5 tips to keep kids safe online this school year

5 tips to keep kids safe online this school year by Sean Wright, For The Tennessean.  Available from <http://www.tennessean.com/story/life/family/2016/09/15/5-tips-keep-kids-safe-online-school-year/90413066/> [12:49 p.m. CDT September 15, 2016]

As kids go back to school — often with laptops, smartphones and tablets in tow — we’re reminded of both the wonderful opportunities technology offers them and of the dangers it presents. From cyberbullying and sexting to pornography, there is a side of connected life that we want to protect our children from. But where should we start?

The good news is that the right technology can both protect kids and teens from these dangers and facilitate healthy lines of communication about internet safety. Here are five tips for finding and using the right kinds of internet safety tools for your family.

1. Find a good content filter. Simply put, content filters block the bad stuff. These software applications prevent access to websites that contain inappropriate content.

Most content filters give parents granular controls over what kinds of content they wish to block, and many contain age-defined filtering levels. Some solutions, such asOpenDNS, even filter content at the network level, giving parents the ability to filter all web traffic in their home network — on a child’s laptop, tablet, phone or even friends’ devices.

2. Consider monitoring software. Monitoring software facilitates conversation between parent and child about online behavior. These applications report online activity to parents, allowing them to approach their children about dangerous or unhealthy online habits.

Covenant Eyes is a monitoring solution with a monthly flat-rate subscription fee for unlimited devices within a family. The subscription also includes a device-level content filter, which allows parents to protect children even when they access the internet outside of a filtered home network.

3. Understand how these tools work together. Content filters are a necessary first line of defense, protecting against the massive amount of pornographic and otherwise objectionable content on the web. But as advanced as content filters have become, they don’t catch everything. This is where monitoring software is helpful. Sometimes, the best filter is another human being — one who has the best interest of the child in mind and can communicate with and educate the child if his or her online activity becomes problematic.

4. Review parental controls on mobile devices. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2015 study on the way teens use technology, nearly 75 percent of teens now have a smartphone or access to one. This means that parents need to adapt internet safety strategies to mobile devices as well as computers.

This can be tricky because, unlike traditional computers, smartphones and tablets provide multiple ways of accessing internet content. For instance, on an iPhone, it’s possible to access Facebook, as well as content from the web that people post in a newsfeed, via the Facebook app, which is separate from the phone’s native Safari browser. This makes content filtering and monitoring difficult because there’s no good way to monitor and filter all apps across the board.

Still, when coupled with administrative settings on the device and healthy parent-child communication about app use, filtering and monitoring solutions can make smartphones and tablets relatively safe for kids and teens to use.

Ultimately, parents will need to decide what further controls, if any, should be imposed. On iOS devices, for instance, parents can block access to social media apps, and can require parental permission for all app downloads.

5. Take a holistic approach. Because of the numerous ways kids and teens access the internet and interact on it, it’s critical to think through a holistic strategy that combines content filtering, monitoring software, parental controls and healthy parent-child conversations. Parents should arm themselves with information on the capabilities of internet safety technologies and match those capabilities to what is best for their children.

Sean Wright is founder and president of Affinity Technology Partners, a managed IT services provider in Brentwood. The company specializes in network management, systems administration and network security for small to mid-sized businesses and non-profits. They also provide home users with family internet safety services, wi-fi speed-up and general technology support.  Learn more atwww.affinitytechpartners.com.

(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

5 tips to keep kids safe online this school year by Sean Wright, For The Tennessean.  Available from <http://www.tennessean.com/story/life/family/2016/09/15/5-tips-keep-kids-safe-online-school-year/90413066/> [12:49 p.m. CDT September 15, 2016]