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7 Smarter ways to keep kids safe online

Forget everything you were told about online safety for children before now

by Irene Park

A lot has recently changed when it comes to safety and security for our kids and grandkids.

Like any technology, digital devices can open up a world of possibilities or problems. With a firm understanding of the technology and what your boundaries are, you can have a choice in how that technology can support your life and your child’s life.

While these devices can be a huge boon both for entertainment and education for children, they can also be a dangerous place if ventured unaware, unsupervised, or unsupported.

While forbidding access to digital devices can seem like the easiest solution to any potential complications, it is not the best option as it is important for your children to develop a healthy sense of digital literacy.

According to the American Library Association, “digital literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”

As they age, they will be asked by educational institutions and their networks to engage academically and personally via technology. By creating a balanced, secure, and safe technological environment in which your child can get acclimated to safely learn and engage with others in this space, the better chance you have at protecting your child, devices, and wallet when you’re not around.

 

Why is Child Safety on Digital Devices Important?

Child on Computer with Parent

While there is no foolproof protection from danger, learning the common risks allows you to plan as much as possible to mitigate certain problems.

If left unattended, your child could be innocently using your computer and accidentally delete programs or files that are crucial to your family. They could also download harmful malware, adware, or viruses by clicking the wrong pop-up or link. They could get asked for personal, private, or security-related information from a predator in a chat or via email. There’s, of course, the infamous news story where a 6-year-old spent $10K in in-app purchases in a matter of months. Not having security measures in place can put your information, technology, family, and wallet at risk.

 

What Are the Best Steps to Keep Your Child Safe on Digital Devices?

First, congratulations on having the motivation and desire to explore your child’s safety on electronic devices. That is the biggest step to preventing harm to your child, yourself, your family, and your tech.

Second, have a discussion with whoever is responsible for co-parenting (if any) about what is the right balance of privacy and safety depending on the child’s age. While you do want to create limits and boundaries around access and usage, you don’t want to create such a strict environment that you have to constantly supervise or give permission for basic functions of a device. Part of encouraging digital literacy early on is that you’ll have taught, nurtured, and created an environment where your child is able to wait to discuss with you or make the right choices when you’re not available.

Additionally, if you curtail too much access, you can make educational assignments more taxing for you and your child. For older children, you don’t want to curtail your child’s privacy to the point where it might or might not create resistance, rebellion, or secretive behavior.

 

Step 1: Communicate early & clearly with your child

Discussing Computer Safety with Kids

If your child is old enough to have a dialogue about the privileges and responsibilities that come with having access to a computer, creating a continuing dialogue with your child is a crucial first step to keeping them safe. While customizing the dialogue to the comprehension and age-appropriate level of your child, it is important to communicate the parameters of their access on the computer, including the quantity of time and what they can or can’t do on it. Having that baseline means there is an established foundation from which to adjust and continue the conversation. A child is more likely to come to you with questions or concerns if you started the dialogue and enable them to feel comfortable and open to asking questions without judgment or condemnation. If a child feels like they are safe in sharing mistakes or problems, they will likely approach you more quickly about them than if they felt they would be yelled at or punished. And it is often easier to resolve most issues, the sooner they are addressed whether that is fishing a file out of the ‘Trash’ folder or reporting a phishing scam email to the FTC.

In addition to tailoring the conversation to be age-appropriate, here are a few potential topics to discuss with your child:

  • Sharing personal or familial information, photos, and videos online
  • Understanding body safety and setting boundaries on and offline
  • Signs of inappropriate requests and behaviors

 

Step 2: Create a separate user account for your computer

login user separate account

Beyond having a dialogue, it is crucial to create a separate user account for your child on whatever computer they will be using. Remember that though your child isn’t always out to create mischief, sometimes they can accidentally drag and drop files or provide information to someone else online. It’s about intelligently anticipating potential scenarios and not allowing your child to be in the position to make the ‘wrong’ choice. They should not have access to a main, or administrator, account. The main, or administrator, account should be protected with a strong password. If you need help creating or remembering this password, please check out the article on Password Managers.

Creating a separate user account will enable you to create permission settings for their specific user account such as limiting their ability to delete, open, share, or alter important administrative files crucial to the basic operation of the computer; accessing your files, programs, or folders; and preventing program downloads or deletions. This way your child can explore the files and workings of a computer without hesitation or worry too.

How to Create Separate User Accounts on Windows 10:

  • Find & click the ‘Start’ button
  • Click on ‘Settings’
  • Click ‘Accounts’
  • Click ‘Family & Other users’ or just ‘Other users’
  • Click ‘Add someone else to this PC’
  • Click ‘I don’t have this person’s sign-in information’ then ‘Add a user without a Microsoft account’
  • Pick a username, password, password hint, and security questions (if your child is at the age to comprehend this process, it might be a fun point to get him or her involved and excited about their own account)

How to Create Separate User Accounts on Mac:

  • Choose the Apple menu by selecting the icon
  • Click ‘System Preferences’
  • Click ‘Users & Groups’
  • Click the icon and enter the administrator password
  • Click the icon under login options
  • A pop-up menu will show you options:
  • Under the ‘New Account’ drop-down, select ‘Managed with Parental Controls’

This will limit this type of user to only access apps and content specified by the administrator (you). The administrator can limit the user’s contacts, website access, and create time limits on computer usage

  • Enter your child’s full name and an account name will be generated automatically, but you can change it to whatever you or your child wants now or later.
  • Enter a password twice as well as a password hint
  • Click ‘Create User’
  • Select ‘Enable parental controls’ and click ‘Open Parental Controls’ to set up restrictions for this user.

How to create separate user accounts on Android phones:

  • Swipe down twice on your home screen to access ‘Quick Settings’
  • Click the ‘person’ icon on the bottom-right in ‘Quick Settings’
  • Click ‘add user’ and click okay in the pop-up prompt
  • On the ‘Setup new user’ page, click ‘continue’
  • Your phone will automatically check for available updates.
  • Enter the Google account email for the new user and enter that email account’s password
  • Click ‘I agree’
  • On the next page, scroll down and click ‘Accept’
  • Enter the pin
  • Re-enter the pin
  • Setup biometric authentication for the account if you wish. If not, click ‘Skip’
  • Click ‘I agree’
  • Click ‘Next’

How to create separate user accounts on Android Tablets:

  • Go to ‘Settings’
  • Under ‘Devices’, click ‘Users’
  • Click ‘Add user or profile’
  • You’ll have two options: ‘User’ or ‘Restricted Profile’
  • Click ‘Restricted Profile’ (This will allow you to restrict access to apps and content from your account)
  • Under the New Profile (Restricted Profile), you can toggle off (it should grey out on most tablets) location, app access, and even access to the Google Play Store

How to create separate user accounts on iPhones & iPads:

Instead of sharing your Apple ID, Apple encourages you to set up Family Sharing so that each person in the family can have their own Apple ID. This is a good way to share subscriptions, purchases, and more without sharing passwords, emails, text messages, or passwords.

To set up Family Sharing:

  • On the device of the person you want to add, sign out of iCloud.
  • Create an Apple ID for your child
  • Then sign in to iCloud with this new Apple ID
  • Set up ‘Family Sharing’ then invite your child to your group
    • To Set up ‘Family Sharing’, only one Adult needs to sign up as the ‘organizer’ for the group.
    • Go to Settings.
    • Tap your name.
    • Scroll down to ‘Family Sharing’
    • Tap ‘Set up your family’
    • Tap Create an Account for a Child, then tap Continue.
    • Verify which form of payment you want to use
    • Follow the remaining prompts onscreen to finish setting up the account. You can use the child’s email address for their Apple ID. Be sure to enter the correct birth date as you can’t change it later.
  • When setting up purchase sharing, set up ‘Ask to Buy’ this way any time your child wants to buy or download an app, it sends a request to the ‘Family organizer’ to accept or decline request.

 

Step 3: Create a Kid-Friendly email account

kid friendly email accountsWhile you can turn on strong filtration systems for your child under a major email service provider such as gmail, a simpler way might be to use a kid-friendly email provider such as KidsEmail.org or Tocomail. Both offer a way for kids to start getting used to working with an email interface while staying safe.

 

KidsEmail.org

kidsemail.org

With an interface that looks like a simplified version of a regular email service, your child can sign up for their very own email address. There are simple settings that an adult can enable or disable, which takes the guesswork out of setting up and monitoring the account.

Cost: After a 30-day free trial you can subscribe to one of two plans. For $2.99 a month (billed $38.95 annually) you can get 1 month free plus up to 6 email accounts. If you prefer to pay month to month, you can get up to 4 email accounts for $4.95 per month.

Functions:

  • Enable or disable incoming and outgoing email forwarding: You can opt or opt-out of having every email your child gets forwarded to your email account
  • Set time restrictions for access to their email accounts
  • Block senders
  • Contacts Manager: You can create a list of contacts that are allowed to send/receive your child’s emails
  • Mail Queue: You can intercept an email that fails a safety rule such as an email coming from someone not on the approved sender list. You can then decide whether that email can go to your child’s inbox or not.
  • No ads so there aren’t introductions to adware or other inappropriate materials
  • Spam Filters: Filters out inappropriate spam
  • Offensive word filter: Filters out emails containing inappropriate words
  • As your child matures, they can transition to a ‘teen’ account (‘kmail.org’) so they can stay safe but feel the transition from ‘kid’ to teen’. It comes with a separate login in page for teens.

 

Tocomail

tocomail

Cost: After a 7-day free trial period, you have the option of purchasing the use of email at $2.99/month or $29.99/year. It is unclear how many email accounts you get with the monthly or annual option.

Functions:

  • Safe list: You decide who is safe to email your kids in your kid’s contact list
  • Anyone who is not on the ‘Safe list’ gets put in the Quarantine box, which you will receive a copy of in your regular inbox.
  • You can supervise ‘Monitored list’, which is a contact list that your child can add to.
  • You can approve or reject emails right when notified about the email.
  • You can filter out profanity — emails with profanity will be sent to the Quarantine box.
  • No ads mean no access to inappropriate material
  • Has an iPhone and Android compatible app

 

Step 4: Kid-Friendly Search Engine

kiddle

One of the fun parts of computer usage is exploring the world wide web. Of course, the wider the web, the more risk of your child downloading various malicious entities. If an adult has accidentally clicked on the wrong ad, link, or pop-up, imagine how easily a child would click one. Unfortunately, all the major kid-friendly browsers have gone out of business so the best choice is to use the parental control options per major browser. If, however, your child does need to do online research and you want to limit their exposure to unsavory search results or contact, you can try a kid-friendly search engine such as Kiddle. The websites and search results deemed ‘safe’ will populate when this search engine is used. These are not foolproof, and like anything your child has access to should have some amount of parent supervision.

Kiddle:

This is a very simple interface search engine that not only utilize large font size for beginning readers but also only turn up search results of website and media that have been filtered and deemed ‘safe’ by their editors. If an inappropriate word is searched, it comes back with an error message. In an effort to safeguard your child’s privacy, no personally identifiable information is collected and logs are deleted every 24 hours.

 

Step 5: Parent Controls on App downloads

burning money

No one wants to end up on the news with the story that their kid racked up $10K in in-app purchases. In order to prevent such occurrences, not only should you monitor their usage of apps but you should restrict the ability to download apps to your device as well as require authentication for in-app purchases.

Google PlayStore (Also relevant on any device using this store to purchase apps)

  • Require authentication before any purchases, including in-app purchases:
    • Open Google Play
    • Open Settings
    • Go to “User Controls”
    • Choose “Set or Change PIN” and pick your PIN
    • Go back to User Settings and activate “Use PIN for Purchases.”

On a Mac (latest OS):

  • Set up content and privacy restrictions in Screen Time on Mac
  • Select Apple menu then click ‘SystemPreferences’
  • Click Screen Time icon:
  • Click ‘Content & Privacy’ in the sidebar
  • Turn on ‘Content & Privacy Restrictions’
  • To restrict movies, TV shows, and app purchases: Click ‘Stores’ then select ‘options’
  • To restrict apps, click ‘Apps’ then select options. 

On an iPhone/iPad:

  • Go to Settings
  • Click ‘Screen Time’
  • Tap ‘Content & Privacy Restrictions’
  • If asked, enter your passcode
  • Click iTunes & App Store Purchases
    • Go through each category and select to ‘Don’t Allow’ for whatever setting you want to disable
  • Make sure to turn on ‘Ask to Buy’ under ‘Family Sharing’ (please see the previous section above regarding setting up new users on iPhone or iPads.

 

kids on headphones

 

Step 6: Restrict Explicit Playback on Spotify and Apple Music

You can also restrict access to explicit music in Spotify and Apple Music (aka iTunes) to protect your child from unwanted exposure.

Turn off explicit material access on Spotify

Spotify:

  • On the top left corner or wherever your user account icon sits, use the drop-down menu and select ‘Settings’
  • Under explicit content, make sure the toggle is clicked off (it should be greyed out not bright green)

iTunes Apple Music explicit content restriction

Apple Music (aka iTunes)

  • Click on iTunes in the toolbar at the top
  • In the drop-down menu, select ‘Preferences’
  • Click on the ‘Restrictions’ tab on the pop-up then select your preferred settings
  • Once you’re done, click ‘Ok’ on the bottom right of the pop-up

 

Anti-virus programs

Step 7: Install Anti-Virus software

Even with the best of intentions and precautions, an accidental link clicked in an email or on a website can lead to a wormhole of problems. When you have antivirus software already installed on your computer that automatically blocks pop-ups and scans for viruses and malware, you’re ahead of the process. For a more in-depth look at the best anti-virus options out there, check out Best Antivirus Protection in 2022 article.

Our top pick remains Total AV antivirus. In addition to all the core functions it provides, Total AV has parental controls. Once the program is installed, the app has a component called Webshield, which blocks malicious or explicit websites such as adult sites. This function can be turned on/off within the app. The company can also show the customer how to turn on DNS protection via their Adblock section.

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