There’s so much information these days about how to keep your children safe online, and I spend hours perusing it daily in order to share the most useful stuff with parents. A lot of what I read is repetitive and some of it is not overly useful, however sometimes I read something that literally makes my jaw drop open. It’s one of those moments that has inspired me to write this post.
A Scary Statistic
As advised by Daily Mail Australia in January 2017, in a global survey asking 13,000 parents about their children’s habits online, more than 50% of parents apparently admitted they had no idea what their children were up to online.
With the internet being stacked full of dangers such as inappropriate content (like violence and porn), predators, cyber bullying and more, this is a really concerning statistic.
Why Aren’t Parents Tracking Their Children’s Activity Online?
Interestingly, another finding in a survey of one thousand parents was that a third of the parents who didn’t know what their children were doing online would monitor their children’s online activity if there was an easier way to do it.
Adding to the challenge for parents of course is a chronic lack of time. Most if not all parents I speak with (myself included) are seriously struggling to fit everything they want to do into the limited time they have.
In other words, for many parents it’s too hard and too time consuming. I believe we can deal with both of these issues.
Is Time Management A Factor In Keeping Your Children Safe Online?
If you’ve ever done any time management courses you may have heard the idea that time management is more about priorities than anything else. I’ve been told that since we all have the same 24 hours to spend each day, the things we say we don’t have time to do are actually the things we don’t feel are as important as the things we do get done. They could also be the things that we just don’t want to do!
I have to say, the first time I heard that idea I didn’t like it too much. What right does someone I don’t even know have to tell me what’s important to me and what isn’t? And how do they know what I want to do and what I don’t want to do?
However the more I thought about the concept, the more I had to admit there’s a lot of truth in it.
When I say I don’t have time to do something, it’s often (although not always!) code for “I don’t want to do that so I’ll give the standard lack of time excuse”. If something is urgent and that important then you can always find time to do it.
Not yet convinced? Imagine you have a busy day planned with the family. You’re at the shops buying gifts you’ve left until the last minute to buy (oops!), having a quick break for lunch. Your son has crawled under the table and manages to hit his head hard on the table top. He screams at the top of his lungs, there’s blood streaming out of his head and he’s inconsolable.
There’s only one thing you can do next; you take him to the emergency department at the hospital, which hopefully isn’t too far away. Of course you don’t have time for a hospital visit, but it’s going to happen anyway because suddenly that’s right at the top of your list of priorities.
The Good News
I’m a parent just like you, also struggling for time to do the things I want and feel I need to do. And I definitely understand why all parents seem to be in the same boat. Life gets crazy and we’re all just doing our best to stay on top of things.
The good news in this instance is that keeping your children safe online is actually easier now than it used to be. It may not take as much time as you think, nor be as difficult as you think, to monitor what your children are actually doing when they’re online. And you only have to think about the risks of your children getting in trouble online to realize that this is something to prioritise.
Why Prioritise Monitoring Your Children’s Online Activities?
Too many children are unwittingly ruining their lives with their online activities. Whether it’s posting inappropriate images of themselves, getting consumed with porn, being groomed by a predator or being cyber bullied to death (literally), this is simply no longer something you can afford to put on the back-burner. Your child’s well-being and possibly even their life may well be at stake; surely nothing could be more important than that?
How To Keep Your Children Safe Online
There are several things you can do to monitor what your children are doing online that won’t take up every spare second of your day. There are also some useful apps and software that can help you out. Here are a few helpful tips.
Talk, Talk, And Talk Some More
I take every possible opportunity to communicate with my children about what they’re doing online, and the risks they face there. This isn’t to scare the living daylights out of them, as I want them to enjoy their time online. But they have to be aware of what happens online so that they can build up their own resilience as quickly as possible.
From an early age (ie as soon as your children are online), it’s helpful to have conversations with them about things like:
- the inappropriate content they might see online and what to do about it
- porn and why it’s wrong
- the fact that plenty of people online are not who they say they are
- not to believe everything they see just because it’s online
- the concept that what goes online stays online
…and so much more.
The ultimate goal is for your children to manage their own online activities safely. However they’ll need your guidance before this is possible.
Don’t Underestimate Your Children
Our children are so smart, and so tech-savvy. When you talk to them you realize just how much they know at a very early age – no wonder so many of us find that completely overwhelming!
There’s a good chance your children probably know more than you think they do, which is possibly more than you’d like them to know! Things have changed a lot with the digital age.
If they want to hide their online activities, they’re probably smart enough to do so. It doesn’t take much to clear your browser history, and kids can find plenty of videos on YouTube teaching them various ways to cover their tracks online. So while you’re intent on keeping your children safe online, they may be actively working against you in order to access information or platforms you’d rather they not see.
The trick then if you want to know how to keep your children safe online, is to keep the lines of communication wide open. That way your children (hopefully) won’t feel like they have to hide what they’re doing from you in the first place.
Why You Shouldn’t Spy On Your Kids
Whilst I believe in open communication with your children over and above using technology to help, there are times when apps can really be helpful. However it’s important that your children know you can see what they’re getting up to, and that you’re not secretly “spying” on them. Being secretive will not help your relationship with your children…and in any case, if your children don’t know you’re monitoring their activity, how will you respond if you find something’s wrong?
Some apps allow you to see every message your children send and receive. I don’t see much value in this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, who has time to look at every message sent and received by their children? Most of us are struggling to keep up with our own messages!
Secondly, there’s no need to see every single conversation your child is engaged in. Most of it will most likely be innocent, and that really is an unnecessary invasion of privacy.
What you really want is to be alerted of instances where your children may be in trouble, and need your help and guidance. There are several apps that specifically bring these situations to your attention without you having to plough through a heap of extra data. These apps are not free of charge, but the value provided generally exceeds the price you’ll pay.
Some of those apps include:
This app can be installed on all of your children’s devices to help protect them from common risks associated with being online. Based on the ages of your children you can manage what they can and can’t see, and how much time they spend online. You also get alerted immediately if something isn’t right, i.e. if there are words indicating cyber bullying, an online predator, swearing etc. This will definitely help you with your mission of keeping your children safe online.
The Surfie app offers a 1 month free trial so you can try before you buy, and is then available as an ongoing monthly subscription.
This app can monitor your children’s use of social media platforms including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Reddit and Tinder. Unfortunately Snapchat isn’t included on the list (yet – fingers crossed it will be in future), however once children start using social media, most use more than one platform, and would most likely be on at least one of the platforms covered by Safe Kids Pro.
The app alerts you in real time if your children may be involved in cyber bullying (as either the victim or perpetrator), if they’re communicating with strangers (who could be predators), and when they share private information including photos and images. This allows you to intervene before a situation becomes too ugly, which is very valuable as prevention is always far better and easier than a cure.
You can sign up to use SafeKidsPro for free so there’s really nothing to lose (down the track if you wish to continue using this app there’s a small annual fee to pay).
This app will immediately alert you if your child tries to access a blocked website, giving you the option of allowing access or not. At the very least it allows a great opportunity to start an important conversation with your child.
NetNanny has loads of functionality that you may find helpful in keeping your children safe online. It’s definitely an app worth considering to monitor what you’re children are doing and prevent them from seeing inappropriate content online.
No App Can Replace You As A Parent
Unfortunately there is no single app that is the be all and end all as far as keeping your children safe online goes. They all have their limitations – some track only selected platforms, some are available only on Apple or Android devices (not both), and even those attached to your router will only protect your children to a degree when they’re at home.
Are they better than nothing? Absolutely they are. Just be aware that keeping your children safe online largely comes down to the time you spend together and the quality of your communication with them.
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