How safe is your child online?

WHEN I first started our large family almost 20 years ago I worried about traffic safety, biting dogs, poisonous plants and weird blokes in raincoats hanging around the park.

It didn't occur to me then that one of the biggest risks posed to my children would be in the home, posing as an educational and entertainment tool.

esafety - child holding parents hand
real & virtual hand-holding vital!
The internet is part of most people's everyday life now - all of my children, right down the the 5-year-old use it for homework, research, communicating with their friends, games, watching episodes of their favourite TV show.....

We have so many gadgets in our house I lose count and to be honest for a while didn't really tune in to the fact that even their gaming consoles posed a risk.

We have always kept the PC downstairs, in the hallway, where I can see what they are browsing while I'm relaxing in the living room or cooking in the kitchen. It means I can keep an eye on the screen and jump in if I spot anything risky. Mostly all I see is shuffling penguins.....( if you have a primary aged child you'll know what I'm talking about!)

But I'll never forget my horror when I walked into my older son's room with a pile of laundry to hear a disembodied voice coming from the TV - and realised that he could talk to people playing the game with him - and he didn't necessarily know them!

gaming teenager

I immediately instigated a ban on this kind of communication and indeed typed messages during games unless it was to someone they, and preferably I, had met in "real life."

This incident really scared me -I consider myself quite technology savvy but being caught out like this and reading articles about keeping your kids safe online made me realise you can't always supervise every minute of internet use so it's worthwhile making sure you have good internet security that can help act as an online babysitter filtering porn, gambling, inappropriate or dangerous sites.

I currently use a well-known free service but after reading an article online I am thinking it might be wise for us to swap to Norton Family which came out top in the survey carried out by technology magazine PC Pro. Amazingly the basic version is free and tested really well against sites containing gore, pro-anorexia, pro-suicide, hate and tasteless humour.

This is perfect for my younger children who might stumble across dodgy sites more by accident than design. It also scored well for false positives - where the programme decides your homework research project on garden birds is dangerous and refuses to let you see the harmless and informative RSPB website because you have tried to look up facts about Blue Tits!

They've also got a premium version which I think might suit me better for my older children as, amongst its extra services it lets you monitor what they are watching on You Tube and other video sites, allows you to keep an eye on what apps they are downloading onto their android devices and even lets you take control over who they are exchanging text messages with and what is being said in those messages.

I know it all sounds a bit Big Brother. You do have to just trust your children to a certain extent (whilst not forgetting to warn them about stranger danger and outing bullies!) but when you hear stories in the news about impressionable teens or even pre-teens being groomed or bullied online I think having this type of service will become vital.

It's all very well keeping an eye on them on computers and tablets at home but nowadays they can access the whole internet, warts and all from their smartphones. Check out this fantastic guide to smartphone safety for parents online - essential reading nowadays as children get smart phones at a younger and younger age.

The more ways you can choose to monitor them if you have concerns, the better. If you explain to your children that it's not that you don't trust them, you just don't trust the rest of the world they hopefully will accept losing total privacy. After all, if they have something to hide......

The other thing you can do to protect your children obviously is to stay in touch with current technology.

I always tell my friends who are parents that they might not be interested in Twitter and Facebook but it is important to understand what the children are being exposed to. My children are allowed to be on social networks - on condition that I am allowed to be their "friend" or "follower."

child using tablet computer
Creating an online Mr Potato Head!
At the first sign of any online spat or any off-colour messaging I am right on it. Even my eldest (aged 19) has had to be reminded in the past that his Granny follows him on Facebook so he and his friends need to keep their conversations family friendly!

With a few precautions I think it's fine to allow children of any age to explore the internet. It's a way of life for this generation and it's good to see that some computer software developers are doing their best to help us keep our children safe and innocent.

Disclaimer: This was written in a pr capacity but as always all views and opinions are my own. 
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