Top tips for computer safety and keeping kids safe online. Keep devices safe, data secure and your loved ones protected.
Computers, laptops, tablets, cell phones, how many of these devices do you have in your home? I remember the first time we checked our router and realized we had a dozen devices on our network. A dozen! For a family of four, with two of the kids under ten years old. It’s been a couple of years since we hit that threshold and I know the number is much higher now.
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Technology has become an integral part of our lives, we embrace it with enthusiasm and passion, but as parents there is also a layer of worry and stress. How can I keep my kids safe online? What about these very expensive devices, how can I protect our investment? And equally important, how can I protect all of our personal data and information from faceless criminals? It’s confusing and intimidating for many, but you can protect your family, property and information. It is possible and it doesn’t need to cost a fortune or take a lot of time. As a tech savvy family, here are our top parenting tips for computer safety and keeping your kids safe online.
Technology is a fabulous conduit to learning and knowledge, it is also one of the most powerful drivers in our society. Where we live the government has stopped many paper delivery notice programs and you can now only get reminders for things like driver’s license renewals by text message or email. Our schools and many of the community education programs now have “bring your own device” policies for kids. No device, no education. And our homeschool? Technology is a vital part of our daily learning and connection to amazing resources. Not using technology is no longer an option. We use it in almost every facet of our lives, and this will be even truer in the future.
With all of this new technology comes the big question: How can we use it safely?
But even that one seemingly simple question is complex with so many variables: firewalls, parental controls, anti-virus, anti-phishing, malware, ransomware, anti-theft, and more. It’s no wonder so many people are left confused, frustrated and lost, and most of all vulnerable.
So let’s cut through all that confusion, and get you protecting your family confidently and effectively.
Keeping kids safe online
Just the other day my husband and I were talking about our boys and computer safety. Our oldest is a tween and he was arguing with us about some of our computer safety rules. He was trusting one of his online friends more than our rules.
Now, we all know that in the tween and teen years friends become the centre of many children’s lives. It’s a natural progression from being parent focused to becoming more independent. I’m sure we can all remember when we thought our parents’ rules were dumb and we just wanted to hang with our friends.
But what this generation of parents is facing for the first time in history is faceless friends. The people we meet only through keyboards and screens. Often we don’t even know their voices or real names. We can’t even be 100% sure we’ve see their true faces.
That’s the concern for parents. We can’t even be sure the “friends” our kids are making online are even children in their age range.
It’s scary. And this is one parenting challenge I can’t call my mother about.
After our recent head butting with our son on computer safety I knew we had to do a proper lesson on safety, for all of us. Working with my husband who ran IT security for a billion dollar company for over 16 years, we came up with the key facts, rules and knowledge we need our kids to understand to keep them safe. I know we are not the only family facing this struggle, so for everyone, here is our lesson. I hope you find it helpful.
There are three facets to computer safety:
Keeping the devices safe
Keeping data safe
Keeping people safe
So now we know the three main areas of technology safety, let’s break it down a bit.
Keeping devices safe
This involves protecting your actual computers, tablets, phones and any other electronic devices. We need to protect them from theft, damage, rough use, electrical damage and any other physical threats.
This means: Be gentle with your electronics. Try not to drop them or hammer on keyboards or the screen/mouse. We started teaching this right from the first time we let our kids use a device. If they can’t be gentle and respectful, they don’t get to use the device. It’s also a really good idea to buy protective covers for portable devices that can cushion it in case of a drop.
Make sure you only plug devices into a protected outlet such as a surge protector or even better a UPS battery. We keep all of our electronics plugged into UPS battery, except the homeschool computer which we had only plugged into a power bar with a surge protector. This was a big mistake, and we learned our lesson the hard way. This past summer during a storm we had a power surge that fried our power bar and the homeschool computer. It couldn’t be saved and we had to buy a whole new computer for homeschooling. It was a very costly mistake. One we won’t make again. The new computer is plugged into a UPS.
When taking portable devices out with you, keep them in a secure place when not in use. And consider installing a tracking program so if your device is lost or stolen you have a chance of tracking its location and getting it back.
Keeping data safe
We use our computers and devices for almost everything and with that comes a lot of our personal data being transmitted and stored.
There is a lot of fantastic information on keeping your personal information safe but I’ll focus mainly on how it relates to our kids and keeping our kids safe online.
Don’t ever share your passwords with anyone. Passwords are for your use only. Parents should have all passwords to every program and website their children are accessing, this includes social media when kids are first starting out. As children mature into their teen years, this requirement can be relaxed.
Don’t ever share your last name, birthdate, address, or phone number with anyone. If your personal details are needed for something, parents must be involved.
Links to cool new videos, games, websites and more are a lot of fun to share, but don’t ever click on a link unless you know and trust the sender 100%. Even then, proceed with caution. Don’t download anything without full consent and approval from your parents.
Once they are old enough you should teach children how to hover over links to see where they are going before clicking, and what to look for in a safe link.
In the same vein, once they have their own email address, teach kids how to detect spam. Show them how to analyze the header information in emails to determine if the sender is legitimate or a scammer.
Parents should ensure virus protection software and firewall software is installed on all devices and kept up to date. they should also ensure the home WIFI is kept secured and locked down with an appropriately complex password. These steps provide a great deal of protection to keep kids safe online.
Children should learn the difference between private networks that are secure, such as your home network, and public networks, such as at school or the library. They need to learn what is safe to do on public networks and what to avoid. Obviously they are not providing credit card details or anything like that, but it is a good practice to develop awareness around the networks your information is traveling on. This could help protect them in the future.
Just like you need to be alert and aware in a crowd to avoid pickpockets, you need to be alert and aware while on the crowded web.
Keeping people safe
When it comes to the internet and technology, one of the most important things to keep in mind is safety and security. Children should learn from their earliest uses that they shouldn’t share personal information online. I would also recommend that you use pseudonyms for your children, especially if they want to play online games.
One tip I recommend to all parents is that devices only be used in public areas of the home until a child is old enough to be trusted. This allows you to be present while they are surfing on their tablets or playing games like Minecraft. You don’t need to be actively watching over their shoulder, but being in the room can do a lot to protect your child and keep kids safe online.
And if you are a gamer or extra cool parent, hop online and join in on some of those games like Minecraft. Your kids will love playing with you… until they don’t, but they will have learned a lot of good practices by playing online with you that will stay with them once they venture out solo.
And since you are the “cool parent”, kids are more likely to feel you will understand any questions that arise during their time on technology since you have spent time in that world together.
Pictures are a touchy subject for many. Children should be taught to never send pictures to anyone without your approval and knowledge. As they become older they need to learn that they should never send pictures of themselves to someone they don’t personally know and trust. And of course, the obvious is true, the Internet is not the place to share photos of children in any sort of state of undress.
I could write a whole book on keeping kids safe online but I will add one more thing on the topic of protecting people online, don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the news being judged by millions of people. We’ve seen it again and again where a person is thrust into the limelight suddenly and what is one of the first things that happens? Their social media profiles and photos get shared all over the place including on media outlets. Protect yourself and your family. Always be cautious about what you share online. Think twice before you click that share or post button.
We went through this whole lesson with my tween son. We talked on each point and by the end of the conversation we had reached a much better understanding of how technology fits in our family, and why we have the rules that we do. I think that made a lot of difference for our son. Understanding the “why” behind our rules and knowing that they aren’t arbitrary or because we “are mean”, but because we care, have knowledge on this subject and, above all else, want to keep our kids safe online in this techie world.
Happy and safe surfing!