We originally wrote this article in 2013, when most of our advice centred around keeping your kids safe online when using Windows, PCs and laptops. These days, of course, kids tend to have access to many devices from parents’ tablets and phones to their own dedicated kids tablets.
Older kids will probably have their own phones, and with them another internet source: 3G or 4G. All of this complicates the issue, but the basic principles still apply. We’ve updated the article for 2016 and made some new recommendations for buying hardware as well as the software you can install to monitor what your children are up to and / or block websites to stop them from accessing content you’d rather they didn’t.
Much of the internet is a fabulous resource for kids, whether it’s Wikipedia for helping with homework, online games, social networks, videos, music and more. However, there are an equal number of websites that you wouldn’t want them going anywhere near.
We’ll look at what the dangers are and the ways in which you can keep your kids safe from them. Much of our advice is common sense, but in addition there are applications and utilities such as parental control software which can help to act as a digital nanny and protect your children when you’re eyes aren’t watching.
You’ve probably heard scare stories about identity theft, online bullying and illegal downloads. The threats are real and you can’t afford to simply hope that everything will be ok. We’ll show you what action is required.
Many people decide that they want to limit their children’s screen time, including TV, games consoles and using the internet. On a PC, phone and tablet you can install software and apps – typically called parental control software – which can determine when the internet can be used. Most kids tablets have these options built-in, and we’re big fans of Amazon’s Fire tablets for this reason. Even those which aren’t ‘Kids Edition’ have the same Fire for Kids app which offers brilliant parental controls, including the superb-value £49 Fire.More Stories
How to keep kids safe online: you make the rules
Kids these days are digital natives. They’ve grown up with the internet and have no concept of what life was like without it. They’re completely at home with technology: using a mouseor touchscreen to navigate is as much a life skill as learning to read and write.
In fact, children tend to learn to use a touchscreen way before they can read or write, using colours, images and symbols instead of words to navigate around apps and websites in order to get to a video or game they like.
Whatever the age of your kids, it’s important to keep them safe when browsing websites, using social networking services such as Facebook, and chatting with friends using instant messaging programs.
Although your children may know more about using a laptop, tablet and the internet than you do, it’s your responsibility to ensure they’re protected from the parts of the web that present a danger to them.
The dangers (see below) may sound bad, but the good news is that you can prevent most of them happening without too much time, effort or money.
Common sense plays a bigger part than you might think. For a start, we’d recommend not allowing children to use a device – laptop, tablet or phone – in their own room. Asking them to use it in a communal area should discourage most inappropriate activities as it will be obvious what they’re up to even if you only glance in their direction.
The most important thing to do is to talk to each child and explain (in a way appropriate to their age) the dangers that the internet could pose to them, and why they can’t use their devices in their room.
Also, encourage them to tell you whenever they see anything that makes them uncomfortable or upsets them, or simply isn’t what they expected. You can delete inappropriate websites from your browser’s history, and add the site’s address to a parental control filter list (we’ll come to this in a minute).
Also encourage them to tell you if they receive any threatening or frightening messages or emails – you can add the sender’s address to most email programs’ blocked list.
You should also make it plain what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable online. That’s something only you can decide, but you can’t expect your kids to know they’re doing something wrong if you haven’t set any boundaries.
You might, for example, tell your child that they’re not allowed to download apps or files without your permission first, nor share a file with anyone without your consent. You could also set rules about which online chat services are allowed, tell them not to reply to unsolicited emails or sign up for free accounts without you first checking that it’s ok.