This post is part two of this post. Issues written in that article include child endangerment and abuse material. If you are sensitive to this topic, do not read that article. This is about how to keep them safe from dangers.
‘So Brett, if you don’t want the legal system to step in and restrict privacy features for suspects and restrict social media to protect children, what do you suggest?’ And to that, I answer: By stepping in to protect your child and teach you and your child about the internet.
The best way to stop a crime or disaster is to completely prevent it from happening. A minor gets taken advantage of if they are not taught about the risks of the internet properly, or that they are given an environment where they are freely able to use any part of the internet as they please. As a parent/carer/foster, you have a duty to protect the child you are in care of, do you not? You tell your child ‘do not talk to strangers’ and to not listen to people, what makes the internet any different?
To completely neglect your child of electronic devices altogether, although effective, is NOT what I ever suggest doing to your child. Schools will now usually have compulsory computing classes and many kids probably around 9+ will have their own phone. To completely get rid of the devices from their lives would restrict them from making friendships and alienate them from their peers. It would also make them less able to use these devices than most people their age when they get older which can hinder them if they want to do computing in the future.
Device surveillance software and taking their device is not useful either. When I was 9 years old, I had a program on my PC named ‘Netintelligence’ which would block my search terms, block websites, and send my web browsing history to my parents. My parents, not being aware of the administrator privileges being on the default user account in Windows, meant me looking up how to turn it off was not difficult at all to complete. The password to the web panel was also easy to guess. Even if you add protection, a lot of children will do things to try and get through them. Being authoritarian and strict parenting is also not okay. It’s good to have an eye, but don’t make it look forced onto your child.
Here are some ways to help your child stay safe online, as a parent, carer, or as a child yourself, all of the methods I provide would not induce fear, be too expensive, be unethical, and be welcoming for your child to be happy with using.
Your device specification
Think of the type of device you are giving your child, is it too much for them to bare responsibilities with? Are you worried the device will break easily, has security issues, or is too expensive? If your child is young, a cheap PC is all they really need.
If you are looking for a Windows PC or Laptop: I thoroughly recommend Stone Refurb, who sell cheap, refurbished PCs that come from public sector areas like schools or key workers. They provide discounts to students, youths, apprentices and seniors. Although the spec is not that great - it will run many school software, programs, and anything playable on a web browser at full speed. For instance, this page shows all the Desktop PCs they sell for under £100. They also sell laptops here.
I have bought cheap PCs from Stone Refurb several times, and my first laptop I got from a disability charity as a grant was also given to me by Stone when I was 9. I trust their service a lot, and I am not sponsored in any way. AVOID the gaming PCs, just buy your child a game console to play games with. Do not sign them up for online gaming services.
If you are looking for something else: Chromebooks are cheap notebooks that run Google ChromeOS operating systems. They do NOT run windows programs, but they are often used in the education sector. The Raspberry Pi is a cheap single board computer that runs a Linux distribution for about £30. It’s very small spec and no Windows is probably very undesirable, but it’s restrictive spec could be good for a parent who wants to have a child use limited internet and only use Google or YouTube.
If you’re using your own PC: Make a separate user account that has access to only it’s own files, and unable to access the administrator account. Windows allows you to do this, and so does Linux.
For phones: iPhones and Android phones are both sufficient. However if you use an Android, you should be worth noting that you are more likely to obtain weird apps so please make sure to watch what your child downloads (by their own google account or similar). Android phones are significantly cheaper however iPhones have a ‘Find My’ function that allows to track the child’s iPhone’s location when in use. You can also monitor the iCloud account used as it’s required for apps.
Security and privacy
Keep your child’s device up to date: Updating devices may seem tedious and annoying but they are to protect against vulnerabilities and exploits and add new features. Please do them.
Protect your child against malware: Kids are gullible, Install some antimalware software. Use software focused on privacy and security right when they are young.
Look at your child’s social media posts: Even if the information they insert on social media is fake, the images they most might not be. One time I saw a retweet of a feed of a girl, where a photo of her had a middle school award with her real name on it in the background. Please make sure and proof read any images they might send online.
Avoid extra-public social media: Sites like Twitter are more public focused than used for private use, with profile posts being viewable by everyone unless private. And if a public account replies, everyone can see the reply, even if they cant see the private post. Your child is probably not ready to use Twitter as features like this exist. You can also search, view, and look at accounts even if you dont have one yourself.
Use instant messengers only: Instant messenger apps are usually more limited and are great for parent-child communication and for people who know each other in person. The calling features can also be used as an alternative to paying for a 4G network provider and a phone number.
Private your child’s social media pages: Make the accounts for them and then give it to them, maximise your privacy settings to your desire. Make sure they know never to talk to strangers.
Reward and promotion
Good online behaviour is something your child could take seriously by rewarding them when they take good online safety. This can include giving them a better device, games, or other rewards like trips or chicken nuggets.
Do things like this and your child will have a safe and reasonable online life and hopefully not have anything embarrassing for them to remember when they are older!