Are you doing everything you can to protect your children online?

Are you doing everything you can to protect your children online?

12th June 2019

As technology becomes more ingrained in our society, children are using smart devices at a much younger age than ever before. Therefore, it is essential that we talk to our children about the safety of their devices, and the earlier we start these conversations, the better.

Whilst we don’t want to scare our children away from technology, it is important that they know what to do and who to talk to if they ever feel scared or worried when using the internet. With many children being given their own devices, it is also vital that we know how to set these machines up securely before letting our family use them.

The first thing we recommend to protect your children is to make use of the parental control settings available to you. Many devices now allow you to change the settings so that you are in control of the content that your child has access to. Don’t be put off, thinking that this is difficult or complicated to set up. Often manufacturers will provide you with step-by-step guides that walk you through how to do this. When devices are being set up, you are often required to enter a password or PIN code, which means the settings cannot be turned off without the code. Be sure to keep this information secure, and safely away from where your child get access to it.

In general, Android Tablets can have restricted users set up through their Google account. When you open the settings menu (usually with a cog icon), there should be a ‘Users’ option, where you can add a new restricted user. After setting up a password and username, you can go through a list of apps available and select which ones you want to restrict access to. The process on an Android Smartphone is similar, although you will usually go in to the play store settings and select ‘Parental Controls’.

For Apple devices, you simply visit the preferences/settings menu and within ‘General’ there is an option for ‘Restrictions’. With this you can turn off any applications or features on your child’s tablet that you do not want them to have access to.

Think carefully about how much access you want to give your children to smart devices other than their own tablet, such as a voice controlled assistant (e.g. Amazon’s Alexa).

Parental controls are also available to be set up on a wide range of other devices such as Games consoles, Media Hubs, Smart home devices such as Amazon Echo and PC operating systems. You typically access these in a similar fashion to those above, first going in to account or device settings, then parental controls and finally setting your restrictions. It is important to consider all devices that your child might access within your home, not just their own tablet etc. Think carefully about how much access you want to give them to your smart devices too, such as a voice controlled assistant (e.g. Google’s Alexa).

It is also important to set up the safe search function, available on most search engines. These are used by children as their principle way to find information for homework etc. It can be extremely disturbing for children when they put in what seems to be an innocent search term and the results are anything but innocent. Setting up a safe search can be done quite simply - for example, it is very easy on Google Chrome. When Google is open in the web browser, you will see a menu in the top right of the window. When you open this menu, you should see an option for settings, such as a cog symbol, but it depends which browser you are using and the version. Within the settings menu you should then be able to find an option to enable safe search and filter explicit results. Make sure you save the settings changes to enable the protection. This will stop your child from accidentally seeing inappropriate results when they are searching online. It will also limit your older children from accessing websites that they shouldn’t be on, when they get curious and begin to explore.

You can go one step further and set up parental controls on the individual apps that are downloaded on the device. This is particularly useful if children of multiple ages are using one device, and you cannot make sure that the only apps downloaded are suitable for a particular age range. The method to do this will depend on the app, but you can often find instructions online.

If your child is old enough, and you are confident that they know about the dangers of social media, they may have these social media apps on their devices. However, even if you trust them to be responsible, it is really important to check their profile and privacy settings with them regularly. Often changes are made to the configuration of these apps and they are not always made obvious to the user. For example, Facebook recently added a section on Facial Recognition to their settings menu, so that it automatically recognises your child’s face. This wasn’t very well publicised and many people do not know it is there. You should also be aware that one of the biggest risks to children on social media is the threat of paedophiles. They can set up a profile and pretend to be anyone using these apps - this is one of the most common methods of grooming today. Children are naturally more trusting than adults, and that is easy to exploit. Remember, people aren’t always who they say they are – especially online!

It is important to focus on context and content of screen time, rather than simply setting children a specified time period.

Location services are something to be wary of and it is a good idea to ensure that these are disabled on all devices, or even just turned off when they are not needed. If not, your child may be unintentionally sharing their location through their apps or photo posts. For example, apps that track your running routes often post out their data showing strangers information on your child’s location. Ensure you set aside time to show your child how to turn this off and on again on their particular device and explain the risks to them. Many parents do decide to download a tracking app to be able to find out where their children are when then go out with their friends etc. There are a few of these available, but it is important that you discuss the importance of this with your child and listen to what they have to say about it.

It is also recommended that parents help children to manage their screen time, as it is often not something they can do easily on their own. The Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health guidelines published in January 2019 suggested that parents approach screen time “based on the child’s developmental age, the individual need and value the family place on positive activities such as socialising, exercise and sleep.” This means that it is important to focus on context and content of screen time, rather than simply setting children a specified time period. However, setting time periods can be useful, especially as younger children find it difficult to self-regulate their online time.

By setting automatic time limits on the devices, it also saves parents from having to keep track of individual use of devices, which is really handy when you have more than one child and multiple devices. This can be done on something like an iPad/iPhone through the settings menu and is known as Guided Access. With this you can set time limits and alerts for when they are coming to the end of their allotted time. There is also a screen time tool which allows you to keep track of the amount of time being spent on these devices each day. There are several online videos that show you where to find these if you need more guidance.

By Emma Davis - Head of Testing & Training

Safety Checklist

  • Set up parental controls to restrict the content which your children can access.
  • Consider which smart devices you want your children to be able to use.
  • Set up safe search to prevent your children from seeing explicit search engine results.
  • Set up parental controls on individual apps if you have children of different ages.
  • Educate your children in the dangers of social media, and set up privacy controls.
  • Disable location services on all devices and apps unless necessary.
  • Manage your children's screen time, considering not just the length of time but the content and context too.
  • If you deem it necessary, set automatic time limits to enforce restrictions.