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Online safety

Tips to protect your children on the internet.

Most parents these days will remember the mantras of their childhood being 'stop, look, listen' and 'don’t take sweets from strangers'. The outside world was somewhere to be weary of. Now, the outside world is right there on a screen in your home.

Shutting the front door no longer keeps the bullies, blackmailers and paedophiles away from children. The news is rife with stories of children who have fallen folly to these people and the upsetting consequences. Ask around and everyone will know someone who has had a worrying experience online.

The difference between the real world and Internet is that most adults understand the real world and all the risks it has, so it is relatively easy to impart these to your children. However, the online world develops so fast and in sophisticated ways that many people struggle to keep up with what the latest social networking site is for their children let alone the threats it presents. Overwhelmed, many people put their heads in the sand and hope their children will be okay.

What is key to remember is that the Internet may be a technology, but technology alone cannot protect your children. Teaching children how to behave and when to flag concerns to you is essential. With this two-way conversation in place, you have a strong weapon to fight online threats. This is particularly important as cyber-bullying becomes more prevalent.

Putting a strong technology defence in place to protect your children is easy to do and essential. This will filter out much of the problems, leaving you to deal with the more personal issues. For example, if you block adult content from your children, you will not have to answer awkward questions and you know they can browse in safety.

Of course, the rules for one child don’t always apply to the next. And the Internet habits of an eight year old are wildly different to those of a 15 year old let alone a 17 year old. Here are some tips to get you off on the right footing:

Set up user accounts for each member of the family

This will allow you to tweak the parental controls for each of your children. For example, blocking chat rooms and forums for young children, but allowing them for your teenagers. You can also use these controls to set 'homework time' for older children, which will block them from visiting any sites which are not deemed educational during your specified hours.

Whitelist sites for young children

Many young children enjoy using the Internet, but they only want to view the same few sites over and over, such as CBeebies. Using the whitelist function, add in all the websites you are happy for them to view and block the rest. This way, they won’t stumble upon something which is not appropriate for their age.

Have 'The Talk' before letting your teenagers join social networking sites

You need to set rules before letting your children enjoy social networking sites, like Facebook and Instagram. Every child is different, so this must come from you. Some parents want access to their child’s account, so they can check up on them at any time. Be warned, this can lead to your child setting up a second account in a different name. It is a good idea to only allow them to be 'friends' with people they know if real life though.

Whatever your approach, help them set their account up with privacy restrictions, so their profile is not public. You can use this free tool to test their Facebook profile. It will show what is public and explain how to change the settings accordingly.

Don’t forget their smartphones and tablets

Most children have access to these devices now and the way they use them is no different to a computer, so they need to be protected too. Mobile security software is downloaded as an app or will come as part of the security software package you buy for your computer. Set up parental controls on these devices, just as you would for your computer.

It is wise to set up a password for your children’s devices, so that they must come to you before downloading any app or in-app purchase. This will also mean you’ll avoid a nasty shock when the bill arrives.

Remember, the Internet is amazing!

Your children just need a guiding hand to ensure they can enjoy it safely.
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