How To Keep Our Children & Teens Safe Online
One in five children is assaulted in some manner over the Internet, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Aside from that frightening statistic, reading stories about innocent young children accidentally viewing unmentionable images simply because they misspelled an URL is reason enough to be sure you have controls in place on your computer. I love the internet-but I’m familiar enough with strategies to stay safe, but does your child?
As a young’un, I would dream about getting locked in a library overnight. Maybe I’m a little nerdy…OK, a LOT nerdy, but with all that information now at our fingertips thanks to Google, you can find virtually anything online. This is both a blessing and a curse. I am now a confirmed information junkie that has definite controls in place (my husband) in efforts to maintain the biblical admonition “all things in moderation”. Since research, religion, homeschooling and business are my weaknesses, I find I don’t ‘accidentally’ stumble upon much that I wouldn’t want my children to see.
However, most teenagers are interested in very different subjects that online predators have made themselves purposely familiar with. Our verbal warnings may be acknowledged, but like many topics parents try to impress on their teens, are usually filed in their “Paranoid Parent” mental file. Add to that the availability of personal information that social networks can reveal in the lives of most teens (and adults!) and you have a recipe for disaster.
What can a parent do?
First, Start With The Basics:
Talk To Your Teen
They may roll their eyes because they are likely more “computer savvy” than you, but if you remember when you were a teen, no situation seemed impossible in your youthful idealistic POV. Even if you think they aren’t listening, your words of warning will whisper to them from the back of their minds. Keep your warnings brief, but to the point. Let them know some important danger signals and how to recognize them. Encourage them to tell you, but at the very least, shut down or restart the computer.
Some good articles to help you communicate key concepts to your children:
Setting Up Parental Controls
In the past, I’ve found that the parental controls didn’t do much except cause frustration to anyone using that computer. It seemed that over-blocking or not blocking at all made the effort futile. Information abounds online on ways to set your computer for safer usage. Search for “parental controls” and add your version like Windows 10 or iPad 2 or whatever you are working with. Or check out:
Google’s Safe Search-A Must Do
We’re only covering Google Chrome since it’s used for over 90% of online search. If you don’t know how to set your search preferences, it’s very simple and will only take a minute. If you don’t use Google, it’s easy to do a search on safety choices on your browser of choice.
Setting up safe search on Google varies depending on what device you are on, but here is a link that will block the worst on Google Chrome: https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/510?hl=en
Be sure to save preferences before you leave the page. I have found this works very well for me, rarely encountering a site that is remotely questionable. (April 2016 Update: I’m not sure this is a viable option anymore-this was originally written in 2010-but worth doing anyway, we do!)
Child Safety Filtering Services
It used to be enough that setting the family computer in a central location and occasionally checking the search history (try: Control+Shift+H to see recent history of visited sites) was enough. It’s obviously gone way beyond that, which is why there are so many child safety filtering services out there now. But how do you choose? Most internet security suites offer parental controls, but they are reported to never be as fully functional and effective as stand alone programs.
The top programs that rank in the best reviews are:
1. PC Magazine has the 2016 list of the best controls, apps and software you can use as a parent wanting to keep their child safe online. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/feature/software/best-parental-control-software-2016-3587080/
2. Safe Eyes This is the one that Dave Ramsey recommends, and is in the top 10 3 of every review site I checked. One license can be used on 3 computers. Looks good. Price: $49.99
3. Net Nanny – If you were sure about Safe Eyes, then I’ll make it more difficult to decide. Net Nanny makes #1 on just about every review list online. They seem to have figured out all the ways kids can circumvent the controls, and ways naughty sites can trick the filters-making little room for errors or hacking. Top choice of many. Price: $39.99/1 computer, $59.99/3 computers
4. Cybersitter – The least expensive if you only have one computer ($24.99-charges increase with number of computers you own), it’s highly effective, but a little complicated when used with multiple browsers. Price: starts at $24.99 (last we checked)
5. Onlinefamily.Norton.com – Now I’m really going to complicate your decision-or possibly make it a no-brainer. If you have used Norton’s AntiVirus’s parental controls and were not impressed, this is a horse of a different color. Full featured and rated highly with the critics, it’s difficult to fool or poke holes in this web based program. Norton originally said they were going to charge $60/year for their new program, but as of September, 2010, it’s still free. So, the price is right, unfortunately that might not last forever. Price: Free
6. K-9 Web Protection – This is a free program that has returned some mixed reviews. Although WordPress has debunked the “you get what you pay for” myth, protecting kids online is a worthy cause. “Free” no longer means ‘cheap’ online. There is so many quality resources to be found online anymore! It’s definitely worth a try!
One of the best informational and educational websites geared to engage kids to help them learn to protect themselves is NetSmartz. *I don’t think they still give out the free kit they did in 2010, but you’ll find a lot of great information and some educational downloads here.
You can also call 1-800-THE-LOST or write: NetSmartz Workshop Charles B. Wang International Children’s Building 699 Prince Street Alexandria, Virginia 22314-3175
8. Get Net Wise is another good website devoted to educating kids and parents on safe internet usage.
Is your teen already web-safety-savvy? Maybe they would consider becoming a Teen Angel! Read more about what these TeenAngels are doing to help others stay safe.
Anyone know of other tools that are worthwhile in keeping kids safe online? It helps us all to share… Leave your ideas in a comment below or email it to us. (see our Contact page) Thanks!
Resources emailed to us from our readers:
10. CyberSafety from Verizon
(There’s even an app on Verizon to block text messaging while driving!)
Updated 4/2016; Originally published 9/2010