You love your children and want to keep them safe. The digital age has made it possible for them to engage with the world in new ways we didn’t have growing up. Kids have more devices at their fingertips now than ever before. This also means new risks that can lead them to engage with content that can compromise their innocence.
My wife and I have paid the consequences of our children’s exposure to bad stuff online. We have learned some important lessons about how to keep our kids safe online. I want to share seven things that you can do to make sure your children stay protected:
1. Disable internet access if you don’t need it
One of the easiest ways to make your kids safe on any device is to disable internet access. Both iOS and Android make it simple to toggle wifi and mobile data on or off. It is hard to plan for all the possible ways online content can creep into your child’s device while they use it. Turning off the internet ensures they won’t stumble upon content you wouldn’t want them to see.
2. Explore parental controls
For times when your children must be online, parental controls are your best friend. Many devices have built-in controls that restrict what your kids can see or do. Get to know how they work and configure them to suit your family’s needs. Most parental controls require a password to prevent your children from changing settings.
Also, your internet provider likely has parental controls enable you to block inappropriate sites. You can block them by URL, by type, or by age rating. These settings can protect everyone in the home no matter which device they are using.
Whatever you do, always make sure to test your configuration. Try to get to blocked content to be sure that your kids cannot reach it. Do this along with your spouse for added accountability.
3. Password protect everything
Use strong passwords and keep them private from your children. This goes not only for the device, but also for any settings or apps that you don’t want your children to use. My wife and I set up passwords on our devices to prevent unauthorized purchases or downloads.
Using passwords requires your children to ask your permission before using the device. Without them, they will be more than happy to sneak away without telling you what they’re up to.
Find keeping track of passwords to be too much work? Use a password manager like LastPass or 1Password. These tools make passwords easier (and safer) to manage. They can also generate strong passwords for you so that you don’t have to think them up yourself.
4. Always keep devices in view
You should always know what your children are doing on their device. Having them use it near you with the screens visible will help you check their activities. You want your children to know that you are watching. They will be much less likely to seek out objectionable material.
Make sure that your children are either in the same room as you or one that’s adjacent, at least. My wife and I do not permit our children to use their devices privately. One of us is always in the general vicinity with our children so that we can check in when necessary.
5. Avoid headphones
When you are not watching their screens, use audio as a secondary means of monitoring. Know what their favorite apps and games sound like. This is particularly useful on mobile devices that usually permit only one app to have focus at any time.
Keeping headphones off can also prevent long term hearing loss. I have found that my kids often prefer to turn up headphone volume to unreasonable levels. Remember, if you can hear what their hearing as they are wearing headphones, then the volume is too high.
6. Limit time
Your kids will make an idol out of their phone or tablet all day—if you let them. But the more time they spend on devices, the more time they have to get into stuff you don’t want. Teach your kids responsible time management skills and limit their time online.
Prevent your children from using their devices at least an hour before bedtime. Staring at bright screens shortly before bedtime can mess with your kids ability to get to sleep.
7. Use apps before your kids do
Not all kids apps are right for your kids. Use the app yourself to get a feel for what you can and can’t do. Walk through the settings menu to determine if there is anything you need to lock down. Figure out how any social features work. My wife and I disable them so that our kids avoid unwanted conversations with strangers.
Pay attention to the age rating on apps you download. Also, figure out if the app allows users to interact with others. Does it integrate chat? Can you hear audio from other players? Do adults also play the game? Read the app comments to get an idea of what people think about it.
Not comfortable with an app? Uninstall it. It is much better to say “no” to an app you don’t trust than to have your kids walk into a harry online situation.