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The Lifecake Guide To Internet Safety & Privacy For Kids (And Parents)

Like emptying the hoover or sorting the junk in the garage, getting your head around internet safety is one of those things that often gets shoved to the bottom of the to-do list. But when you’ve got kids who spend almost as much time online as off, getting to grips with the facts so you can help your children stay savvy and safe needs to be a serious priority.

This guide is for parents of kids of any age. It’s full of advice to help you understand the issues, talk to your kids about internet safety and support them to make good choices online.

What Is Internet Safety?Having “The Talk”Essential BasicsGround RulesPopular PlatformsOnline GamingCyberbullyingCheck Your Tech

Guide To Internet Safety & Privacy

 

What does internet safety mean?


As parents, we clearly have a responsibility to keep our kids safe. We put child locks on the medicine cabinet, baby gates on the stairs and child seats in the car. When kids of any age use any internet-enabled device, they’re stepping into a world that has just as many potential dangers – they’re just not as easy to see.

Just like with any part of life, there are aspects of the internet that can be dangerous, exploitative and criminal. It’s scary to think about, but there’s plenty you can do to make sure your kids get the best from their time online without being targeted by scammers or predators or setting themselves up for problems in the future.

How to teach kids to stay safe online

Whether it’s for homework, socialising, gaming or watching tv, children are spending increasing amounts of time online. Looking out for them while they use the internet involves taking practical steps to secure the devices they use, considering your own internet use and finding age-appropriate ways to talk to your kids about the issues.

When and how to have ‘the talk’


Think of internet safety like road safety – talking to a toddler about staying safe is different to talking to a teen. Start as young as possible and have open and honest conversations regularly as your child grows up. There are lots of national charities and organisations dedicated to child safety that offer guidelines and checklists to help you. Some even have helplines you can call for expert advice. This is a whole new world of parenting that previous generations haven’t had to deal with, so don’t feel like you should know everything already or cope alone.

Young Children

Internet Safety For Young Children

Older Children

Internet Safety For Older Children

The basics of internet security and privacy


It’s easy to assume that your kids know how sharing information and pictures over the internet works, but it never hurts to remind them of the facts and make sure you’re all on the same page.

Agree ground rules for everyone


Involve the whole family in deciding what’s acceptable online. You could even print it out and stick it up somewhere as a reminder. There are templates available online for family internet agreements. Here are some suggestions to use for starters.

Ground Rules For Internet Safety

Reducing online risks across all platforms


Tech use is increasing across the board. From social media and gaming to smart watches and virtual assistants, we’re all getting used to our online and offline lives merging more and more. Lead by example and ensure that your own internet use is as secure and private as possible before teaching your kids how to protect themselves. Most apps and platforms will automatically set your profile to public – meaning anyone can see what you post – unless you change it, because that’s the way they make the most money out of you.

Online Safety For Children

Privacy settings for popular platforms

To open up a conversation about privacy settings with your older kids, you could ask them to show you that they’ve got their settings sorted. If they are all set for maximum privacy, great, they’ve obviously been paying attention. If not, you can fix it together. This is a super quick guide. More detailed advice on popular apps, sites and games is available from the UK child protection charity, NSPCC or you can search the platform name plus privacy settings for each full guidance pages.

Snapchat

Even though snaps automatically disappear, other people can take screenshots of them, so you need to be as careful on Snapchat as any other platform.

Facebook and Messenger

You can adjust a ton of privacy settings on Facebook under Privacy in General Account Settings. Check these main ones for starters.

Instagram

New accounts on Instagram are automatically set as public meaning everyone can see everything you post. To make the account private:

WhatsApp

When you open a WhatsApp account, it’ll automatically let people seen when you were last active and what’s on your profile. To change this:

Twitter

Tweets are automatically set up to be public. Anyone can reply to, retweet or favorite them. To change this, you can protect your tweets, so that people can’t retweet you and only people you approve can follow you and see your tweets.

Tumblr

When you set up a blog and profile on Tumblr, it’s automatically public. So anyone can find and comment on it. Keeping your account private depends on the device you’re using. The Tumblr Help Center has clear instructions on privacy options.

Kik

Kik is an instant messaging app, like Snapchat or WhatsApp, popular with teens and young people. There have been issues with child exploitation on the platform, so it’s important to do your research and talk to your child openly if they’re going to use it. Kik have produced FAQs and a parents guide themselves and the National Crime Agency backed Parent Info site has a more detailed guide to Kik.

TikTok

This hugely popular social app featuring short videos sets everything to public unless you tell it otherwise. To control who can view, search for and comment on your videos:

Reddit

Public is the default setting for new accounts on this forum-based social news site. The content that’s accessible covers every conceivable topic and it’s all posted anonymously with light touch moderation, so it’s not really designed to be explored safely by children. There’s no way to block specific users, but to set up parental controls go to settings, general, parental controls where you can choose key features to block.

Online Gaming Safety For Kids

The serious side of online gaming


Whether it’s on a smartphone, computer, tablet or console, playing video games while connected to the internet is now the norm. This means a lot of the time children can play against and chat with people all over the world. While it’s undoubtedly fun and filled with opportunities to develop useful skills, it can also open players up to worrying content, language and behaviour. In-game purchases can also tempt or trick players into racking up large bills by paying to unlock new parts of the game. This is often the main way that free to download apps and games make money.

All of the advice in the basics of internet safety and ground rules sections above apply just as much to online gaming as they do to apps and social media. Kids often play while plugged in with headphones, so it’s even more important to make it an everyday part of family life to talk about what goes on in that online world. Make sure children especially understand the dangers of using the messaging or chat functions of games to speak with strangers.

Maximise in-built settings for safety

Before you even buy a console, do your research to find out what controls you can set to help keep your kids safe online. Get up to speed with what games are age-appropriate and use a step-by-step guide, like these from not-for-profit organisation internetmatters.org, to set the parental controls on the console to a level that suits your family.

Privacy settings for popular games

Chances are high that your kids are going to know a lot more about the games they’re playing than you do. So, ask them to show you how they’ve maximised their privacy settings. For the UK, the Video Standards Council Rating Board – the people who decide the PEGI age rating system – have loads of detailed parent guides at askaboutgames.com, and in the US take a look at the parents’ ultimate guides from commonsensemedia.org. Here’s a brief overview to get you started.

Minecraft

There’s no central way to adjust parental or privacy settings in Minecraft, but there are steps you can take to minimise the likelihood of your kids experiencing unsuitable elements of the game.

Roblox

This massive multiplayer online game has become even more popular than Minecraft. From the central dashboard under Security you can add a parental pin and turn on account restrictions and under Privacy you can limit or turn off chat.

Fortnite

Interaction with other players online can be a big part of this hugely popular survival fighting and strategy game. To avoid your children interacting with people they don’t know, they can set up a ‘party’, invite only their friends and make it private, so they’re muting other unknown players. It might also be worth sometimes setting up your console so that sound comes out of the TV as well as headphones so you can be aware of the kind of interactions your child is part of.

If something doesn’t seem right

Even if you’ve checked all the settings, you’re having all the right conversations and you’re being as vigilant as possible with your children’s internet use, problems can still crop up. Because of the open and anonymous nature of the internet, it’s inevitable that it’s hard to control. If anything happens that makes you or your child feel scared, uncomfortable or manipulated, or if you just suspect something, report it.

All of the main platforms and games have a process for flagging, blocking and reporting inappropriate, dangerous or scamming behaviour. And if the problems still aren’t dealt with, contact the NSPCC in the UK or the American SPCC in the US, both of which have detailed advice about keeping children safe online and a phone line you can call to get specific help.

Minecraft Online Gaming Safety For Kids

Spotting and handling cyberbullying


One of the main worries about being online that is flagged up most frequently by children themselves is bullying. Reports suggest that over 85% of young people have witnessed cyberbullying in action and around 25% of children have been personally affected by it. Cyberbullying means any form of bullying using electronic means including messaging, social media and gaming on computers, phones, tablets or any other device. It’s different to face-to-face bullying because of how easy it is to do (bullies can hide behind the screen), how many people it can reach, how quickly it can spread and the fact it can happen anywhere at any time.

What are the signs of cyberbullying?

The signs to look out for are similar to those you’d expect for face-to-face bullying, but with added anxiety around use of devices. You know what’s normal for your child, so keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.

What to do about cyberbullying

First, take any suspected or proven cyberbullying seriously. Offer comfort and support and let them know that it isn’t their fault and they are not alone. Praise them for doing the right thing by talking to you about it. Give them reassurance that you’ll figure out what to do together and talk through your plan before taking action. Here are some practical tips to try:

Steps to prevent cyberbullying

There’s plenty you can do up front to help your child avoid being bullied or getting caught up in carrying out the bullying.

Check your tech is doing the hard work for you


There’s so much to consider when it comes to internet security and privacy, that it can quickly become overwhelming. But most tech these days – whether it’s hardware or software – has settings that can help you take back some control. As with all advice for looking after your family’s safety online, it’s a good idea to discuss your approach and agree the plan of action together, so that no-one feels like they’re being snooped on. It’s also important to remember that no amount of tech management is enough to replace good old-fashioned regular conversations with your kids to keep on top of any potential online issues.

Start at the source – setting up your router

Did you know you can use your router to monitor and manage internet use in your home? With 24-hour access, there’s always the temptation for your kids (and you!) to stay online way past bedtime. But with just a bit of tech know-how you can limit internet access on a set schedule – blocking your children’s devices from 10pm onwards, for example. You can also use your router’s logs to check what sites are being visited on your home network. Often, the logs record this information in the form of an IP address and sites visited using that IP address, so you’ll need to make a note of the IP addresses of all the different devices in your house. This guide from makeuseof.com takes you through the process step by step.

Use built-in parental controls

Every device, operating system, search engine and browser has either built-in dedicated parental controls or account settings you can change to help manage your child’s online activity. The controls on the device itself usually enable you to decide what features and functions your child can use. You may also be able to restrict activities like downloading or purchasing. For content controls you’ll usually need to delve into the settings of browsers, apps and sites. This comprehensive parental controls guide gives instructions for most devices, operating systems and ISPs (UK) and this is a similar one for the US. Meantime, here’s a brief checklist to get you started.

Consider extra custom software

Once you’ve started investigating the extent of free built-in controls, you may find you want the wider range of controls offered by paid-for parental control software. Popular choices such as Kidslox and Netsanity can help you block inappropriate content, set daily internet limits or monitor usage more closely. You can check out what controls they offer and try them out on a free trial to see what suits your family best.

Keep talking, keep learning

There’s no avoiding it, online technology is advancing at lightning speed. As soon as you’re up to date with the latest apps, ten more new ones come along to take their place. Because kids spend so much time online, they’re likely to be one step ahead, with us parents trying desperately to keep up! Focusing on the positive role tech and the internet can play in our children’s lives and continuing to have open and honest conversations is the way forward.

Keep up with the latest developments and potential issues at internetmatters.org (UK) and commonsensemedia.org (US).

Leading By Example Online Safety

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