By Mary Kay Hoal
One question I’m always asked is, “Is it really possible as a parent to keep up with technology and to make sure our kids are safe when they often know their way around technology better than we do?” And my answer is always an emphatic yes! There are steps you can take and those steps depend on the age of your child.
Three of my children are in elementary school, one is in high school, and one in is college; my college-aged son is an adult, so at this point we talk a lot about the subject of online safety, but I don't take the same safety-approach as I do with my younger children. No matter what your child’s age, one thing will never change: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.
Below are 10 things you can do today to keep your kids safe online:
For children 12 & under -
- Create separate user accounts on the home computer for each child.
- Enable strict content filtering.
- Install anti-virus software as well as monitoring software that flags/detects any concerning phrases or words.
- Establish a select list of sites they’re allowed to visit. My children and I talk about the sites they’d like to visit, and I make sure to go through them first by clicking several pages into the site. This allows me to understand the site content and culture they’ll be exposed to.
- Enable YouTube Safety Mode on all web browsers (no matter what the age of user). Remember, you have to enable Safety Mode per child, per account set up.
- Set time limits on computer use just as you would with TV or video games.
- Use Google SafeSearch (no matter what the age of the user).
- Watermark their photos. It helps protect the photos from being used as a cyberbullying tool, or from being stolen and manipulated by someone with ill intentions.
- Facebook is meant for adults, and it’s against a federal law for children 12 or under to join the network. If they want to join a social network, make sure it’s one meant for kids.
- Safety-enable any electronic devices your child uses: iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone and iTunes.
For children age 13 – 18:
The same advice applies, with the addition of:
- The list of select sites allowed to visit will expand significantly and it’s really hard to limit the list to a select few. It’s still important however you investigate the content found on the site.
- Teach your children the importance of being kind online. Online actions have real-world consequences.
- Know the password to their social networking accounts. If applicable, be their "friend" on the network.
- Disable Facebook Places and photo geo-tagging.
- Teach your kids not to post or share personal information (such as last name, date of birth, phone numbers). They wouldn’t share this information with a stranger, so they shouldn’t online.
- Sign up for Google Alerts with your child's name.
- Remove your family contact information from sites like Spokeo and Zaba Search.
Is your child over 18?
Though your child is an adult, they’re never too old to talk about the importance of how they conduct themselves online. Remind them recruiters often use social networking sites as a tool to determine if they are the right candidates.
Mary Kay Hoal is a nationally recognized expert on children’s online safety. She is the founder and president of Yoursphere Media Inc., which focuses on the family and publishes the kids’ social network Yoursphere.com - sign your kids up today! Mary Kay also offers parents Internet-safety information and tips at YoursphereForParents.com. She has been profiled on CNN, BBC, E!, Fox & Friends, Lifetime TV and many others. Mary Kay has appeared on ABC's 20/20 as their family Internet-safety expert. For more information visit http://www.marykayhoal.com/. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com