How to Keep Your Kids Safe Online
By Fergus O’Sullivan
The internet is a big scary place, especially if you have kids. While the adult psyche can handle most of the weirder stuff online (well, usually), there is a good chance that if a child sees it, they’ll have some very awkward questions for their parents come dinner time. Add to that the risk of online predators, and you’ll see how important it is to keep your kids safe online.
This guide will show you the steps you can take to keep your kids from falling victim to disturbing imagery and the denizens of shady chat rooms. The good news is that all of them are relatively simple and mostly free or very cheap, at least. The bad news is that, much like when a toddler is playing on the monkey bars, you need to keep an eye on things if you want this to go well.
The first thing to do is controlling what your kids can access. There’s plenty of good parental control software out there, but it all costs money, so here we’ll show you some simple and free things to do to control what your kids see online.
We recommend you make use of Google’s parental controls, which you can do most effectively by using Family Link, which lets you manage any device your child is logged into. The other option is to follow the below steps for each device in your household, a pretty tedious task.
Once you’ve downloaded the Family Link app, you can easily set up which apps and sites your kids can access and which they’ll be blocked from. You can do this on a per-app basis, not a good idea as there are millions to choose from, or trust Google’s age categories and add on a case-by-case basis.
Setting Up YouTube Controls
YouTube is incredibly popular among kids, and, despite being part of the same company as Google, has its own set of parental controls that you can set up. We definitely recommend you do this as it can’t be overstated how much time kids spend on the site, and some of the weird stuff that’s being said by some very popular influencers.
To do so, click on the lock symbol in the bottom right of the app, then go to the gear icon. That will put you into the settings menu, where you can set up what content is allowed for your child to watch.
Monitoring What Your Kids Do Online
Setting up these controls is one thing, making sure they’re not messed with is another. Kids are pretty tech-savvy, maybe even more so than you, and handy at circumventing any blocks you come up with, so you need to keep a finger on the pulse to make sure they’re not doing stuff online you don’t want them to do.
Now, there’s plenty of monitoring software you can buy, but we figure a soft approach is better than some kind of secret-police style surveillance, so besides checking that the controls you’ve set up through Google and YouTube haven’t been altered, it’s probably best to just talk to your children about what they’re doing online.
Warning them away from the shadier parts of the internet and building open communication that makes them trust you enough to come to you when they feel something is hinky is a better solution that stomping around their digital life like a jack-booted thug. Also, it’ll just lead them to hide what they’re doing, which they’re probably better at than you are at finding out what they’re up to.
Antivirus and VPN
That said, they’re still going to be doing things you’d prefer they didn’t and downloading things they shouldn’t, which is why as a baseline security system you should always have an antivirus and VPN installed on your computer. Don’t rely on the software that came with it, usually the standard stuff on Windows and Apple devices has the efficacy of a wet paper towel to stop threats.
The best antivirus providers will actively scan your computer for viruses and malware, while also letting you know when a site is trying to install bad software on your computer. Kids don’t always watch what they’re doing when they’re on bad sites, so having this is vital. Good antivirus software doesn’t need to break the bank, there are plenty of good, cheap options out there.
A virtual private network, on the other hand, will secure your internet connection, so you and your kids can’t be tracked. It does this by rerouting your traffic to a secure server, making you invisible to any criminals tracking you, as well as government surveillance. Then again, if the FBI is after your little Timmy, you may have more pressing concerns than filtering a few websites.
The upshot of using a VPN is that nobody can trace where our traffic came from, which is great, but has as downside that it will be easier for children to circumvent any blocks you’ve put up. However, there’s no reason to always have it on, you could always just switch it on when you feel anonymity is the priority.
Keeping your kids safe online isn’t a simple task. It requires some leg work on your end, as well as sincere and open communication with your children. However, with some effort, you can rest assured that your kids can browse in safety.
Fergus O’Sullivan is the chief editor of Cloudwards.net, a software review site, and knows his way around protecting yourself and your family on the internet.