So, my oldest son is in the 6th grade. Recently the police came to his school to do a survey and 2 questions were asked:
1. Do you have a computer in your bedroom?
The response was overwhelming, most of the grade put their hands up.
2. Do your parents supervise what you do on your computer?
One child put his hand up - mine.
Stop and think for a moment about everything that is available on the internet. Now imagine you put all of that in one location. Would you let your kids hang out in that place unsupervised for hours on end? Would you even let them go there at all? Letting your children have unsupervised access to the internet, behind closed doors is like sending them to their room with a tab of acid and a giant PEZ dispenser full of Playboys. It's our responsibility not to put our kids in compromising situations. It's in these situations that the most innocent of activities can easily go awry.
The problem is a parental lack of understanding about the technology that your children take for granted. If you are one of these parents, don't worry. All is not lost. Here are 5 simple tips to keep your kids safer on the internet:
1. The first tip is the easiest - put the kid's computer in a public area of the house, we have ours in the kitchen/dining area. You don't have to be watching over their shoulder you just have to be near by.
2. If you use Apple computers, comprehensive parental controls are built right in to OS X. Just go to 'System Preferences', click the 'Parental Controls' button and you can set up a separate controlled account for your kids to use (we have a separate account for each child). You can limit applications, web access, e-mail and chat, log web activity, set bedtimes, time limits and even hide profanity in the dictionary. This is all controlled by your administrator password and does not affect your own account if you are sharing the same computer.
3. Just like the elderly, kids don't type in URLs, they just "go to the Google". There are plenty of dodgy sites out there that are only one typo away from popular destinations and search terms. You can lock SafeSearch in Google to exclude these unseemly sites from search responses. This is easy to set up, just watch the video.
4. Google's SafeSearch is great for younger kids, but if you need to crank it up a notch, try a DNS service like Open DNS. They have two FREE services that are easy to set up with step-by-step instructions. The 'Family Shield' service doesn't even require an account and the 'Open DNS Home' service lets you turn up the safety to eleven, giving you as much or as little control as you need. This is all handled on their servers and can not be circumvented without access to your network settings which can be locked with an administrator password. These settings can be set up on one computer, or on your router so that all devices on your network are protected.
5. In all seriousness, remember, iPods are computers too. Don't be fooled, iPhones and iPods are hugely popular because they are pocket computers, not because they are phones or music players. Take advantage of the Parental Controls built-in to iOS and remember, Mobile Safari is a full blown web browser and while YouTube is powered by funny cat videos, it's also full of inappropriate stuff that you don't want your younger kids to stumble across.
I know this can seem overwhelming , but think of it like those midnight feeds when they were babies. You didn't want to do it, but it was a necessary part of their development. It's not like I'm asking you to read 'What to expect when you're expecting', I'm just suggesting you give up a few minutes to educate yourself and explore the options available.