Your children would never walk off with a stranger or accept a gift from someone they didn’t know. You’ve taught them about stranger danger and how to call attention to themselves if they didn’t feel safe.
In the same way you protect your children, you try to do the same for your home. You lock your doors when you leave and again when everyone is in at night, and you may have even invested in an alarm system for your home, a fire-proof safe or safety deposit box. Your attention is clearly on your family’s safety. Have you provided for your family’s online safety, as well?
It is not difficult or expensive to set up a ring of safety around your family. There are a plethora of articles, tips and videos available to help us teach our kids about Internet safety. But what else can we do?
If you’re starting from scratch, your first goal should be to set up secure Wi-Fi. Your chosen Wi-Fi provider will often ask you to set up a secure password when installing the system. Change the default password and create a unique password for you and your family.
By securing your home Wi-Fi, you keep people from doing illegal downloads via your Wi-Fi. It also keeps hackers from weaseling into your system and stealing your information. While it is not as common as people mooching from insecure Wi-Fi, hackers are a real threat. Some families also set up a unique user account for each person using Wi-Fi, thus allowing for different levels of security per user.
OpenDNS is a free service you can use to set security perimeters for each user. It works like a filtering system; you can set it to filter out certain websites, keywords, etc. For example, if your preschooler uses the computer to play educational games, you can block him from accessing the entire Internet except for the sites you have given him access to, via the perimeters attached to his unique username. If your 10-year old uses the same computer to research school projects, you can give her more freedom, but still keep sites you deem “off limits” out of her reach.
Microsoft does a good job of offering parental controls with their most current software packages, Vista and Windows 7. Microsoft execs have stressed that it’s never too early to discuss safe Internet usage with your children. Let them know what they can and cannot access and why you have made that decision. Keep the lines of communication open, so you know when they are ready for broader perimeters.
Windows has a service called Family Safety, which comes free with Windows 8. Not only does it enable you to block the use of certain applications and programs, Family Safety also lets you see what users have been up to while they were on the computer. While it’s advised you be with your children when they are on the Internet, it’s not always possible to be standing over their shoulders. Windows Family Safety sends an email to the administrator of the Windows account with a report of who was on what programs and sites and for how long. It also gives you the option to limit the time spent using certain sites and applications.
As your kids get older and you grant them greater access to the Internet and the programs on your computer, it’s important to remind them about safe usage.
Make sure they understand that not all downloads are safe and secure. Even if you have taken the necessary precautions to have antivirus and firewalls set up, it’s still possible for malware from unreliable sources to infect your system. A good rule: If the game or app publisher is not recognizable, it might not be safe, and don’t download it.
It’s also important to teach kids to read reviews and do some research before just hitting “download.” Steer clear of any product if someone gives it a poor review, with comments like, “messed up my machine” or “didn’t work.”
Strict privacy settings are vital to staying safe online. Educate your children on how to find the security settings on any social media site, and tell them to check the boxes for the highest settings. Remind them, however, that there is no such thing as true privacy online; everything they post becomes part of their permanent digital footprint.
Finally, it’s perfectly acceptable to talk to your kids’ friends’ parents about Internet safety. Find out how much online time your child will be spending at their house, and see if supervision will be present. Your child’s safety is at hand.