Protecting ourselves and our families online
Surfing the web, shopping, playing online games, streaming music, films and television – we and our families do an ever increasing amount of activities online.
The internet is a fantastic source of entertainment and information, as well as bargains, but it’s also a place where unwanted material can proliferate, and quite aggressively so.
Add to this the dangers of internet grooming, cyberbullying via social networks and forums, computer viruses and phishing sites, and cybercrime such as e-mail hacking and identity theft, and it’s more important than ever that you know how to navigate yourself and your children safely through the online world.
Be Internet Aware
There’s no knowledge like first-hand knowledge. If you want to be able to communicate effectively with your kids about getting around the internet and avoiding its various pitfalls, then make yourself as internet savvy as possible.
Make sure your computer or laptop is protected by Anti-Virus software, allow your operating system (Windows, iOS) to perform security updates when prompted, and keep passwords strong, up to date and change them on a fairly regular basis.
If you find internet advertising annoying, you could also consider blocking them, via programs such as AdBlock, which work by being added to your internet browser.
There will be more on general internet security in another one of our guides.
Where possible, make sure that the computer your children are using to access the internet is in the same room as you, preferably a communal area such as the living room. That way, you can keep an eye on what they’re doing and quickly intervene if you notice a problem.
Particularly if you’re a parent of younger children, it’s a good idea to explore the web with them – talk to your kids about the things they enjoy doing online, and find them some safe websites where they can play games without you having to worry about inappropriate content sneaking through.
CBBC/CBeebies, Nick Jr and Disney all offer safe places for children to play online.
Chat to them about the importance of staying safe, not clicking on adverts, and not talking to strangers online.
You could also consider setting parental controls to restrict, time and monitor their movements online. More on those later.
Older children and teenagers
Keeping an eye on what your kids are doing gets a little trickier as they get older or start using laptops, tablets, mobile phones or handheld games consoles to access the internet. However, there are still ways to set passwords, parental controls and other safeguards.
If your children use chatrooms and forums, it’s really important that you make them aware that not everyone is who they claim to be, that they should not share personal information with anyone online, and they need to tell you about any new acquaintances they make.
In addition, your kids need to feel comfortable enough to be able to tell you if they’re having a problem with someone.
Older children and teenagers in particular are increasingly using social networking applications such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.
Talk to your kids about cyberbullying, peer pressure, and the importance of not disclosing personal information or sending pictures of themselves via apps such as these. Pictures in particular can get around social networking sites remarkably easily.
Again, it is vital that your children feel they have an outlet if they are having problems with someone or something online. Having an adult to talk to is important, whether it’s you, a teacher, the parent of a friend, or even a counsellor.
At the bottom of this guide, there are a few links to reliable and authoritative sources of advice and information about internet safety for young people.
Parental control software
Parental control tools allow you to do things like set restrictions on the type of websites your children can visit, set time limits on particular activities, and monitor internet activity.
Windows has its own Family Safety program, and there are apps available for mobile phones and tablets that do the same job. Amazon’s Kindle Fire has in-built parental control software, while other tablets may rely on outside applications (apps) either paid (one-off or subscription) or free. Some popular parental control apps for Android tablets are:
In addition, there are apps for iPad and Mac laptops/desktops, as well as applications designed to be used to restrict the content on specific internet sites, such as YouTube.
Most Internet providers offer a free parental control service as part of their broadband packages. Some examples include:
Sky Broadband Shield
BT Parental Controls
Virgin Media Security
EE’s Norton Family
There will be more specific information on how to set up the parental control software bundled with broadband packages in another of simplydigital.co.uk’s guides.
Finally, it might be a good idea to set up SafeSearch on whatever Internet browser you are using. SafeSearch automatically filters out adult/explicit content which otherwise your children may be exposed to. Type ‘SafeSearch’ into the browser you are using to find out how to set it up (it can vary between browsers).
Google has a children’s search engine here http://www.safesearchkids.com/google/#.VLlwPiusUZk
This not only filters out adult content in both its regular and image searches, but also filters out inappropriate videos and games.