Like all fathers in the world, I want the best for my children, including the ability to leverage the latest in technology. In today’s world, my children need to understand technology not only to be competitive in their education and careers but also in many cases to develop and maintain active social lives. However, with these capabilities come risks – risks that my children are often not aware of or prepared to deal with. I am in the lucky position to know a lot of these risks due to my daily work in IT, and nearly every day I am scared about the ignorance and lack of knowledge from many parents I am talking to. As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure our children understand these risks and how to protect themselves. Therefore I want to explain the top three threats to our children and how we can help them stay safe online.
TOP THREE THREATS
To protect your children, you have to first understand the dangers they face online. By understanding these dangers, you and your children will be able to work together better to defend against them.
- Strangers: Dangerous strangers are one of the most common threats most parents think of. These are individuals who establish relationships with your children in order to take advantage of them. Such individuals may attempt to befriend your children or pretend to be children themselves.
- Friends: Cyber bullying is a growing problem on the Internet and one that as a parent you may underestimate. Bullying has always existed, but the Internet amplifies the issue as bullies can post harassing messages to the entire world and even hijack your child’s identity online. In addition, bullies can remain anonymous on the Internet, making them harder to track down and stop.
- Themselves: In today’s world of social networking, children can be their own worst enemy. Anything they post is not only accessible to the entire world but once posted may be difficult or even impossible to remove. What your children may not realize is how these postings can impact their future. It became standard practice for universities or hiring organizations to review the social networking activities of student candidates or new hires to gain a better understanding of their potential. If your children have anything embarrassing or illegal posted about them, it may be held against them. In addition, highly personal information can be used by strangers - or even by friends - to target or harm them.
PROTECTING YOUR CHILDREN
Now that you understand the key risks, here are steps you can take to defend against them.
- Education: The most important step you can take is education. No single technology or computer program is going to solve all the dangers your children face online. Make sure you are always talking to them about their online activities, and stay current with what they are doing. In addition, create an environment where your children feel comfortable coming to you with questions or problems they may have online.
- Dedicated Computer: Have a separate computer just for your children. This ensures that if they do accidentally infect their computer, your online accounts, such as online banking, are not affected or compromised. In addition, keep the children’s dedicated computer in a public, high-traffic area so that you can monitor their online activities. Finally, make sure each child has and uses his own non-administrative account on the computer. This will allow you to more easily track what each child is doing on the computer.
- Rules: Create a set of rules you expect your children to follow when online. Also, consider how the rules will be enforced and possible consequences for violating the rules. Review this set with your kids and then post it as a document by their computer or in some other visible area. This way your children will know and understand your expectations.
- Monitoring: Children are by nature trusting and curious. Unfortunately, as parents we know that this can sometimes lead to dangerous or painful situations. So monitor your children’s activities; they simply do not realize how dangerous the world can be. Help them to identify issues and discuss these issues together so that they can build a safe online presence. Most security software like Norton Internet Security has already parental controls that help you to monitor their activities, or you can simply add programs that give you greater monitoring capabilities.
- Filtering: In addition, you may want to filter your children’s online activities, such as restricting which websites they can visit. This is especially important for younger children, as it protects them from accidentally accessing dangerous or unwanted content. Just like monitoring, most computers have basic parental controls that enable you to filter their activities, or you can add programs like Norton Internet Security that give you greater capabilities. However, as children grow older filtering becomes less effective. Not only do children need greater access, such as for school or work, but they will be also accessing the Internet with devices you do not control, such as computers in libraries, at a friend’s house, or at school. This is why ultimately education is the most important step you can take.
In particular, I see parents protecting the notebook or desktop at home, but don’t do anything on the kid’s smartphone. I had the same dilemma when my teenage daughter got a full featured Android smartphone. After some research and evaluations I found a very accurate solution:
- Install an app locker that will allow you to lock each app individually with a master code, like Settings or Play Store. I use App Lock which does everything I need, but there are a few others in Android Play Store or Apple App Store that also work well.
- Install Norton Online Family. It is free of charge in the standard version and works on Windows, Mac, Android and iOS. After creating a Norton account you can setup profiles for your kids, block or setup warnings on web sites, define time restrictions, do whitelisting or blacklisting of websites, setup monitor and warning notifications, etc. I know your kids won’t like the idea to be monitored by their parents. My daughter didn’t like the idea. Therefore I talked to her and showed her what I can actually see in the system, which is less intrusive than she was thinking. So now she is OK with it.
- If you think malware like viruses, trojans and spam doesn't affect smartphones, you are wrong. In particular on Android platform, malware is exponentially growing (i.e. see https://www-secure.symantec.com/connect/blogs/linux-kernel-exploit-ported-android). Therefore you should install a smartphone security software like Norton Mobile Security to avoid becoming a victim of malicious applications. In addition, I always recommend that you should only use reputable marketplaces for downloading and installing applications.
If you need further information or guidance, please do not hesitate to contact me for any further question.