If you're a parent, your family's safety is one of your primary concerns. You may spend hours shopping for the safest car seat, constantly tell your kids to buckle their seatbelts, and regularly check out the window when they're playing outside. Knowing what a dangerous place the internet can be, it may be terrifying that those scary things can come into your own house.
Fortunately, you don't have to cut the cord, wrap the house in aluminum foil to block out the wi-fi, or throw the computer in a dumpster in order to keep your family safe. The key is to be careful and make sure your kids (and you!) are aware of those dangers so that they can use the internet safely.
1. Get involved and know what your kids are doing online
It's amazing just how savvy kids have become when it comes to technology. There's even a good chance that your kids know more about using the internet than you do--so fix that. Particularly when your kids are young, monitor them when they are playing online. Know what sorts of sites they're visiting and who they're talking to. It's tempting to just hand a young child your tablet and tell them to go play, but using the internet as a babysitter is inadvisable.
Even as your children get older, it's completely within your rights as their parent to ask them what they're doing and with whom. Teenagers don't require the same sort of constant supervision that younger children do, but pop in from time to time to check on them. You don't need to be accusatory about it, but still be willing to check in fairly often. Ann Brenoff has some cool ideas on how to know more about your kids activity online without them knowing.
At the same time, let your children know that they can talk to you about anything they come across online without fear or shame. Make it easy for them to approach you about the things they may see online, whether intentionally or by accident. That way, they will be much less likely to keep it a secret and explore further on their own.
2. Set--and enforce--house rules
Consistency is key, so set rules early, and stick to them. This should include things from how much time family members are allowed to spend online to which sites they may visit to which rooms they're allowed to access the internet from. According to the PEW Research Center 55% of adults actively monitor and limit the amount of time their kids can spend online. And even though the circumstances are different for kids and parents, there may even be some rules that extend to the adults.
You might post a list, or even create a contract that everyone in the family signs. The way you might have rules of video game or use of gadgets like gaming projector, it is important to have house rules internet use as well. Once the rules are set, though, enforce them, or they'll quickly become irrelevant and ignored.
3. Teach your kids about safe social media practices
Social media can be both one of the most rewarding and one of the most damaging areas of the internet, so teach your kid about the consequences of being careless. Remind them that anything they post online can't be erased, so they should carefully consider anything they right before clicking "Post."
They also should be mindful of their privacy and know to never give private information like their real name, phone number, email address, physical address, or even what school they attend. It's not a comfortable conversation, but let them know about some of the dangers and people that are out there. Don't be hysterical about it, or it may have the opposite effect and convince the kids that you're just being irrational; be confident and firm.
Make sure they know not to get together in person with anyone they "meet" online, and once again, make sure that they feel comfortable talking to you about anything they see or experience online.
4. Keep the computer in a central, visible spot
It's a lot easier for kids--or even adults--to get in trouble online if they're in a private room with the door closed. According to Evan Gentry, the CEO of Fizber (a home selling portal), where you locate your computer in the house is significant in ensuring kid's safety. So, keep your computer in a public area. Don't let your kids sleep with laptops or phones in their room, either. Set a specific time when mobile devices get turned in. (This also makes it easy to keep them charged overnight!) If the need for quiet becomes an issue and a computer in a different room becomes absolutely necessary, then consider disconnecting it from the internet.
5. Install software tools to help
There is a wide variety of tools available to help parents keep their kids safe online, from parental controls to phishing and malware protection. Sometimes your kids can wander onto sites that have been infected with malware without even realizing that they need to look out for it, and those sites can download harmful programs or activate popups that contain images you don't want your child to see.
While you can't keep track of everything that everyone in your home does online, software solutions can help. According to Blue Coat, "It's impossible to control exactly where everyone in your family goes on the Web at every moment of the day. Simply thinking about having that sort of control can be a nightmare, but modern security tools ... make it easy to monitor and regulate Internet activity. Something as simple as putting a filter on Web navigation can be all the difference between a safe Internet experiences and introducing new malware to your computer."
By installing and setting up software to block these sites preemptively, you can prevent your kids from accidentally winding up somewhere that they shouldn't be.
One of the things I learnt in a recent interview with Sam Zakarin, the CEO of HSC Warranty (one of the home service club in the nation), is that keeping family safe is not just about installing home alarm system or aby monitor, it is also keeping the Internet Safe for the whole families.