I know parents who do not allow their children to step out of the house un-chaperoned, but are unaware of the risks when their kids go exploring the worldwide web on their own. I recommend that parents and caregivers of young children, preteens and teens, who are internet users, read a very informative Family Online Safety Guide, on the subject, by Norton’s Family Security Advocate, Marian Merritt. (If you’re not a parent, but have younger, internet-active siblings or are a school teacher, please feel morally obligated to discuss safe online behavior with the children you care about.)
Basic Things Every Parent Should Know:
- A child who is not actively looking for inappropriate content may still end up being shown content suggestions, advertisements, sponsored links and images that you’d rather not have them look at. These risks are higher when they’re visiting sites that offer freebies.
- Children younger than 13 cannot legally have a Gmail or Facebook account. If they have one, they lied on the sign-up page, with or without your knowledge. You can have a Yahoo mail account for children less than 13, but a parent needs to subscribe them, by making a token payment through their credit card. Hotmail & twitter have no minimum legal age, but that doesn’t make them any safer to use without supervision.
What’s the Baseline for Online Safety?
These are some suggestions, but your individual situation should guide you:
- As a general rule, people not good enough to be invited to your home may not interact with your children through email, instant messaging, social networks, cellphones or text messages.
- If a computer is shared by several members of the household, each person should have their own profile / login credentials, so that the younger ones do not automatically receive content meant for an older audience.
- You should have clear rules about how much time kids can spend online and what type of content they can access. Whether they’re playing games, watching videos or tv shows, downloading music or doing homework, have a discussion about it, asap.
- Please activate parental controls on computers that your children use. At their un-intrusive best, these tools will just keep a log of what websites your child visits. At a more aggressive level, they’ll even lock the child out of the computer based on time-out settings.
- If anyone or anything makes your children uncomfortable online, you should be approachable enough for them to discuss it with you.
Reliable & Free Parental Control Tools for Safe Online Browsing:
- Microsoft has multiple versions of their Family Safety Tool based on the operating system you’re using. Check your control panel. You may even have this pre-installed with your version of Windows.
- Norton (Symantec) also has a Family Safety Application that can be installed on your child’s computer. Its android or iOS counterpart app will allow you to remotely access your child’s web activity through your smartphone. You may even change preferences (allow or disallow specific content) while away from home.
There are of course paid applications that provide all of the functionality that free software provides and more, but for most families, either of the two solutions noted above work well.
Setting up email for your children:
There can be several reasons why your child may need an email address – be it to share research with school groups, or to register as a passport to sites you approve of.
If you’re setting up your child’s first email account, I suggest you go with Zilladog’s free plan. It is a spam-free solution where email correspondence can only take place with a parent-approved buddy list. Parents can choose to receive a copy of every email sent and received through this account, at their specified email address. If any emails are blocked by the system, parents will be able to view and selectively allow delivery.
Other email options include Yahoo Family Accounts and other paid solutions that you can Google if you’re so inclined. For older kids who require the full functionality of an email solution and un-intrusive monitoring by a parent, Gmail is fine to use with setting up mail delegation to the parent.
Remember, as parents, it is our responsibility to protect our children from harm and guide them through the complicated choices that this world presents to them every day. Children (even younger adults) have impressionable minds and you do have a significant degree of influence when it comes to the development of healthy attitudes and agreeable personalities.
- Your Teen, The Internet & Social Networking Sites (griottescrolls.wordpress.com)