In today's connected smartphone generation, we worry about our kids' exposure to dangers found on the Internet: pornography, sexting, cyber-bullying and identity theft, among others.
Here are five ways to keep your kids safe.
1. Talk to your kids about the Internet
Teach kids safe Internet browsing habits. Tell them to be careful where they click (ads, pop-ups, unknown emails, etc). Talk to them about inappropriate material. Talk to them about what they should do if they are exposed to inappropriate material. Set up an Internet drill. If anything happens, they should stop and get an adult.
While talking to your kids about the Internet, set up an online guideline for your house. Here is an example of an online guideline. Make a guideline of your own, print it out. Even sign it. This guideline is to instruct your kids what they can and cannot do on the Internet, no matter how, when or where they access the Internet.
2. Get filtered
We all hear about filters. You may have installed a filter on your home computer. However, does your school have a filter? Does your local library have a filter? Who installed the filter? Did they install it on all new computers this year? When did they install it? Does it need to be updated? Work with school administrators and local civic leaders to make sure libraries and schools have adequate Web filtering in place.
Do you have filters installed? If not, don't worry. There are plenty of free solutions to help you. Here are links to video tutorials that will show you how to install them: How to install OpenDNS, How to install K9 Web filter.
Your kids may have smartphones or other mobile devices. Get those devices locked down and filtered. Install a filtered Web browser on the device and disable all other browsers. The K9 application is free. Here is a link to a tutorial on how to lockdown an Apple mobile device.
Don't to forget to turn on Safe Search. Many school projects tend to lead to YouTube and Google image searches. Block possible inappropriate material from coming through the search by turning on the Safe Search: How to turn on Google Safe Search. YouTube for Kids.
3. Check their credit
Although this may seem strange, there has been an increased amount of child identity theft as reported in this recent KSL story. A child's Social Security number is used to open credit cards, purchase cars and perform other fraudulent activities. Check your child's credit once a year. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com. This website is secure and provides a free "soft" inquiry to the three main credit agencies. It does not give a credit score, but it will list all open lines of credit. A soft inquiry once a year will not affect their credit score. However, ignoring their credit score until they turn 18 may ruin their credit.
4. Charge phones and mobile devices in the kitchen
We all know that we need to keep our computer in a public location. Well, that iPod, smartphone and tablet are just as powerful as a computer. Do you want them to be brought into your kids' bedrooms? Even if the content is filtered, you wouldn't want them to be texting, skyping, using FaceTime or performing any other form of communication all night long. Charge all devices (even yours to set an example) in the kitchen. You can then unplug the chargers in the morning, which is helpful for the environment.
5. Be a little 'shy' on the Internet
Certain aspects of the Internet help to satisfy our need to connect with others. We want to share. We want to friend. We want to like everything. We want to post pictures and videos. However, as parents we need to be careful about our kids' privacy and interactions on the Internet. Once you post, share, text or tweet something on the Internet, it is impossible to completely retrieve it. Teach your kids to think before they post.
We all love Facebook, but do you really need 400 friends? Teach your kids to take it slow on Facebook. It is not a competition of who can have the most friends. They need to have good, meaningful friendships at school and on the Internet. This could also prevent cyber-bullying that is happening more often that we realize. Restrict your child's Facebook privacy settings. "Friends only" is key. Here is a link to a video tutorial on how to adjust the privacy settings: Facebook privacy settings.
Your children's Internet profiles will follow them the rest of their lives as they apply for college and jobs. Help your kids keep a clean and positive Internet profile.
Teach them great things on the Internet
Do you kids have a random question? Show them how to search for the best answer.
Do they like to write? Let them start a blog. You can set up the blog to restrict access to invited readers only.
Do they want to get more involved in a cause? Help them start a social group (twitter, Facebook, blog) to promote a worthy cause.
Do they like to be creative? Let them film a video and post it online. Vimeo is a great video sharing platform that has more restrictive features than YouTube.
Do they have a great idea? Research the idea on the Internet. See if anyone else has done it. Maybe let them start a small business and run with it.
As you can see, the Internet is a great vehicle to enrich your kids' lives. Just make sure your kids have fastened the seat belt and you are a close by as they learn how to drive.
Cathy Olsen is an IT security professional, mother of four and