This generation’s kids are born into a networked world in which more and more things are linked over the internet. Online activities are inseparable from other aspects of life. The internet is tied up in how they learn, bond with friends, explore their identities, and express themselves.
While the internet allows kids to grow, however, it also presents threats: harmful content, malicious people and software, and illicit surveillance to name a few. Fortunately, there are a number of simple but effective steps you can take to keep kids safe online. By being proactive about internet safety, you can give your kids the headstart they need in making the most of what the internet can offer.
The kind of content kids access online is a major concern for most parents, especially when it comes to younger children. The internet provides a lot of educational material and wholesome entertainment, but it also host a lot of questionable content. The divide between the two isn’t always clear, as shown in the controversy over YouTube Kids.
Creating a more controlled online environment is fairly easy, though. You can start off younger kids with browsers and search engines designed for kids. There are several to choose from, targeted at a variety of age ranges. For older kids, you could try browser-based restrictions or ask your ISP if they provide parental controls.
In all cases, however, remember that these don’t work perfectly with user generated content (as the YouTube Kids example proves). It’s best to keep kids away from that until you’re sure they can discern for themselves where they should or should not be going on the internet.
Keeping the Threats Out
Viruses and malware are another problem kids can run into online. The consequences of having your device infected with these programs can vary: it might mean unwanted pop-ups (with questionable content), flooding your browser, or damage to your software, or data theft.
Most operating systems these days come with built-in security software, covering virus and malware protection. As long as you keep these up-to-date, they should provide adequate protection. If you feel like it’s not enough, though, there are several free or paid options you can choose from.
You can also cut down on risk by using ad blocking software. Online ads are susceptible to infection and they can pass on malware rapidly. Many ads are designed to mimic site features, which could lead kids to click them by mistake. Worse still are ads that can infect a computer as soon as they load on a page. Ad blockers prevent ads from loading, however, ensuring that you’re safe from “malvertising.”
Stay Private with a VPN
Yet another danger that kids face online is unwanted surveillance. By monitoring data packets that are sent out from your devices, third parties can monitor your messages, transaction history, and even personal or account information.
You can prevent outsiders from examining your data by using a virtual private network or VPN service. A VPN establishes an encrypted tunnel between your devices and a server or endpoint controlled by the service provider. This prevents outsiders from examining the data the goes into or out of your network. Take care when choosing a VPN, though, since some free services fund their operations by selling user information themselves.
Supervision and Guidance
All of these tips are much more effective if you take the time to teach your kids about how to conduct themselves online. When they understand—on a level appropriate to their age, at least—what kind of trouble they might find on the Web and how they can avoid it, they’ll be better equipped to handle themselves.
Better yet, if they can become mature, responsible, and kind participants in their online communities, we may one day see an internet become a better place than it is today.