The internet can be a fantastic tool for kids – but just like the real world, it has its dangers. So how do you keep your kids safe online?
A new study on child internet use from uSwitch makes grim reading for parents. Among its findings are:
- Over 3m UK families (42%) have found their children have accessed material online that is violent, sexually explicit, or age inappropriate, everyone knows that the products available here are only for adults.
- Two in five families have no parental controls on home computers.
- One in five kids has already been online by the age of three, with most children going online regularly by the age of six.
- The charity Childline reports that cyber-bullying cases are on the rise, with most victims being aged between 12 and 18.
So what can you do to help keep your kids safe online?
A 6-step Plan To Keep Your Kids Safe Online
1. Work With Your Internet Service Provider (ISP)
The four main service providers – BT, Sky, Virgin and TalkTalk – all provide parental control software for free as part of their packages.
If you haven’t already got it set up on your PC, you can find out how to set up parental controls for your internet provider here.
2. Don’t Forget Smartphones and Other Internet Devices
Smartphones, tablets, games consoles… these days kids have access to a number of devices that can go online at the touch of a button.
Smartphones, in particular, won’t be covered by your ISP parental controls if it has a 3G or 4G internet connection.
However, all UK mobile operators provide free parental control software. If the smartphone is registered to a child, this software should be automatically switched on – but always check.
If it isn’t, contact your provider who will switch it on for you.
If you’ve got apps like iPlayer and Netflix on your tablet or phone, remember that they often have 18-rated content on them. Most of these apps offer a password-protected parental lock option – it’s a good idea to make use of them.
You can also find out how to set up parental controls for Xbox, Playstation and Nintendo devices here.
3. Know How ‘Content Filters’ Work
Most parental control software has ‘content filters’, which are designed to filter out content and automatically block websites that you wouldn’t want your child to see.
Some parental control software lets you set up different profiles for different children – so you can scale the level of protection they provide, depending on their ages. (We review the best free content filters further down this article).
Remember that content filters can sometimes block innocent sites. If your child has problems researching ‘Essex’, for example, it’s easy to add individual websites to a ‘safe’ list, so the software knows not to block a particular site.
For an extra level of safety, you can turn on Google’s ‘Safe Search’ function, which stops adult content appearing in search results as well (see how to switch on Google SafeSearch).
But remember that no content filter is 100% perfect – sometimes, the odd inappropriate site may still crop up in search results. Content filtering is no substitute for keeping an eye on internet use and talking to your kids about being safe online.
4. Keep An Eye on Social Media
Social media (sites like Facebook, Twitter and Bebo) can be a minefield for parents concerned about what their kids get up to online.
The first thing to do is to review your child’s privacy settings, so only their friends can view their profiles (here’s a handy guide on how to keep a Facebook profile private).
If you feel you need to keep an eye on your kids’ activity on social networking sites, there are some excellent free tools (such as Avira Social Network Protection and Minor Monitor) that keep tabs on what your kids do and who they connect with, and automatically alert you to any problems.
5. Consider Where You Place The Computer
If the family computer is in a room in which grown-ups frequently pass through, such as the living room or kitchen, then it’s easier to keep an eye on the kids while they’re online.
6. Talk To Your Kids About Internet Safety
You can have the best parental control software in the world, but it’s no substitute for actually sitting down with your kids and talking to them about how to stay safe online. (The Get Safe Online website is a useful tool for this).
Online parenting really isn’t that different from ‘real world’ parenting – things like stranger danger, house rules and the importance of communicating openly are just as important online as they are offline.
Involve your kids in the process of keeping them safe, listen to what they’ve got to say – and find out the sort of things they want to use the internet for.
Then, draw up a list of Family Internet Rules. This should include things such as:
- Never reveal your phone number or address online
- Never reveal your passwords online
- Never share information, agree to meet or open attachments from strangers
- Never post photos online except on agreed sites such as Facebook. (If you do use sites like Facebook, make sure you review the privacy settings so you know exactly who can see your child’s information. You can alter the settings so only their friends can view their page.
- Do not download songs or files without permission
- If they ever see anything or receive any messages online that make them feel uneasy, worried, or uncomfortable, get them to promise to let you know, so you can help
The Best Free Parental Control Software
Ok, so you’ve put the 6-step plan above into action.
But if you want additional protection, it’s worth looking at the powerful parental control software packages below that you can install on your computer.
Best of all, they are all completely free!
Norton Family is an impressive piece of software with loads of useful features.
As well as blocking things like pornography and gambling sites, it allows you to block over 40 other types of websites (e.g “Shopping Sites”, “Social Network Sites”, “Gaming Sites” etc).
You can pick and choose which categories to block.
So if you are concerned that your kids are wasting too much time on, say, Facebook or eBay – you can block those sites too.
If you want, you can see which sites your kids are visiting, what they’re searching for online and more. You can also set up email alerts (which let you know if your children are attempting to reach blocked sites).
They’ve recently added a free app you can install on your child’s phone, so they can stay safe on the mobile internet too.
Bitdefender Parental Control Free
Bitdefender Parental Control offers similar features to Norton Family, but it also has features that allow you to track Instant Messenger chats as well.
It normally costs £19.95 a year, but you can get a free version through the link above.
Cold Turkey takes a different approach to parental control.
It allows you to block access to specific sites (such as YouTube and Facebook) – but only until a given date and time.
So rather than banning these sites altogether, Cold Turkey allows you to ban access to these sites for an hour, a day, a week – or however long you like.
This site is useful for older kids who get distracted chatting to their friends online when they should be doing schoolwork!
Useful as all these tools are, the best way to keep your kids safe online is by talking to your children, knowing what they’re doing online and letting them know that you’re there for them if they see anything that makes them concerned or upset.