In the age of smartphones, internet-enabled televisions and readily available tablets, keeping our children safe online has once again come sharply into focus.
While many of us have passcodes or controls on the main house computer, how many can say the same for every device in the house that can get on the web? Not to mention televisions, which also contain plenty of content that is not suitable for children, particularly younger ones.
Children are increasingly more internet-savvy than their parents, leaving us flailing to keep up.
While there will always be a chance that your child catches sight of something that you would rather they didn’t, either a programme or a website, there are a raft of measures that you can take easily and cheaply that should make this absolutely minimal.
1) Communication will always play a part in keeping your children safe, both through you having knowledge of the sites they like and use, and them being aware that there is content out there they should keep away from. Be aware of changes in internet use, such as longer spent online, and stress that they should talk to a trusted adult if they have any worries whatsoever about anything.
2) Make sure they know how to stay safe – they should never give out personal details including name, address, school or telephone numbers to someone they do not know. Attachments from unknown senders should also be treated with caution in case they contain viruses. Depending on the age of your child, consider insisting on knowing any email account passwords so that you can check on sent and received mail if needed.
3) With the websites they use, check what safety and privacy protection tools are in place on each, what can be restricted and how to report if there is a problem. You might want the homepage to be something like CBeebies rather than a search engine.
4) See what tools your internet browser offers, such as safe browsing or parental controls, and enable those that work best for you. Consider checking the History tab or button regularly, as this gives you a full list of the sites that have been visited. Buy or download additional parental control software if desired.
5) Be aware that public WiFi will often not have parental controls on, so be alert if your child is browsing on your phone or tablet while out and about, as they will find it easier to find unsuitable content, even if that is only aggressive marketing or pop-ups.
6) For smartphones, having a passcode on start-up is the best way to ensure the internet is only accessed in ways you are happy with, in your presence. Set your screen to lock within a minute of not being used to minimise the chances of someone else coming along and starting to play with it. Do this even with young children – they’re often a lot quicker at sussing these things out than you would like!
7) Staying with smartphones, ensure in-app purchases are turned off (in settings), to ensure there are no nasty surprises if one of your children has been playing games. Even free games often have a tempting array of things you can buy, and these are irresistible to little fingers with no money sense.
8) Also consider the nature of any push notifications you get, as these can often be viewed even with the screen locked. Breaking news of disasters, for example, can often contain quite distressing details that may be upsetting for little sensitive minds. Consider turning these off if your children regularly play with your phone.
9) For televisions, you can often restrict access to certain channels or programmes – consult your manual or the manufacturer on how best to do this. Most on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer, 4OD, ITV Player and Sky Go offer variations on pin-protected parental controls, so set these up if needed or wanted. These pop-up on programmes flagged as having strong language, for example, and the pin is needed to allow the programme to play.
10) For games consoles, use family settings to set both content restrictions and time limits.
Finally, of course, there is some general sensible advice to follow, such as setting time limits on all devices, to allow time for homework and family time, as well as putting tablets and computers away when they are not in use, so that they are out of sight and out of mind.
As ever with technology, it can be an amazing and useful resource, as long as it has limits which restrict its use to that which is appropriate to your household.