What Every Parent Needs To Know About Protecting Their Kids Online

what every parent needs to know about protecting their kids online

As a parent it is your job, your responsibility, to look after the children you have brought into this world.

Most parents take that responsibility seriously but external factors seem to make their job harder by the day.

A world that once seemed small is now truly global as your kids discover the wonders of communicating via the internet.

Being young, your children often don’t understand the dangers that the world wide web can sometimes pose, if they even spot them at all.

Its even more unfortunate that many parents are oblivious to the risks that can sometimes be posed by the internet too.

what every parent needs to know about protecting their kids online

what every parent needs to know about protecting their kids online

EDUCATIONAL

Its certainly very true that the internet is a valuable tool for children and adults alike.

Communication has become easier and cheaper, businesses more profitable and new friends can be discovered.

Perhaps the most important benefit of having internet access is more educational in nature though.

If you want to know anything about anything then someone, somewhere, will almost certainly have written something about it on the internet.

Indeed, internet use is on the increase in the classroom as children gather more and more information from web sites than they do from handouts from their teachers.

Computers with internet connectivity have become so commonplace that children such as mine are even given homework that involves researching topics on the web.

This has led to our children growing up in a society where internet use is so common that they would probably see it as a necessary part of their lives rather than a luxury.

Envelopes, pens and stamps are for a passing generation.

This one types and clicks ‘send mail’.

Libraries are no longer places you visit together, they’re websites that may not check your kid’s ages before letting them read those books on the higher shelves.

Your children live in this world now and its a bigger world than the one we were born into.

If you don’t understand it then how can you protect them the dangers it poses?

TEACH YOURSELF FIRST

The first piece of advice I would give to any parent, before they discuss the dangers of the internet with their children, is to get online themselves.

You need to understand how email works.

You need to know a little about spyware, viruses, Trojans and all the other cyber threats out there.

You need to visit forums, chat rooms and social networking sites so that you have an understanding of the types of places your children will be visiting.

With a little such knowledge you’ll come across much more authoritatively when you start setting down rules and guidelines.

PROTECT YOUR KIDS

Children, especially younger ones, need guidance.

They need it from YOU.

You need to sit down with your kids and have a frank discussion about internet use.

You need to ensure that your children understand what you are saying and that they must follow your guidelines to the limit.

If they don’t then you need to be firm and may have to disconnect them from the net for a while to drive your point home.

Remember, children are fast learners and they hate to be deprived of anything.

When setting the rules that you wish your kids to follow try and be thorough.

Don’t just set time limits, make it clear what sort of sites they can and cannot visit too.

Something I did with my children when they were younger was to write the rules in large type onto a piece of paper.

I then framed this and hung it on the wall in the middle of their various computers so that they were constantly reminded of what we had discussed.

Knowing my kids to be quite typical I knew they wouldn’t make a point of reading it themselves at first so every few days we would sit down and go through it together until they got to the point where they could tell me everything that was written without having to stop to think.

Another thing I did was to place my kid’s computers around the living room so that they couldn’t use them without me being close by.

Only recently have I let my eldest move his PC into his bedroom and he is already fifteen.

At his age I felt he probably needed a little privacy but at an earlier age I don’t think that is advisable.

If you have a younger child who says they need to use their computer in privacy then you really do need to find out why.

Whilst we are on the subject of privacy, now is a good time to teach your kids how to protect their identities when they are online.

Take the time to teach them not to give out their real names, ages, address or phone number.

Do it now.

If they give the wrong details to the wrong person then they may end up suffering a fate far, far worse than identity theft.

Teach them not to give out their real name, address, phone number, age, or any other identifying information.

If you are concerned that they may not do as asked then add in another layer of security with a monitoring program such as the quite excellent Net Nanny.

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

Everybody has their own style of parenting.

Personally, I do not think it is fair to lecture to kids without offering some explanations as to why you feel it is a necessity.

So, if you are going to insist that your children follow certain rules then good communication is vital.

After setting down your guidelines try to give your children a certain level of understanding to go with it.

Depending upon their ages you may not wish to go into too much detail but you should let your kids know that people arn’t always who they say they are and not everybody can be trusted.

You should also explain why keeping their personal details to themselves is important both now and when they grow up.

For the most part you probably wouldn’t want your young children to be joining chat rooms or engaging in instant messenger conversations.

If, however, there is a need for it then explain to them how they will need both your permission and help when signing up for anything on the web

Younger children should not be using email, instant messengers or visiting chat rooms, but they will occasionally need to fill out registration forms for age appropriate websites.

It is vital that they learn to get your permission, and your assistance, before they start typing any of their information into web based forms.

Children are taught, both at school and by their peers, to use the internet for many of the tasks you or I would have used alternative means for in the past, from communicating to researching different topics.

Tap into that and make your kids inquisitive so that they don’t necessarily believe everything they see or hear.

They can then use that knowledge to aid their own safety when they chat to other people online.

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BUILD TRUST

I’d always advocate monitoring younger children but as they approach their teenage years you will probably have to trust them more as they begin the transition into adulthood.

No teenager wants to be constantly monitored and nor should they be.

Whilst they still need to be loved and protected they do need to be allowed to start experiencing the world on their own.

Hopefully you have already taught them about internet safety when they were younger and now you need to take a step back and hope that they have taken it all in.

As before, give them rules and guidelines but do not stand over their shoulders watching everything that they do.

Communicate the new types of dangers they may potentially face from instant messengers and within chat rooms and also let them know that you are always there should they ever find themselves in an uncomfortable position.

Whilst you then take a step back you should also let your kids know that there will still be consequences if your rules are ever broken.

Don’t be afraid to block access to the internet if they go beyond your boundaries.

Be open with them and tell them that trust is a two way street and if they break it then they will have a hard job earning it back again.

BE INFORMED

Children of all ages are going to want their computers in their bedrooms as I mentioned before.

All of my kids have asked me to put their upstairs and only just recently have I allowed my eldest to do so.

With my younger ones I keep quite a strong eye on what they are doing, physically watching their screens at times to ensure they are behaving responsibly and not doing anything I’ve told them not to do.

Now that my 15 year old has his PC in his bedroom he has a lot more privacy but I haven’t abdicated my responsibilities either.

I sat him down and spoke to him before moving his computer and we agreed upon some simple rules, namely that I would respect his privacy as long as he kept me informed.

By that I mean he gives me a summary of what he has been up to that day, what sort of sites he has visited and who he has spoken to.

I don’t ask for all the details but I do check his computer occasionally, something he has agreed I can do.

That way I can make sure that he is telling the truth and I can also randomly check his instant messenger chat logs too.

I do this in front of him so he knows I’m looking out for his safety and not just snooping on him which is something all teenagers worry about!

EXPLAIN THE DANGERS

With my children I was, and still am, as open with them as I feel their age level permits.

There is only so much you would want to tell a 5 year old about online predators after all.

As they have grown older, and become more experienced on the net, I have steadily given them more information.

The more they know the better equipped they will be to deal with any potential issues themselves.

You do not, however, want to scare them any more than is necessary and you definitely do not want to be getting graphic when describing the dangers.

I know that the experience has sometimes made me feel uncomfortable but how can I impress the importance of what I am saying without giving my children a glimpse of the true nature of certain dark corners of the internet?

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CHAT ROOMS, SOCIAL NETWORKS AND MESSAGE BOARDS

I mentioned earlier that chat rooms, social networks and chat rooms are something that kids like to become involved with, especially the older ones.

Before they discover these outlets you will probably find it fairly simple to keep up with who they are socialising with online.

If they are following your guidelines then their contact list will be fairly limited and confined to email.

Chat rooms and other areas where they can meet new people online will quickly change that though.

They could meet hundreds, even thousands of new people each week.

Most will just pass by but some will be added to their contact lists.

The majority of these new friends will be genuine kids, just like your child.

Some, however, will not be.

Message boards and forums are reasonably safe, especially where they are patrolled by moderators who can delete offensive comments and kick abusive users.

Social networks and chat rooms, however, offer far more freedom to predators.

Whilst the number of such predators on such sites may be low it only takes one and they are definitely on the lookout for children.

It is for that reason that you must once again set guidelines before allowing your kids to use such services.

Let your children know that they can only use message boards that have moderators.

If the site offers the ability to filter bad language then they have to have that filter switched on, otherwise you should consider preventing them from using that site in the first place.

I would advise not letting your children onto chat rooms at all.

It is far too easy for a predator to lie about their identity and age and then groom kids whilst remaining anonymous.

If you do allow your child onto chat rooms then check the profile they have created for themselves and make sure there is nothing in there that can give away their true name, age or location.

It would also be advisable to check what they are using the chat room for and who they are talking to on a regular basis so that you can detect any unwanted attention that they may be receiving.

MONITORING SOFTWARE

When your kids are older and you allow them to move their computers away from your direct view then you are giving up a certain degree of control.

Whilst I think this is an important part of their development you may feel that you would like to keep an eye on them all the same, perhaps without them being aware of that fact.

If so then software such as Win-Spy Pro is what you will need as it affords the opportunity to remotely view another computer.

This includes what is viewed on their screen as well as what they type.

The program cannot be deleted or stopped by your kids and they will almost certainly be unaware if it is installed on their system.

You can even use the program to control a nearby webcam to see exactly what your child is doing!

Spying isn’t cool but sometimes its necessary to ensure the safety of those we love.

BEST INTENTIONS

Kids all around the world are remarkably alike.

Wherever you live I’d bet that yours are not unlike mine because they all want that forbidden fruit.

You can set down all the rules and guidelines you like.

You can get their agreement on all of them.

One thing is certain though – no child wants to miss out on what they have been told they cannot have.

You should never get to the point where you don’t monitor your kid’s online activity.

As they get older they become more responsible but also start visiting site that could hide greater risks to them.

Never assume your kids are as good as you think they are – its your job as a parent to ensure their safety.

Do not fail.

About Lee Munson

Lee's non-technical background allows him to write about internet security in a clear way that is understandable to both IT professionals and people just like you who need simple answers to your security questions.

Comments

  1. Strangely I have a feeling that the government that we both live under would like to do away with annoyances such as ‘rights’ for everyone but thats a topic for another day…

  2. Ooh, I could get into quite a conversation here about privacy both online and offline as it is something I feel very strongly about.

    Fortunately, perhaps, I’m far too tired right now!

    I believe in keeping my kids safe first and foremost and, if you read the comments on Stuart’s post, I think you’ll find that he is actually in agreement with me now that he knows more of the background of the situation.

    You have an interesting blog yourself Ken, and I’m sure I remember you commenting here before in the past.. I’ll look into some of your posts tomorrow when I have gotten a good night’s sleep.. I reckon some of my readers will be interested in your content..

    Lee

  3. Indeed I am very much in agreement with you Lee :)

    We do need to bear in mind though that even as parents there are “lines in the sand” and these are never going to be hard and fast. What works for you and your children won’t always work for me and mine.

    Additionally we need to be aware – that despite the Governments drive to abolish all privacy (or so it seems to me) that our children do have rights as well.

  4. But that’s what I am saying!! You weren’t SPYING… you were parenting in the 21st century. I feel that people toss around that word carelessly and it becomes a scare tactic… It has nothing to do with trust, it has to do with being a parent first. Is it really a crime for a parent to be aware of how their child uses the internet? Really? Should we be embarrassed that we know how our child(ren) acts in the digital community (and by “know” I mean “know for certain”). WOuld you not want to know if they were bullying kids on the playground? If a stranger called the house and asked to talk to your kid, wouldn’t you ask questions? Why don’t we have those same guards up online? Why is knowing that same type of information considering “spying” when it comes to the Internet?

    I give you a big applause for being a parent first. Most don’t take that step.

    By the way… the quicker that kids today accept their parents watching what they do, the better. It’ll help them understand that nothing is private anymore… if they are online that holds especially true.

  5. Hi Ken

    I’ve always tried to promote a culture within my household whereby my children and I are open with each other and there is an element of trust.

    I agree with what you said to a fair degree – as the adult I have a responsibility to ensure my children are playing by the rules that I have set them, in order to protect themselves and those that they may be interacting with online.

    Whilst I would have much preferred to monitor rather than spy on their actions a certain situation left me feeling as though I had no choice but to take the latter course of action.

    I didn’t want to spy on my boy, I didn’t enjoy spying on him, but I felt that I needed to and would do so again if I had to.

    Maybe my actions will come back to haunt me in later years but I don’t think so.

    I’ve brought my kids up to know right from wrong and to respect rules and boundaries, even if they don’t agree with them.

    I’ve taught my boy a couple of lesson – that there are consequences to his actions and also that doing wrong will give people cause to suspect that he will make the same mistakes again in the future.

    If that knowledge helps him realise his mistake then spying on him will have been a positive thing and I don’t think he’ll ever hold it against me.

    After all, my kids know I love them and have their best interests at heart.

  6. The word “spy” here is incorrectly used and I hate it when it is thrown around in this context. You are the parent. It’s your house, your rules, your PC and your internet (I doubt your kids pay for it). Why shouldn’t you know what is happening? There are numerous reasons for monitoring what your kids do. When was the last time you read a story where a bully was caught, or a minor met an older person online and the parents said “oh yeah, they told me they were doing it.” That’s putting aside illegal downloads, gaming addiction, porn addiction and every other thing that kids use the internet for without their parents’ knowledge.

    It’s not ‘spying’… it’s knowing. As a parent, if you are calling it spying, then you may as well give up — your kids already control the house and you are powerless.

    But I digress… this was a very well-thought-out piece. Very thorough and a good read! Nice.

  7. Thats an excellent article Stuart, especially considering how quickly you typed it up!!

  8. Funnily enough Stuart I’m actually expecting a backlash for saying that spying on your kids is ok, even if it is only under exceptional circumstances.

    Let me know when your post is up, I’ll be interested in reading it.

  9. Thanks – it’s up and available at: http://www.churchtechy.com/2009/08/spying-on-children/

  10. Where the spying issue is concerned I say each to their own – after all, their your kids and you have to do what YOU think is best.

    There are no rule books to be followed, its more about your own intuition.

  11. Indeed each to their own but I have to say I’m not surprised that someone has disagreed with me :)

    I was going to respond further to this here but found my reply was becoming rather long so instead I am going to write my own post as a form of response. Hopefully it’ll be up later today.

  12. I actually thought the entire article was exceptionally good and well written and I for one would not hesitate to spy on my children if I though they were using the web inappropriately.

  13. Hi Stuart.

    I don’t actually spy as such on my own kids.

    I monitor what they are doing, more so with the youngers ones than my eldest and the only time I have used any keylogging was when one of them abused my trust by doing things I really wish they hadn’t.

    (They were getting rather suggestive with an equally young girl on IM, something I was far from happy with).

    So, whilst I agree with what you are saying almost completely I did think I was doing the right thing at the time.

    Of course I could be wrong but then thats the challenge that is parenting isn’t it!

  14. In reality – what this all comes down to is “responsible parenting” and most of what you talk about is just that and can be applied to almost any parenting challenge.

    With a 19, 9 and 7yr old I’ve already faced a few but … I am totally against the spying aspect of your article.

    Spying on your child whatever the reason is a no go area. However using filtering software to assist your child after you’ve already had the “chat” with them is the right way to go. If you feel you need to spy then again discuss first – even if that discussion is one sided – then they can’t use it as ammo against you.

    Other than this part – good write up and one I’ve done myself a few times before.

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