Sam Bocetta, our US correspondent and doting grandfather, has written a brief guide to keep children safe on the internet. Sam’s message – parents must do something and not treat a screen as a babysitter.
Keeping children safe on the internet during COVID-19
Children are far more vulnerable when it comes to cybersecurity issues – avoiding scams, hackers, or online predators. Why? Well, call it ‘general ignorance’ of these threats and the risks they pose. With children turning to online gadgets for their school education as well as to entertain themselves during the lockdown, they are more vulnerable than ever.
We will explain the simple steps and apps you can use to keep your children safe during the COVID-19 lockdown
Risks faced by children
The internet is a double-edged sword for children. It offers them countless opportunities for learning. But kids being kids it can educate them on just about anything else they desire! Stepping outside the safe boundaries presents them with opportunities for radicalisation, for explicit, adult, or violent content.
They are also naive about the ways of the world. Children overshare. It is all too easy to get them to reveal
personal information (where they live, mum/dad’s name/occupation, pet names etc.)
The result – malware/adware/spyware infections, personal data exfiltration, loss of money to scams, ID Theft or taking over the camera!
It is essential to be sure that your children are safe online
And it is not just on their own or shared laptops, tablets or smartphones. The risks are not just theirs – but your entire household.
Not only should you take steps to monitor their activity. You should also use apps that can control where they go on the internet and what they try to access. In two words, ‘Parental Control’.
Set some standards, mum and dad!
It sure is tempting to treat an iPad or phone as a not so cheap babysitter or pacifier. But you could be starting habits that quickly become entrenched. What was that saying about putting a genie back in the bottle – can’t give on the one hand and take away on the other!
The best results will come from setting reasonable limits. A laptop is for schoolwork, a tablet for play and a smartphone for emergencies – rinse and repeat – and the message may just get through and stick after COVID.
Make the time to watch their activity. Yes, get off your collective bottoms and check their use (in the guise of caring). While older children may not like this (and depending on their age, may not need it) younger children do!
Back to those limits. How long is too long? Conversely how long is just right?
Forget COVID for a moment. How long should you insist your child study? Setting limits on play and on what they can do are appropriate. Helicopter parents have the right idea – work with the kids by observing to set mutually acceptable limits. Don’t hesitate to turn off the internet 30 minutes before meals so you can interact face-to-face – not over FaceTime.
A good rule of thumb is to limit the amount of time a child spends in front of a laptop, tablet, or phone screen. For example, between the ages of two and five, it’s a scant one hour a day. This time increases depending on the age (and maturity) of the child, as well as your best parental judgment.
Further, with the right app, you can unobtrusively monitor your children’s activity. With that in mind, let’s dive into the…
Best apps for keeping children safe on the internet
These are the proven internet safety apps and services from reputable companies that you can use to ensure your children’s online safety. (Note this is from a US perspective, but Aussies can use them too)
Kidgy (iPhone, iPad, Android)
Kidgy is a parental control app that goes to the next level to keep your kids secure. With even the most basic offering, you can keep track of your children’s online activity and prevent them from accessing any inappropriate or unsafe content.
Kidgy lets you see the real-time activity of your child and will send you an alert if they leave or try to access a blacklisted location. This helps you stay on top of their location and helps you stay sure that your children are safe. Additionally, you can set lists of challenges or tasks for your children to complete while they’re using the internet and monitor their progress.
Kaspersky (iPhone, iPad, Android)
Kaspersky has a fully-featured parental control app that provides you with every possible tool you need to keep your children safe online. It helps you to monitor smartphone activity, block adult or suspicious content, and keep track of where and what they are accessing.
You can also set strict screen time limits each day, and get regular tips and updates from psychologists on what sites your children shouldn’t access and the dangers presented to them by internet use.
Note that many anti-virus companies have parental controls – look too at Norton LifeLock or McAfee and see if these work for you.
Freedom (Mac, Windows, iOS, Android)
Freedom is an incredibly versatile website and app blocker for almost any device. You can set strict screen time blocks which, when customised correctly, will prevent your children from accessing any website or app during the restricted period. You can also set blocks to any website you choose, helping you to restrict any content (based on categories) you don’t want them to access.
Freedom and it is extremely versatile, but it requires you to manually customise it, which may be more difficult for some parents. The good news is that when it comes to blocking popular apps like Facebook, Kik, or Snapchat, Freedom is second to none. Even though 85% of Australian parents will set security software on their children’s laptops, only 22% do so on their children’s phones. If you’re looking for one of the best phone security apps available, Freedom is hard to beat.
DinnerTime Plus (iPhone, iPad)
Every parent knows how incredibly difficult it is to get their ‘Apple’ kids away from something that has captured their interest. This happens all too often when they are learning something new online, or have found a fun game to play. With DinnerTime Plus you can easily solve this problem. You can set time limits that restrict the amount of time they can use a device, as well as scheduling break times to ensure that devices are used during set times.
This lets you easily schedule periods where devices can’t be used, such as during dinner, bedtime, or when you want your children to read. Similar to other apps on this list, you can check what they are using the internet for, and monitor them as they do, allowing you to make sure they aren’t heading straight towards the more common cyberattacks.
KidzSearch (all browsers)
KidzSearch advanced filtering program for your children, designed to tackle the kind of mistakes kids make on the internet. For example, simple typos or miss phrased words can lead your children to see swathes of inappropriate or dangerous content.
This app blocks all these kinds of websites from appearing in your children’s search results, meaning they can use the internet as if they were free to, while you can also be sure they won’t come across harmful malware websites.
GadgetGuy’s take – Keeping children safe means you really need some help.
Cybersecurity must be a key priority should you decide to give your kids a device that can access the internet. But 33% of parents in Australia do not feel well informed enough on how to protect their children online.
That’s where using some of the above internet safety apps will benefit your entire family. By selecting the right app and coupling it with correct monitoring, you will be able to relax (as much as parents can) and know that your children are safe.