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Title: Ensuring Online Safety for Children: A Guide for Parents

Introduction:

The world of technology is different to when I was growing up. It was not quite what it is today; not in the Stone Age by any means, but I have seen some fantastic advancements in my formative years into adulthood. I didn’t get my first phone until I was in my late teens, on the brink of legally being an adult. Even then, it was a simple press-button phone which could call, text, set an alarm, and play the classic game of Snake and I thought that was brilliant.

Now, as a father, I have experienced what my parents must have in terms of my own children growing up with technology, but what they have grown up with is a lot more advanced. It can do far more, providing greater levels of entertainment and convenience, enabling communication with their friends in a vastly different way to me knocking on my mate’s door hoping they were in to play some games when I was their age. Practically everything they could want is at the end of a tap or click on their powerful, pocket-sized computers or smartphones as they are more commonly known.

The danger in this is that in several, but not all cases the younger generation are savvier with the technology than their parents. This can impose its own set of challenges when trying to keep them safe online. Furthermore, as is often the case with many things a greater level of convenience comes with a greater level of risk.

Children are growing up in a world where the internet is an integral part of their lives not so much so when I was young. It was there but not an essential part of everyday life as it is now. While the internet offers numerous opportunities for learning and entertainment, it also presents risks that parents need to be aware of. Protecting your children online requires a combination of education, communication, and the use of parental controls. In this article, we will discuss effective strategies for keeping children safe online, including the use of parental controls.

1. Open Communication

Maintaining an open and honest dialogue with your children about their online activities is crucial. Encourage them to share their experiences, ask questions, and report anything that makes them uncomfortable. By fostering trust, you create an environment where your children feel comfortable discussing their online interactions and seeking guidance. This one is key, I always instilled in my own children that they could approach me without fear of being reprimanded. This created a level of trust between us which not only led to them confiding in me, but also that they listened to what I had to say when discussing the potential dangers when being exposed to the internet. This enabled me to come across as looking out for them as opposed to zapping the fun out of everything and being overprotective.

2. Educate About Online Risks

Teach your children about the potential risks of sharing personal information, interacting with strangers, and engaging in cyber-bullying (aka trolling). Explain the concept of online privacy and the importance of thinking before posting anything online. Use relatable examples to help them understand the consequences of their actions. Speaking from experience is also vital, not to scare them but to so they understand you are not just saying what you have heard but you have lived through it. All of this is crucial in helping to establish a mindset that they can enjoy the internet but need to be careful. With my own children I explained the risks and said that if they were ever in doubt, they should ask me and, as a father, that would never be too much trouble. Sounds simple but it worked.

3. Set Clear Guidelines

Establish clear guidelines for screen time, online activities, and the websites or apps your children can access. Make sure your children understand the rules and the reasons behind them. Resistance to this is likely, however rationale explanations of why can go a long way to diffusing any resistance. Encouraging them to come to you if they encounter something that goes against these guidelines is also important.

4. Utilize Parental Controls

Parental control software and features can help you manage and monitor your children's online activities more effectively. Here are some tips for using parental controls:

   a. Content Filtering: Set up content filters to block inappropriate websites and ensure your children are accessing age-appropriate content.

   b. Time Limits: Use time-management features to control how much time your children spend online. This can help strike a healthy balance between online and offline activities. Again, in this case, discuss it with your child and show your reasoning behind it. My kids wanted to spend every minute of the day on their phones, but I didn’t allow it. I explained the importance of offline interaction and spending time together which is not based on electrical gadgets. It allowed older members of the family to be involved and, in the end, they had more fun playing board games, especially as they would always beat me! This resulted in a discussion without the need to actually implement screen time.

   c. App and Game Restrictions: Control the types of apps and games your children can download and use. Make sure to review the content of these apps before granting access. Again, explain, at the time, the reasons why this is not suitable.

d. Don’t allow download from unknown sources. This is a setting that helps prevent your children from downloading from potentially dangerous sources and only from official app stores. However, this typically refers to the installation of apps from sources other than official app stores. This does not include regular downloads online such as images, documents, or media files.

However, you can go to your child’s devices browser and manage how downloads are handled in the settings. You can choose to block downloads from all sites or set specific permissions for certain websites. Most browsers will support this and even have settings in place to block harmful downloads, but you can configure further if you wish. If your browser does not find another browser. In all honesty though this is not often necessary and education on the matter can go a long way to keeping your children safe online.

   e. Location Tracking: Some devices allow you to track the location of your child's device. This can be useful for ensuring their physical safety.

   f. Social Media Controls: Many social media platforms have built-in settings that allow you to restrict who can interact with your child's account. Enable these settings to reduce exposure to strangers.

5. Be a Digital Role Model

Children learn by observing their parents' behaviour. Demonstrate responsible online habits by using privacy settings, verifying the credibility of online sources, and engaging in positive online interactions. Your actions will influence your children's approach to online behaviour.

6. Regularly review privacy settings

As your children grow, their online needs and habits will evolve. Regularly review and adjust privacy settings, parental controls, and provide guidelines to ensure they remain relevant and effective.

7) Install anti-virus. You could also install antivirus on their devices. Most come with a default built in protection but if you want a more thorough protection then download a reputable antivirus from the official app store. My antivirus package for example gave a license for up to 10 products which included my children’s devices. Even with this, though. I taught them to aways be vigilant.

Many of these tips can be implemented on google family link for children under 13 if you are using android. On Apple devices there are various settings which can be configured to achieve the same result.

However, despite all the education, communication, and settings, sometimes a compromise is in order. For example, my oldest wanted to have social media. I felt they were a bit young to be exposed to the public, so they were allowed a private account with various privacy settings enabled.

This worked a treat and satisfied their need for social media whilst also keeping my mind from racing. This helped them to find their feet. as it were. They were, however, under strict instructions not to talk to strangers and to tell me immediately if something seemed strange. 

Conclusion

Staying safe online is a shared responsibility between parents and children. By maintaining open communication, educating your children about online risks, setting clear guidelines, and utilizing parental controls, you can create a safer online environment for your family. Remember that technology is constantly evolving, so staying informed about the latest trends and potential risks is essential in ensuring your children's online safety. This article by no means provides an exhaustive list and further reading is recommended. It is also important to remember you don’t have to be tech savvy to know how to keep your children safe online. There is a plethora of resources out there to help with this. Each child is different and what worked with mine may not with yours the key is to find a balance and techniques that work for you.

Useful links:

How to set up google family link:

How to set up apple parental controls:

Downloading from unknown sources on android:

Additional articles on staying safe online:



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