The Four Worst Online Traps for Kids – And How To Avoid Them
Even if you believe in severely limiting kid’s screen time, keeping our little ones safe on the internet is something we will all have to address sooner or later. Since this is an entirely new area of parenting that most of us never even had to deal with growing up, there are often more questions than answers when it comes to online protection. I asked Russ Warner, Internet safety expert and CEO of ContentWatch, which makes parental control software Net Nanny and Net Nanny Social, to give us his thoughts on how to keep our children safe online, and what to watch out for. Hope this helps!
Technology is wonderful, useful, and helpful. But, it can also be distracting, dangerous, and hurtful…especially when a child innocently stumbles into an unknown area or person. It can feel overwhelming as a parent, but there are a number of ways you can protect your children from the darker corners of the web. Here are my top tips to help a child avoid online traps.
Trap 1: Inappropriate Web Content
Any time you allow your child to use your smart phone or a computer without adult supervision, you run the risk of them stumbling upon something you wouldn’t want them to see. Even if you set your child up with the correct website, app or video, if you turn your head for a moment they can end up in a completely unapproved location, by mistyping a word in a search engine or by clicking a link on a website, email, or video site. And, once they are older, children can either find inappropriate websites on their own or can be distracted or subtly pulled into a dark place.
Solution: The best fix for this problem is to use the web filter on your child’s smartphone or tablet to protect them from browsing the Internet on inappropriate web sites, whether it’s an accidental or intentional visit.
Web filters are available for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS (iPhone). Web filters can be installed on a device and will protect your child from surfing the web to any number of undesirable web pages, such as pornography, alcohol, gambling, tobacco, weapons, etc. Web filters allow parents to choose which types of websites are appropriate and determine which types are blocked if deemed inappropriate. Parents can also create a list of websites to be allowed and only grant access to a select few child-friendly websites. For Net Nanny’s full list of web filters, see here: http://www.netnanny.com/mobile/.
Trap 2: Inappropriate YouTube videos
YouTube offers a plethora of video content that is incredibly appealing to young children, from clips of their favorite television shows and films to homemade videos of cute animals. But in addition to all of the child-friendly offerings, there is an exceptional amount of content that is wholly inappropriate for children. The worst part? The “Suggested Videos” that appear on the side of your child’s favorite episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse aren’t always age appropriate. If you aren’t careful, you could leave your child watching a G-rated clip of kittens and come back to find them gazing on a decidedly R-rated clip that is somewhat related.
Solution: YouTube offers some protection from undesirable video content with its free feature: Safety Mode.
Safety Mode helps stop your child from viewing video content rated inappropriate by other YouTube viewers. (Caution: the rating system is created by other YouTube users, so may not be 100% in line with your parental determination as to whether something is appropriate.)
To enable Safety Mode, login to your YouTube or gmail account on your child’s computer, phone or tablet. You’ll find Safety Mode in the Settings menu. Once enabled, logout of your YouTube or gmail account. The browser you used to enable YouTube safety mode will be protected by Safety Mode until you change the setting again.
Trap 3: Cyberbullies and Sexual Predators
There are lots of stories in the press about teens being bullied online. There are stories too about children meeting in person with someone potentially dangerous that they first met online. Many of these inappropriate interactions began first with contact on a social network such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, Ask.fm, and Tumblr.
Despite this, many children and parents underestimate how predatory some online interactions can be. I frequently share the story of a dummy Facebook profile we created to test our software. Our software developer used an image of a girl in a bathing suit and set her age at 14. Despite the fact that there was no actual person behind the account, it received hundreds of friend requests, many from grown men who believed the account to be that of a 14 year old girl. The posts on the wall were frequently abusive and graphic. This is the perfect example of how the dark corners of the web can find your child, even if they aren’t doing anything to seek them out.
Solution: You could follow all of your child’s activities on all of their social networks by logging in daily to see what’s going on. Or, you could keep up with your child’s online activities on social media by using a social media monitor.
Social media monitoring software has been on the market for a relatively short time, but can give parents peace of mind by helping to track a child’s friends, pictures, and interactions on social networks. Some tools, such as Net Nanny Social, will send alerts to a parent if your teen is being bullied, if your teen “friends” someone over 18 years old, or if your teen discusses self-harm.
Trap 4: Sexting
As children get older, one of the most common technological traps is sending sexually explicit text messages (or sexts). Beyond the psychological harm and emotional fallout that could result from a child engaging in this behavior before they are emotionally ready for it, there could also be serious legal ramifications: if a child is caught sending a sext, they can be prosecuted for distribution of child pornography. (Note: if an adult is caught with a sext from a teen, they could be prosecuted for possession of child pornography.)
SOLUTION: To prevent sexts being sent via cellular messaging, there are Android and iOS apps today that will monitor texts sent by a phone using a wireless carrier network (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, etc.) and these ‘tracker’ apps will send a copy of all texts to a parent’s phone. Go to iTunes or the Google Play and search for “sms tracker” or “text tracker”.
But if your child uses Snapchat, WhatsApp, or any other messaging app, the only thing you can do to prevent inappropriate texting is to block or remove the app. Apps are capable of sending messages over Wi-Fi, your home network, etc., and they are difficult to monitor.
To block apps on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, you can set up parental controls features in the Settings>General>Restrictions menu. This menu needs to be password protected, so choose a password your child won’t be able to guess. In Restrictions, you can block the installation of new apps. So, enable that feature, and then delete the messaging app that you want your child to stop using.
To block apps on an Android phone, there are a variety of app managers for Android. These apps will allow/block apps on a device. You should password protect the app so your teen cannot modify or change settings.
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