9 tips for keeping your kids safe online

beach sceneIt’s summertime! Time to break out the sunscreen, the beach towels, and teach your kids about online safety. Yeah, you heard me right. I said Internet safety. June is Internet Safety Month while it might seem a little random, it’s actually pretty fitting. With school out, kids have more time to play outdoors AND online.

Protecting your kids with helmets and other safety gear is relatively easy and observable. You can see if they’re up to and have a little bit more control. But, once your kids are online, it’s hard to know exactly what they’re up to unless you sit and watch every keystroke or click of the mouse.

The good news is that there are easy things you can do help keep your kids safe (and feel better about walking away and letting your child be on the Internet alone).

Here’s my list of online safety tips based on what the experts say and my own experience as a mom of two:

1. Check out kids.gov, GetWise.org, and/or NetSmartz Workshop. These sites have all kinds of information (including age-specific recommendations) for how to stay safe online. While I’ll admit that some of the info is a bit “public service announcement” in tone, there is a lot of valuable information here for both kids and adults. There are conversation starters, tips for surfing safely, games–all kinds of goodness. It’s worth taking 10-15 minutes to look over what they’ve got.

2. Keep your computer in a high-traffic area. The idea here is to make it easier to monitor what your children are looking at and doing online. You’ll see this suggestion on a lot of online safety websites and it’s not a bad one necessarily. But (you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?) kids can access the Internet on phones and iPods/iPads. Unless you’re going to make your kid sit right in front of you with their mobile device in a high-traffic area, read the next tip.

3. Remove the YouTube and Safari apps off of your kid’s iPod/iPad. There are directions here for how to do this. This is my own suggestion. Our kids aren’t entirely happy we’ve done this, but we did it anyway. Now that our oldest is 12, we’ve given her YouTube access, but we still don’t want her surfing the entire Internet without any controls or monitors.

4. Turn on YouTube’s “Safe Search” mode. If my previous suggestion is too drastic for you, maybe this setting is a better fit. Enabling Safe Search will help prevent anything not kid friendly from appearing when you search. It’s not 100%, but it does do a decent job at limiting inappropriate content. There are good directions here for turning on this setting.

5. Bookmark your kids’ favorite sites so they can access them quickly without searching. We have generally found that our kids like to go to the same places over and over (and over, and over, and over). Bookmarking keeps them from the wild frontier that is Google.

6. Consider “friending” your child on all social media sites they have joined. This will give you a sense of who your child is in contact with and whether they know them in the real world. This is what my sister has done with her daughter (mine isn’t on any social media yet). You don’t have to be intrusive, but it can give you a window on your child’s online life.

7. Create separate user accounts for your computer. Most operating systems allow you to create different accounts where you can establish individual file and Internet access privileges. We’re big believers in this technique and have permissions set fairly tightly for going off the beaten path. For instance, if the kids want access to a new website they have to come and ask either me or my husband to enter a password. Most of the time it’s not an issue because they go to the same sites again and again (see number 5). But when they want to go somewhere new, it’s a rather gentle way for us to keep tabs on where they’re going. I also highly recommend the technique for another reason—I like that MY stuff is safe! If the kids have their own profiles they can’t accidentally muck around with my settings, files, and bookmarks which tend to get changed (or could be accidentally deleted) with errant mouse clicks. Here’s how to set up different user accounts in Windows 7 and here’s how to do it on a Mac.

8. Explore the parental control options available on your Internet browser. Many, such as Internet Explorer, allow you to restrict or allow certain websites to be viewed on your computer. Check under the Tools menu for these options. As I said, we usually go higher level by using profiles, but this can be a great, quick solution.

9. Talk to your children about how to make good choices and think critically about how they use the Internet. Remind them to never give out their personal information or passwords (see #1 for some resources for having that conversation). I know this seems like a big “duh” but it’s a good thing to remember (after all, they can’t seem to remember you asked them to pick up their dirty socks about 1,000 times). Kids don’t know this stuff instinctively and they’re naturally so open. It’s up to us to remind them that although the Internet seems very friendly, it can also have its dangers.

And, while it’s a little after the fact, remember that if you need to, you can always check the browsing history on a computer. You can also do this on an iPod or iPad (here are some instructions for how to do it). Better to be late having an important talk than never having it at all!

How about you? Do have any suggestions to add to the list?

About Missy Kellor

Missy works on the Corporate Communications team and reports stories to TDS employees and customers. This is right up her alley because she’s an extrovert and also a big fan of research (really, she’ll look up just about anything that strikes her interest). Missy is a native of Madison, Wis. with an undergraduate in Anthropology and a master’s degree in Life Sciences Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her interest in the Internet as a mass media shaped her work towards a PhD in Journalism and Mass Communications. She’s also worked as an editorial assistant, copywriter, and production artist. In her off hours, Missy is a crafter, Pinterest addict, reader, wife, and mom of two kids. You can find Missy on G+ and on Twitter.

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