How to stay safe online – top safety tips for kids using the Internet or social media

How to stay safe online – top safety tips for kids using the Internet or social media by YJO-ANNE ROWNEYMARK WEINSTEIN.  Available from <> [July 07, 2017] Photo:élia Ribeiro

Being a parent is a minefield. Protecting your child isn’t exactly easy and everyone knows as soon as the Internet came on the scene there’s even more to think about.

As with anything the online world has a darker side, that isn’t to say you need to lock up all technology right now and stop your children being exposed to it.

We do everything we can to teach our children how to stay safe in the real world. But what about the digital one?

The Internet is part of our lives and it’s good for kids to learn the dos and don’ts early on.

Technology has changed the way we interact and that means teaching some serious lessons to our children about online behavior and safety.

Here are some suggestions as to where to begin with online guru Mark Weinstein.

1. Require Permission To Share

Remember children rarely think of consequences. Online this can lead to sharing information when they shouldn’t.

A good practice is to get them in the habit of asking for permission from you to share information. Especially with your young teens.

According to studies, only four-in-ten parents frequently communicate with their teen about what they should share online.

Wondering what to do? Sit them down and talk openly about online dangers and why it’s better to be safe than sorry. Teach them that their digital selves will far outlive them and could impact their lives for years to come. Then encourage them to check with you when they get requests for any type of personal information.

2. Use Parental Controls

It’s way too easy to find inappropriate content online. At the same time, you want your kids to have the freedom to discover. Parental controls (as part of an operating system or third-party tool) can protect your children in ways you may not even know about. Best of all, these controls work both ways, protecting what your children see and take in and what they give out.

3. Connect With and Friend Your Kids

Studies estimate 83 per cent of parents are friends with their teenagers on Facebook. That doesn’t mean you should post on your child’s timeline every five minutes! It does however, permit you to see what your kids post and who they befriend. If they know you’re there it tends to lead them to police themselves better. If you find them doing something inappropriate online, use it as a teaching moment instead of one that warrants consequences. Think more casual conversation than telling off.

4. Invest In a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A VPN service connects you to the Internet through a VPN provider that encrypts all your incoming and outgoing traffic.

Your children stay anonymous, so no one can track their location or IP address. Yes, it’s an extra monthly fee, but it’s worth the investment. Remember to do your research on VPN providers though. They vary a lot. Some VPNs will noticeably slow down the Internet, making you swap safety for speed.

5. Share Fake Personal Information

This one may surprise you. Sharing false personal information online is a white lie that may be worth teaching your child.

Bullying and stalking are huge issues online and we must protect our children.

First, there’s no rule that says you must enter your correct birthday, address, and so on. Create email accounts for your kids that are just for all the solicitations and junk mail a site they join will generate. Shield them from this unhealthy barrage as there’s no way of knowing what will be sent. The truth is most sites only gather information so they can sell it to advertisers. Fake information also protects your kids from identity theft, a common practice that many parents fail to monitor until it’s too late.

6. Search Anonymously

Search engines such as Google build a web history of you, tracking what, when, and how you search for information. They are building a permanent record of everything your children search for an do – a record that stays with them for the rest of their lives and beyond. Creepy, yes? It’s not required for search engines to follow such practices.

Anonymous search engines such as DuckDuckGo and StartPage don’t monitor your results or build a web history. Use them and your kids can look for information without you worrying about their future teachers, spouses, bosses, friends, etc., knowing everything about them and what they’ve searched for during their lives.

7. Only Purchase Safe Smart Toys

The Mirai Bot Net attack in 2016 crashed a major piece of the Internet by gaining entry through baby monitors. Hackers used CloudPets to access two million voice recordings of kids and their families and hold them for ransom.

In 2015, Hackers got into the profiles of 6.4 million kids and 4.9 million parents from toymaker VTech, using the information they stole for credit card fraud and identity theft.

Your best bet is to research toys that interact with the Internet. Smart toys also often come with default administrator user names and passwords. These rarely get changed and are easy to exploit. Change them. Better safe than sorry.

8. Limit Posting Your Children’s Pictures

Parents love posting pictures of their kids for friends and family, but in doing so, fail to consider the privacy implications. You’re publishing a public poster of your child: their look, age, location and more. There are common-sense ways to combat against this danger.

Most importantly, make sure your photos aren’t public-facing ie they can’t be seen by non-friends.

For online photo albums, set the privacy controls to custom, and allow only invited family members and friends to view them. Second, if you’re worried about potential stalking, don’t upload photos of your child with identifiable backgrounds.

9. Use Watermarks

Here’s a scary but true story. A woman, trying to unsubscribe from a shopping site, gets brought to a web page asking if she truly intends to unsubscribe. On the page is a picture of her baby frowning. Thing is, she never gave that pic to the website. Innocent family photos such as these get stolen from social media or other photo-sharing sites all the time. They’re used for advertising, child pornography, fake user profiles, and a host of other disgusting practices. Adding a watermark to your photo helps prevent the use of them by other people and sites. Worth a try.

10. Teach Your Children About Privacy Settings

Most kids have no idea about who can see their posts or otherwise. When they are online they are usually seeking instant gratification – learning something, connecting with a friend, randomly searching, etc. By helping your kids set the privacy controls on their social media, you empower them while also teaching them the importance of privacy. If you ingrain in them to always set privacy settings as a first step in using an app, they’ll be more likely to follow such practices thereafter.

How to talk to kids about Internet safety

1. Educate yourself

It’s best to know what you are talking about, so research, look at parent guides etc

2. Start the talk early

It’s never too early to teach your kids.

3. Make a plan to have regular talks

Set time aside and remember to talk to your child when new technology arises. They will want Snapchat, Instagram etc but each have age restrictions.

4. Show them the difference between fact and fiction

They need to know what ‘fake news’ is and what sort of sites to stay away from so build that into a talk.

5. Have ‘screen time’ rules

Set times they can use the main laptop or computer as well as social media.

6. Don’t lay down the law, keep it conversational

They won’t listen if you just set rules with no explanation. Let them know why it’s important.

Some sites to check out

A non-profit organisation that gathers information about internet safety in one place.

Topically articles and how to guides for parents.

Quick tips

Teach your kids to:

  • Never to give their name, phone number, e-mail address, password, postal address, school, or picture without your permission
    Not to open email from people they don’t know
    Not to respond to hurtful or disturbing messages
    Not to get together with anyone they “meet” online

How to stay safe online – top safety tips for kids using the Internet or social media by YJO-ANNE ROWNEYMARK WEINSTEIN.  Available from <> [July 07, 2017] Photo:élia Ribeiro