create a family agreement, the internet expert advises discussing topics such as “what rules do we want to include in our agreement?” and “do we know how to use in-app safety features like blocking and reporting?”
Other questions to be considered include: “How long should we spend on our devices?” “what do we do if we see something inappropriate?” and “who can we talk to if we feel uncomfortable with something online?”
Allison notes that this is a starting point and that your family may discuss more topics on internet safety for kids depending on the ages of your child or teens and what devices you use.
2. Report any harmful content that you see
The internet expert highlights the importance of flagging or reporting all harmful content using social media apps using in-app reporting features.
“For cybercrimes, cyberbullying, or harmful content, use in-app features like Twitter’s safe mode to report it,” she advises.
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Most social media companies have their own safety and privacy policies and will investigate and block content or users.”
Allison ads: “Apps geared towards kids, like Facebook Messenger Kids, have clear guidelines and safety features so that users can block content or contacts and have a safer experience in the app.”
3. Balance safety with independence
Allison comments: “Technical controls can be a useful way to protect your children online but they can’t solve all your problems.”
“Children need a certain amount of freedom and privacy to develop healthily.”
She goes on to say children need their own free space to learn by trial and error what works and what doesn’t.
“So keep balancing, it’s part of it,” the internet expert continues. “Having open and honest conversations with your children can be the best way to balance this safety.”
4. Keep the computer in a common space
Allison says that if possible, keep computers and devices in a common space so you can keep an eye on activity.
“It prevents children from doing things that might be risky,” she notes.
“Also, if harmful or inappropriate content appears through messages, you can address it with your child straight away.”
5. Password-protect all accounts and devices
“From phones to computers to apps, put a password on it,” says Allison.
“That way, no one without the password can access you or your child’s device.”
She adds: “Keep track of passwords by using a password manager.”
6. Update your operating systems regularly
The internet expert explains that all of your devices from mobile phones or tablets to computers and smartwatches receive important updates in response to security issues on a regular basis.
“Be sure to install them regularly so you have the most up-to-date security fixes and remain safe online,” she advises.
“Our recommendation is to set updates to install automatically so your device is less vulnerable to known attacks.”
She continues: “Usually, you can find this feature in Settings, then select Automatic Updates, but it varies between devices.”
7. Install security or antivirus software programs and a VPN on your computer
“Cybersecurity or antivirus software programs prevent spyware or viruses that may harm your computer if your child visits a malicious site,” says Allison.
“Using these programs, parents can also set up regular virus checks and deep system scans to make sure there is no harmful activity happening under your nose.”
She goes on to explain how a VPN hides users’ internet activity from snoops and spoofs your location.
“This protects your kids by making sure hackers or predators can’t detect their actual location,” Allison continues.
“You can install a VPN on your router so that the location is spoofed on all connected devices.”
8. Set parental controls
It may seem obvious, but Allison points out that parental controls are crucial to your child’s safety online.
“Parent controls are built-in features included on devices and apps,” she says.
“With these features, parents customise their child’s online experience.”
What parental controls are available on each device or app varies, but in general, they limit screen time, restrict content, and enhance user privacy.”
Allison adds that features of parental controls include: Limit screen time, turn off in-app purchasing, prevent inappropriate or mature content, limit website access, play, message, or send/receive content with approved contacts only and monitor device location through GPS.
“Take time to look at what parental controls are available on your child’s commonly used apps,” Allison continues.
“Then, set them to reflect the type of experience you think is best for your child or teen’s online safety.”