Keeping Kids Safe Online

Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, carer, teacher or anyone responsible for children, you’ll know how important it is to make sure children are kept safe when using the Internet or generally using technology in the digital age.
As a parent myself this is a subject close to my heart.  Today's and certainly tomorrow's generation of kids spend a great deal of time online or at least using technology much more than the generations before.
Gaming and social media play a big part in this and as the responsible adult we need to be aware our kids can be vulnerable to the outside world when online which is very different to playing in the garden within our sight.
Like anything it's about using common sense and keeping an eye on the situation.  
The good news is there is lots of good advice and resources available to help make sure youngsters are either using the internet responsibly and kept safe but also guidance and tips for adults to navigate through it.
I have researched this topic at some length and this post is not me preaching about how we should parent our kids but is really about providing useful information and a collection of key points about online safety for children.   Written from the point of view of the parent/carer/responsible adult and hopefully raises awareness on a very important subject. 
I found the most important thing of all is talking to our kids on the subject and understanding both points of view to understand what they are accessing, putting rules in place and monitoring it so they don't feel alienated and see the whole thing as unfair restrictions.  At the end of the day we always need to keep an eye on what our kids are doing, online or otherwise.  
Whether you're an adult or a child, spending time online is supposed to fun, informative, educational and entertaining..right?
Social Media
Access to the internet for our kids is a doorway to the outside world so as the responsible adult it's important to have a level of input and control over this and put rules in place.  Social media platforms are a part of every day life for many people now especially the younger generation.  There are dangers online that we need to be mindful of and common sense applies.
Tips for both parents and kids when using social media.
Privacy settings
Check these to make sure not just anyone can see your pages outside friends and family
Anti-virus software
It's essential to have some sort of anti-virus software installed on your PC/laptop/mobile device to guard against pitfalls such as opening or downloading suspect files with viruses and malware inbedded
Personal Information
Address, phone numbers, email addresses etc should be kept out of social media page view as this is personal data we wouldn't normally share with strangers in the street
Sharing photos and videos
When anything is uploaded to a social media site, it is automatically published to the public domain and outside your control even if you eventually take it down.  Anyone can download your photos without your consent.  Mindfulness about what is being shared and with whom is needed.
Content awareness
Whenever something is posted on social media it's important to think about who is likely to see it and whether the content is appropriate or offensive to others.  Authority figures including employers actively use social media these days so it's about making sure the posts and contents aren't going to cause issues.
Direct Messaging
It's advisable to direct message someone rather than having an open chat for all to see on a social media page in the interests of privacy.
Who's at the other end
It's important we as adults (and our children) know who they are interacting with at the other end of messages/texts and friend groups.  There are nasties and predators out there who we wouldn't want our kids to associate with.  It's important to have an awareness of friends, chat rooms and groups and making sure the interaction isn't with strangers.  Anything suspicious or out of the ordinary should be reported.  Regular monitoring and discussing the subject is key and asking the right questions.  For example - have you have received messages from strangers?  Has anyone been unpleasant to you online?
Online gaming is big, big business and both adults and kids enjoy taking part in games with high quality, mind-blowing graphics that look as if they are on par with big budget movies.  When it comes to making sure our kids are safe, there are some things to think about;
*Make sure you know what games your kids are playing
*Check the content and certification of the games and make sure they are age appropriate
*Online games can include chat windows and interaction with other gamers around the world.  It's important to know   who our kids are speaking to 
*Chat windows are an open door into the wider world so keep an eye on offensive language and online bullying tactics.  
*Online gaming can involve additional purchases to enhance the experience so it's important to keep an eye on this to ensure large bills aren't being ran up
PEGI ratings
Pan European Gaming Information ratings appear on games to give a categorisation of it's age appropriate content.  It's worth be aware of this rating on the games our kids are playing
Parental Controls
Setting up and enabling parental controls is one way of ensuring our children aren't accessing inappropriate content, making in-app purchases and spending too much time online.
Parental controls are essentially tools or software designed for this purpose.  They can be applied on web browsers, games consoles, mobile devices, Wi-Fi settings, Apps and online films, music and television.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) usually provide free parental controls for online use so it's worth looking into and activating them if not already.
Not all services on line have strong parental controls so sometimes it's back to basics and regular checking and monitoring what's going on.  
Parental control software is used to maintain the level of control and safe guard children from some of the nasties out on the internet.  There are a number of products out there which allow us to track what ours kids are accessing, apply time limits and block out certain websites or content.
As per a recent post in Tech Radar, here is a rundown of some of the free parental control software currently available.
A suite of parental control tools allowing content filitering and time limit controls across different platfroms including Windows, Mac and Android
Used at the internet or Wi-Fi router level, this software blocks out internet domains and specific sites. Also cross platform
Provides an activity log of what's being typed in and conversations in Skype chat windows.  Geared toward Android
Monitoring software as opposed to parental control.  Tracks what's being typed and saved (big brother or what)
A web browser designed for younger kids.
...and there are plenty more... 
Cyberbullying and Bullying
This is a very real and widespead issue that can happen anywhere from the playground, home and of course school.  For adults, ideally it's about being able to spot the signs early on if possible and prevent any emotional or physical harm happening.  Asking the right questions such as if anyone has posted or said anything unpleasant online to them.
The NSPCC website has plenty of information, support and resources on this subject including Childline.  
Covering all age groups and advice on guidance on what to do if your children have already suffered in this area and the support needed afterwards.
Children of all ages are interacting with the internet at home as well as at school.  Depending on their age, certain approaches will suit certain age groups.
Under 5 year olds
Supervising and making sure age appropriate content is available is key as well as ensuring safe use and enabling parental controls.  Setting time limits on how long our kids spend online or on games consoles is another important factor.  Also when using public Wi-fi for phones and tablets, it's worth noting not all web services have parental controls applied.  It's worth checking nothing inappropriate is getting through.  Setting passwords and PIN numbers also help to ensure kids can't access devices without supervision.
6-9 year olds
Whether it's a shared computer in the home or if the child has a device such as a tablet, as the adult we need to be in control of what they are accessing with the right level of parental controls over the content.  Again, setting time limits on how long they spend online or on games consoles.
10-12 year olds
Kids at pre-teen age are now spending more time online than before.  Social media platforms such as Facebook have minimum age restrictions (usually 13) which is sensible especially as this age group are at the inquisitive stage of wanting to be more involved in social media.  Again discussing the subject is the best way of gain insight and agree on what's appropriate and what's not appropriate along with time limits.  Discussing what sort of things they are looking for or viewing is vital.
13 and over
Teenage kids are likley to be more familiar with technology than adults in today's society.  With higher online usage and understanding to a degree they leave us adults behind.  There is still a need to set boundaries, whether its around age appropriate content, time limits or subject matter.  Open discussion still needs to happen and again its about making sure agreement is made in advance.  Parental controls may need to be reviewed or adjusted based on the level of content agreed for this age group to access.
Downloading of music and in-app purchases again needs to be monitored and agreed with responsible use so that large bills are not incurred. 
General behaviour online is a factor we also need to be mindful of.  Sending inappropriate or sexually explicit photos via mobile phone (Sexting) or posting inappropriate content is again something we as adults need be aware of and guarded against where our kids are concerned.  This also applies to the threat of Internet Trolls - people who incite arguments or abuse to others via chat rooms or social media which is another reality and something to be aware of.
There are loads of good resources available on this subject so it is a case of checking them out especially if you have concerns or even just to become familiar on the topic if you have kids.
The NSPCC website is a great source of information and guidance on the subject of online safety for kids.
The BBC have recently set up this informative website on this subject - TEAM OWN IT is aimed at kids aged 9-12 years old and is all about online safety.
Plenty of useful information in a language kids can relate to and recognises online life is very important to kids with video clips, quizzes, fun stuff and even a section for parents.
This website holds lots of useful information for parents with advice for the different age groups of kids and keeping them safe online.
Childnet International is a registered charity operating in the interest of making the internet safe for children.  The website has lots of information, tips and useful resources.
 This website provides plenty of guidance and advice for parents, carers and teachers etc.  Geared toward the prevention of child abuse, abduction and bullying. 
Not-for-profit company founded in 2002 aimed at parents, carers, teachers, youth workers and more.  The website promotes innovative, positive and safe internet use.
A vast array of information and resources.  This website gives unbiased, factual and easy to understand information on online safety.
A joint venture between the VSC Rating board and games trade body UKie.  This website focuses on advice and guidance for parents and players of video games.
 Now an annual thing.  This is a well promoted campaign to get the right messages out there.
It's not all just about websites!  Books are important too!
London Grid for Learning recommends a range of books for parents and school to raise awareness and support the message of keeping children safe online.  So at the risk of giving Amazon some free adverting...
So in summary... 
It's good to see there is a vast amount of information and guidance on this subject.  As parents/carers/teachers/etc we have a responsibility to our children to keep them safe in all cases.
The NSPCC have summarised it quite nicely giving good advice for us adults on this.  Using a simple 4-step approach called 'TEAM' (Talking, Explore, Agree, Manage).
Talk about staying safe online - Talking about it being one of the most effective ways for adults to understand what their kids are doing online, what they are watching or accessing and hopefully prevention of anything untoward.
Explore the online world together - Exploring together what's online and what to watch out for
Agree rules about what's ok and what's not - Agreeing rules and setting boundaries on appropriate content and time limits and how much time is spent online
Manage your family's settings and controls - Parental controls and keeping track of what's being accessed

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If you found it useful, have any experiences to share or have any feedback,

please feel free to contact me through the Digital Speak Contact page.






Artwork: H Rogers & L Rogers

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