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KEEP Your Kids Safe on the Internet

Child touching screen of protected iPad

KEEP Your Kids Safe on the Internet

One of today's parenting challenges is creating and maintaining internet safety nets for children. With a little knowledge and the right resources, however, you can make it happen.

This easy–to–understand, easy–to–implement plan will help KEEP your kids safe on the internet. That's right, an acronym, but one worth remembering.

Know the threats

Establish boundaries

Evaluate security options

Put controls in place

Know the Threats

Parenting might just be the toughest job around. The duties are endless, the hours are 24–7 and the pay–well, let's just say that minimum wage looks pretty good compared to a parent's salary. No wonder creating and maintaining internet safety nets feels like one more impossible task.

Every mobile device, tablet, laptop or desktop is a doorway to danger―viruses, malware and phishing scams abound, which can cause data and security breaches. Not only do you need to protect your child from exposure to inappropriate content, like violent and sexually explicit material, but real–life predator, too. Familiarize yourself with the threats below.

  • Social media:Social media is a hotbed for scammers, information–seekers and predators. The privacy and safety problems swirling around social networks have stirred public concern, but other sites like Flickr, Qzone, Weibo and Ask.fm should also be on parents' radars.

  • Information and image–sharing: Kids often don't understand the gravity of posting information that will remain in cyberspace. Nearly every teen carries a phone with camera and video capabilities, making it all too easy to capture and immediately share every experience without allowing time for good decision–making.

  • Malware: Malware is a generic term for a broad range of malicious programs. Kids are drawn in by free downloads, heart–stirring stories and "imposter" websites that infect your computer.

  • Phishing: Some studies estimate that nearly 40% of incoming email is spam. But filtering software over the past few years has reduced that risk by as much as 85%.

  • Freebies: Adults are easy prey for cyber attackers, so think how much more enticing it is for a kid to fall for the promise of a free trip to Disney, just by opening a single link and answering a few questions. Downloading free ringtones and games can also be too good to be true.

  • Games: Virtual gaming allows players across the world to engage, but the fun comes with the risk of spyware–infested, peer–to–peer (P2P) file–sharing.

  • GPS technology: A 2017 report by the Norwegian Consumer Council concluded that some GPS devices–including smart watches–leave a trail for hackers who can "track children and even communicate with them without parents' knowledge."

  • Cyberbullying: Fewer topics have gained as much public attention in recent years, yet the problem remains rampant on social media and messaging platforms.

Establish Boundaries

Establishing boundaries for internet and electronic device usage is a necessary part of parenting.

  • Start slowly: A young child doesn't need a presence on social media. Work first on building safe online habits.

  • Limit daily access: Take your child's age and maturity into consideration when deciding how long they can be on their tablets or smart phones. An 8–year–old does not need the same access as a 17–year–old.

  • Set hard–stops: If eight o'clock is stop time, then stick to it. The National Sleep Foundation says that having electronic devices off for a specified period prior to bedtime is important to a child's well–being.

  • Give privileges–and take them away: It's fine if you want to use internet time as a reward, but you have to be equally prepared to remove those privileges.

  • Monitor downloads: Downloads are malware invites. Require kids to come to you with download requests, so you can scan them first with security software.

  • Govern passwords: Knowing your children's passwords can be vital to their safety. Let your children know that you will review their browsing history and social media profiles. Transparency is a great incentive for safe internet practices.

Evaluate Security Options

What actions should you take when establishing cybersecurity safeguards?

  • Shop devices: Some cell phones are designed for kids, with built–in features to safeguard privacy and limit usage. The same goes with browsers.

  • Investigate security software and parental controls: Installing reputable security software is as important as putting a working lock on your front door. For starters, your software should include antivirus, anti–spyware and a firewall that allow you to filter or deny access and downloads. There are parental control apps that do the same for smart phones,including ones that run on iOS and Android devices.

  • Investigate new technology: Advances in recent years have created a whole new level of security options. One is the mesh network, a solution that replaces a single router with a connected group of WiFi points throughout your home. The mesh network allows you to set parameters per device, including time limitations, browsing history, search parameters and YouTube filters. Plus, you can use an app to receive updates remotely and in real time.

Put Controls Into Place

This is where the rubber hits the road. Review what you've learned and aim to execute on the following:

  • Create teachable moments: Telling isn't nearly as good as showing. If you want your child to recognize potential threats or diffuse them, you need to model wise online habits.

  • Maintain strong password security: Be sure your wireless network has strong security settings and a good password. The Federal Trade Commission offers some tips on best password practices.

  • Monitor and block: If you see unfamiliar or suspicious connections on your child's email or social media profiles, don't be afraid to delete them.Use content– blocking software and websites that filter adult content, malware, viruses, scams and phishing.

  • Limit file–sharing: Games are a doorway to file–sharing, and file–sharing is a doorway to malware. Know what's being shared and manage settings to prevent unauthorized access to private information. For more tips, read P2P File– Sharing Risks.

Being the parent isn't always fun or easy. But for the sake of your kids, take time to understand online threats, and then establish boundaries, evaluate solutions and put controls into place. These are must–dos if you want to KEEP your kids safe from internet threats and predators.