Guest post: Keeping kids safe online

Safety Patrol We recently saw Emma Jeffs, Norton’s Internet Safety Advocate for the UK, talking about online safety at a blogger parenting event, and she had some powerful suggestions and statistics to share.

We asked her to write a guest post to share the tips and tactics with all of you, but we'd love to hear your experiences of dodging digital difficulties too. 

The way children use the internet today has changed significantly with kids experiencing the online world at a much younger age, from a range of devices, and often unsupervised. We know the internet is a fantastic learning tool and a great place to inspire creativity and interaction, but as parents we also need to be aware about some of the dangers so we can keep our kids safe. 

It’s sometimes hard to keep up with your child’s activities online, particularly when we can’t supervise them 24/7. The LSE Report with launched in September 2011 reported that the average UK child goes online for around 88 minutes every day. The report showed that 49% of UK kids aged between 9-16 years-old use the internet in their bedrooms, 63% go online at school and 33% have access to the web via a mobile device.

Norton’s own research also shows that 55% of parents only know sometimes what their kids are doing online. It certainly makes you think. The techniques used today by cybercriminals to target people online has matured which can catch out both kids and adults alike. We can all fall into trouble by unknowingly clicking on a dodgy link or downloading what a child may think is a “fun new game” when really it is a piece of malicious software or a virus which could potentially wipe everything from your computer or steal your personal information.

To put it into perspective, the Norton Online Family Report also showed that 55% of UK kids have experienced a negative situation online – everything from downloading a virus and online bullying, to seeing content that upset them. 

It’s important for parents to start an open and positive dialogue with their kids about the internet and online etiquette, so kids can enjoy the online world, and do so safely. To help parents start that conversation, Norton has a free online tool called Norton Online Family that can help you understand what your kids are doing online, which websites they are visiting and what type of information they are seeking or giving away. You can also set a timer to restrict how long your children spend online. 

In the meantime here are my tips for safer online surfing experiences:

What are your children posting online?

Be sure to talk to your children about the messages and photos they post online. Kids love social networking sites and instant messenger programmes where they spend a lot of time sharing personal information and chatting with friends. This is exactly why cybercriminals spend time on there. If you or your child receives a friend request from someone you don’t know, don’t accept it. Very often they are spammers who will then bombard you with Web links that are designed to lead you to dangerous websites or inappropriate content. 

How much information is available online about you and your family?

Have you every ‘Googled’ yourself and your family members to see what information is available about you and your kids online? Take a look and alter your social network privacy settings to keep your ‘stuff’ private. 

Is your child a victim of online bullying? 

If your kids join social networking websites, ask to see any profile or web page they create regularly to keep an eye on their online activities. If they are a victim of online bullying, you may notice that your child seems to be sad or angry after using a mobile phone or computer. This would be a good opportunity to ask them what the problem might be. A gentle probe may reveal that they are the victim of a cyber bully or witnessing attacks on other friends. It's our responsibility to make sure our children are neither victims nor bullies, or more commonly, silent observers. 

How strong are your passwords?

Make sure to practice good password management and security – never share your passwords with others. It is best to have different passwords for different sites. This way, even if one of your online sites is hacked into, a scammer won’t be able to go through your details and log into all your other sites with the same password. Try not to write your passwords down and stick them on your computer and be sure to change your passwords frequently. Your kids should do the same. 

–Emma Jeffs,

Have you broached the topic of online safety with your children and do you know how to help them if they run into a situation that makes them uncomfortable or upset? 

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About Holly Seddon

Holly Seddon is a writer, editor and community consultant and helped launched the community for Adoption UK, which won charity website of the year just 9 months later. She also writes a music blog.