Today, social media is just another part of being a member of society – so your kids need to participate! Especially if they are nearing the age of 13, like mine.
That said, as parents we want to keep our children safe while they are using social media.
I logged some time on the interwebs last week and found a few ways to keep them safe online – including a few security products/services that seem to work.
Protecting your kids when they are using social media isn’t as simple as installing a software package (see some of those below). It mainly involves being proactive in enforcing internet safety by educating your kids and by following up and monitoring their activity. Here are some of the best practices that will not only keep your kids safe but will let them know that whatever restrictions are put in place are there out of love. And, that you WILL be monitoring their activity.
1. Have a social media contract with your children
A social media contract is an understanding (written or not) of how to safely use social networks, what the rules of the house are – and their consequences if broken (not just your punishment but the bad stuff that can happen to them). With this contract, kids know the boundaries they shouldn’t cross and what will happen if they do. In the contract, set out each of your responsibilities in the quest for safe social media use.
2. Set up the accounts yourself
While introducing your kid to social media, create the accounts yourself. This way, you can set up the right privacy settings and you will be aware of login details. Facebook is notoriously complex on this.
3. Watch out for ‘friends’
Be very careful about the individuals they connect with online. A software tool will not protect your child from everything, and sometimes even a seemingly innocent friendship online is a bad guy waiting to pounce.
Also, cyber bullying is a very real threat on social media. Here is a great reference for learning how to deal with that effectively, if it happens to your child.
4. Respect their privacy
Finally, moderation is crucial. Don’t hound them over everything they do online, as long as it is safe. Remember that you also want them to earn your trust. In a similar way, don’t let them get too engaged in social networks. Set time restrictions and encourage them to go out and have real physical conversations.
Family-Safe Software Filters
Filters can really help, but like I said they are no cure-all for internet safety. Most of the best filters have signed up with KidSafe, a certification seal program that rates kid-friendly online services.
The following filters can be installed on your computers to block unwanted sites from appearing in your web browsers. I use Norton’s OnlineFamily in our house and it really works well.
This is an all round online safety tools that allows you to monitor what your kids are doing online and create restrictions for where they can visit. One aspect that puts OnlineFamily.Norton ahead of other filters is that it does not only focus on being a strict big brother to the kids. Norton encourages parents to take an active role in how kids are interacting online and communicate directly to their kids regarding various aspects of online safety.
What can you do with OnlineFamily.Norton?
• Oversee your kids’ social network activity. You can even decide whom your kids can chat with and who they can’t. This software restricts children from giving out personal information online or lying about their age.
• Detailed reports. This is another exciting feature that makes this software so useful. The software sends you insights into your kids’ online activities including the things they show interest in. For instance you can learn about the keywords they searched for. All you need to do is choose an email to receive the notification on and what activity reports to receive.
• Online time restrictions. If you want to enforce a strict internet use time period, use the time restriction tool. You can set custom time allowances after which the computer logs off automatically. Even better, this restriction works across different computers. So the children can’t get logged off on the family computer then go and use your home office computer.
• Site blocking. You can block whatever site you deem inappropriate for your kids. This includes pornography, gambling, drugs and extremist sites. It also allows you to block certain forums, social networks and proxy sites they may use to circumvent the restrictions.
OnlineFamily.Norton is highly flexible meaning that you can customize it to fit your needs and situation. One downside you will encounter is the lengthy installation process. You have to set up different accounts for every user and on each computer you want to monitor.
In addition, most users have complained that the content restriction feature is not a 100 percent effective. So you have to frequently check what content your kids are reading online.
2. McAfee SafeEyes
McAfee SafeEyes works across different devices including windows PCs, Mac computers, iPhones and iPads. Unfortunately it is not available for Android. Much like OnlineFamily.Norton, it encourages open communication and cooperation between the parent and the child in achieving online safety.
What can you do with McAfee SafeEyes?
• Content control. You decide which content will be accessible by your kids. The program is effective in blocking out inappropriate or adult sites.
• Program control. The use of certain programs can be restricted as per your discretion. Programs that you may want to watch out for include file sharing programs and instant messengers.
• Time control. You control what times of the day the internet is accessible to your kids and for how long they use it. Other than having to argue with your kids as you force them to log off, the program does it for you. As the time counts down to the end, a warning is given.
• Usage logs. These are just like usage reports. They notify you of what sites have been visited and detailed social media activity reports including chats.
• Inappropriate site notification. You get an immediate alert in the event someone visits an inappropriate website on a monitored computer. This allows you to take actions as quickly as possible.
As mentioned, SafeEyes is not available for Android yet. One other common complaint among users is the noticeably slower internet speed once the program is installed. Uninstalling it is also a hassle and you may notice that even after uninstallation, certain sites may still be blocked. If this happens, contact customer care.
3. Clean Internet
If your home is faith-based, this is one of the top rated Christian internet filters around.
Its primary purpose is content blocking. It has been designed to block out inappropriate sites, even those that are in foreign languages. This ensures that your kids cannot go around the restrictions by searching using another language. You can also block instant messengers, file sharing sites, pop up windows and chat rooms. Finally, you will receive regular reports on all sites visited and those that have been blocked from access.
But to be honest, comparing this software to the previous two, this one has a lot of negatives.
For one, it blocks some legit sites such as YouTube. In other cases, it completely blocks Facebook meaning that the original purpose of the software, letting kids use social media safely, is defeated.
The inflexibility of the software is another problem. It blocks content only but does not offer other features such as time restrictions.