Keeping your kids safe online

Moira Cronin, McAfee Cybermum
20 January, 2010
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The February 2010 issue of Australian Macworld will feature a range of resources for parents and children online. In the meantime, however, we present this guest blog providing some tips for keeping your children safe online.

The internet is a great place for kids to learn, entertain themselves and keep in touch with school friends, however, the World Wide Web (or the Wild, Wild Web as I’ve playfully decided to call it), is so big and ever changing, keeping your kids safe when they’re playing in their little patch of the internet can feel daunting.  The internet is such a massive playground for kids with no visible boundaries, where do you start when trying to protect them in cyberspace? Let’s start at the beginning by laying some foundations that will help keep your kids safe online.

Here are my top ten tips:

Tip 1: Consider where you place your home computer

Position the computer in your main living space and make sure the monitor faces outward into the room so there is no secrecy. Be suspicious if your child quickly changes the screen when you pass by, or is hiding files or disks – someone may have sent them inappropriate or questionable content!

Tip 2: Work together with your kids to set boundaries

Discuss with your child exactly what is OK and what is NOT OK regarding what kind of web sites are appropriate for them, which chat rooms to visit, and what kinds of things they can talk about when online. Only let them use monitored chat rooms.

Get to know your child’s online friends as you do their school and neighbourhood friends. Learn to surf the web and chat online with your kids so you understand what they are doing – you might just learn a thing or two!

Tip 3: Stress to your child that they need to tell you if they receive any odd or upsetting messages when online, and that you will not be angry with them or ban the internet as a result.

Make it clear that you understand that they cannot control what other people say to them and that they are not to blame if this happens. It’s so important that they feel they can come to you and talk about their online experiences, good and bad.

Tip 4: Set time limits for internet use and enforce them. Don’t allow your kids to be left alone in cyberspace for long periods of time – this is when they are most vulnerable. Ban late-night use. Parental control software such as McAfee’s Family Protection software enables you to enforce the time limits your family has agreed upon.

Tip 5: Make it clear to your child that people in chat rooms are always strangers, no matter how often they chat with them, and no matter how well they think they know them. They should be told that people can lie about who they are and their new friend may be a 40 year old grown up instead of a 13 year old girl!

Tip 6:  Make sure your kids understand that they are never to reveal personally-identifiable information – such as their real name, age, school, phone number, date of birth, or where they live.  Have them use a chat pseudonym that is non-provocative and doesn’t hint at who they really are.  It’s important that they also understand they must guard other people’s personal information, such as friends names and phone numbers and that their friends should do the same for them – then they’re looking out for each other.

 Tip 7:  Don’t let your kids open attachments in email messages from friends (and definitely NOT from people they don’t know) or file-sharing services without you being there to approve and scan the content for viruses.  Predators can send pornography or other questionable material.

 Tip 8:  Install up-to-date security software on your home computer.  McAfee Total Protection offers trusted protection from viruses, spyware, hackers, identity thieves, and online scammers. It also offers parental controls that ensure a worry-free experience for you and your kids. McAfee Family Protection protects children of all ages from exposure to inappropriate content, social networking risks, strangers, and other threats. It filters offensive content and pictures that a predator may send, and blocks inappropriate web sites.  The integrated parental controls also restrict sending of personal information without your knowledge (I love this function!) so that you can keep your children safe.  By making sure your computer has up-to-date security software, your kids will be free to safely explore, learn and enjoy their little patch of the world wide web.

Tip 9:  Learn how to save chat sessions logs, how to block users, and how to report problemsYou can save sessions by copying and pasting the message text into a word processing program.  Most chat programs allow you to block a user by right-clicking on their name in your contact list and choosing the “Block” or “Ignore” feature.  If your child has a problem with another chatter, send the copied log to the chat room moderator and administrator.  You can find the contact information in the help or reporting section of the program.

 Tip 10:  Make sure your kids know how important it is that they not meet online friends face to face WITHOUT your knowledge.  I like to think of this tip as a modern day version of “stranger danger”.  As parents, we would keep an ever-watchful eye over our kids in the playground.  Well this is exactly the same, except the playground is in cyberspace and is a whole lot bigger!  It’s up to us to work with our kids to determine the true identity of online friends before permitting any meetings.  If you allow your child to meet an online friend, make sure it happens in a public place and that you absolutely accompany them. 

Open, honest and frequent talks with your kids about their online experiences, both good and bad is so important when it comes to protecting your kids from online threats. And while some of these tips might sound blaringly obvious, I wonder how many or how often we apply them?  We live busy lives with work, study, grocery shopping, kids projects, house hold chores…the list is endless, but are we that busy that we can’t take a few minutes to ensure our kids are out of harms way when they’re at play on your home computer? Today sounds like a good day to start. 

Moira Cronin is a Sydney mother of two with 17 years’ experience in the IT industry. After she decided to go learn as much as she could about keeping kids safe online, she started blogging about how to keep kids safe online. Her blog is supported by Internet security company McAfee, and can be read by going to www.mcafee.com/moirablog.

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