The holiday season is here, and as the weather cools and the vacation days accumulate, children of all ages are likely to spend increasing amounts of time online. Whether on a phone, tablet, or computer, there are four essential areas you should make an effort to monitor so your kids stay as safe as possible this holiday season. Here are 4 things to track online to make sure your kids stay safe.
1. Time tracking and limiting features
The first step to ensuring that your kids stay safe online is confirming that they’re only accessing the web during hours when you are personally able to supervise them. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean standing over their shoulder watching their every move, but it does mean checking in and watching your child’s reaction to their online content within your purview. You can glean quite a bit about what they are doing online simply by watching them as they’re doing it. Additionally, by setting time limits in the device profile, you’ll be able to restrict their browsing. This helps to keep bedtimes intact and keeps kids from using the devices at inappropriate hours like the middle of the night or during dinner time. Many device providers offer different ways to do this from Microsoft’s Family profile settings to Google’s new Family Link App. Check with your specific device OS provider to see what they recommend.
2. Web filters and browsing histories
Your next step to ensuring a safe online environment once you know when they’re going is knowing where they’re going. There are hundreds of parental software options for any budget and technical level of need. It is important to look for three things in parental software. The first is that the software provides as complete a picture as possible about where your child has been online. This includes website names, full URL details, and the amount of time they spent there. The second component is a way to block inappropriate sites from being used. While most software offers an “on” switch to block inappropriate items, having a degree of customizability is crucial to navigate grey areas like 3rd party games and forums or social media. Finally, having a way for them to access sites they are always allowed to go to (educational sites for instance) ensures that kids have somewhere they know they can go, so they aren’t ambling around as they try to find the resources they are familiar with.
- Application blocking and monitoring
In addition to monitoring web traffic, it’s important to get a reading on application traffic (this is even more important than web traffic for tablets and smartphones). In many cases, blocking a website provides a workaround for students who are a little savvy and understand that the same kind of traffic can be accessed by downloading the app. In many cases, by using family profiles described above, you can avoid app circumvention by specifying which apps are available for download. Additionally, a device or PC can be setup with administrator and user profiles, making downloading new apps or programs without permission impossible.
- Chat and keystroke monitoring
Finally, while it’s still a taboo for grownups, there is much to be said for the effectiveness of chat and keystroke monitoring for children and adolescents. Often, the most dangerous part of the whole online experience doesn’t come from web or app content, but the live interaction that happens between peers or even strangers. Everything from bullying to grooming to trolling happens in keystrokes rather than web pages. For some devices, even with a family monitoring program installed, chat functions can still remain on a page, particularly for sites like Facebook or MMO online games, so the importance of checking for keystrokes cannot be overstated.
While the same dangers that exist during the holiday exist at other times, it’s the window of opportunity that gets so much wider during the holiday season that it needs special consideration. For some, using several different solutions at once is unmanageable, and so they take the all-in-one approach. For other parents, another monthly bill just is not feasible. But for all parents, keeping your kids near you, in earshot, and having a conversation with them about online safety this holiday season will go a long way towards keeping them safe online.