Here's how to keep your children safe online
The internet is stuffed full of great resources and activities for kids, but there's a danger they'll find and do things which aren't so wholesome. We show you how to keep your children safe online. (See also: Reference/education software reviews).
Kids these days are digital natives. They've grown up with the internet and have no concept of what life was like without it. They’re completely at home with technology: using a mouse or touchscreen to navigate is as much a life skill as learning to read and write.
In fact, many young children learn to use a touchpad or touchscreen way before they can read or write, using colours and symbols instead of words to navigate around websites in order to get to a video or game they like.
Whatever the age of your kids, it’s important to keep them safe when browsing websites, using social networking services such as Facebook, and chatting with friends using instant messaging programs.
Although your children may know more about using a computer and the internet than you do, it’s your responsibility to ensure they're protected from the parts of the web that present a danger to them.
Much of the internet is a fabulous resource for kids, whether it's Wikipedia for helping with homework, online games, social networks, videos, music and more. However, there are an equal number of websites that you wouldn’t want them going anywhere near.
In this feature, we’ll look at what the dangers are and the ways in which you can keep your kids safe from them. Much of our advice is common sense, but in addition there are applications and utilities such as parental control software which can help to act as a digital nanny and protect your children when you’re eyes aren't watching.
You’ve probably heard scare stories about identity theft, online bullying and illegal downloads. The threats are real and you can’t afford to simply hope that everything will be ok. We’ll show you what action is required. (See also: Group test: best tablet for children.)
The dark side of the internet
Websites: Even if you've not seen much evidence of it when you've browsed the web, it isn’t too hard to imagine the kinds of things that you wouldn’t want your kids to see. Pornography is the most obvious, and the web is jammed full of it.
Young kids might stumble upon a porn website by accident (usually by clicking on photos or links without understanding what they’re doing) while older teens might actively seek it out.
Besides porn, there are a plethora of gambling sites, plus others which promote drugs, guns or things your kids probably shouldn't be looking at.
Even YouTube isn’t necessarily safe. Innocent searches could turn up unsuitable material, and some people make a habit of swapping the soundtracks of, say, children's cartoons with foul-mouthed music. Visit: Security Advisor.
Social networks: Facebook and other sites are great places for sharing photos and chatting. They’re especially good for allowing children to keep in touch with friends and family who don’t live nearby.
Privacy is something of an issue with social networks, though. It's all too easy to make the wrong security settings or not make any at all, leaving messages in the open for others to see. You don't want your kids sharing any personal details such as their address or phone number, for example, or letting everyone know that you’re going on holiday for two weeks and that the house will be empty.
Online games: Virtual online worlds are becoming more and more popular with kids from around 6 upwards. Sites such as www.moshimonsters.com, Disney's Club Penguin and Habbo Hotel (www.habbo.com) allow children to be a character in one of these games, joining for free and paying for certain in-game add-ons.
A core part of the games is being able to chat with friends and make new friends but, although every click is monitored and every word moderated, you never know for sure who they're talking to. While all three websites claim to be safe for kids, you should still supervise them as they play.
Instant messaging and email: As with Facebook, instant messaging clients and email make it possible for untold numbers of people to contact your child.
The innocent-sounding messages coming from an innocent-sounding name might in fact be a paedophile ‘grooming’ your child by establishing their trust. Such conversations have been known to lead to real-world meetings where anything could happen.
Information overload: There’s so many websites and so much information and activities on the internet that it’s all too easy to spend far too much time online. Sitting motionless at a computer desk could mean your kids aren’t getting enough fresh air and exercise, or it could be a case of too little sleep if they’re staying up late on Facebook or playing games. Staring at that screen for too long isn’t good for their eyes, either.
Bullying: The ease of communicating online has disadvantages as well as benefits. It’s easy for other kids to bully a child through social networks and instant messages – even email. Unflattering photos can be posted online and lead to insults, taunting and threats. Because there’s nothing physical, online bullying can go unnoticed by parents if kids don’t say what’s happening.
Illegal downloads and malware: There are plenty of places to download videos, music and games illegally on the web. This can be a big temptation for teenagers and can bring problems for the parent, since they pay for the internet connection and are responsible for anything that’s downloaded.
There’s also the risk of malware and viruses, which are far more common when you venture into the seedier parts of the internet. In fact, searching for any kind of pirated material also brings links and pop-up adverts for other unsavoury sites, including pornography.
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