Keeping children safe online

It's a different world for children growing up today. From the minute they're born, they're exposed to a digital world that will inevitably be their way of life – where plans are made via social networking sites, conversations are had over chat and text, and movies, games, music and TV shows are streamed at any time over the Internet.

And while it's also a wonderful educational tool, it can be a place where tough lessons are learned if children have unlimited, unsupervised access to things they may not fully understand.

The following list can help you keep your children safe when they use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as mobile devices:

  • Make sure the protection features of websites and software your children use are activated. There are tools available through your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to help you manage your children's online experience (i.e. appropriate Websites, amount of time spent online, who can and cannot contact them). It might also include other security features, such as pop-up ad blockers.
  • Get to know the online environments your children use and teach them how to deal with inappropriate material.
  • Talk to them about the implications of posting inappropriate pictures, saying disparaging things about other people and anything else that could damage a reputation or ruin a friendship.
  • Remind them that the Internet is a public space. Things they do and say now on social networking sites could have implications down the road when they're looking for summer employment (employers often search personal profiles for information about candidates).
  • Stay in the know about the latest ways children are communicating and what they're up to when they're at friends' houses.
  • Keep an eye on the sites they're visiting by keeping the computer in a common area like the kitchen.
  • Talk to other parents about their children's online privileges and what works for them.
  • Educate them about the risks of webcam use with people you or your children don't know. Video that's broadcast over the Internet is permanently out there and can be saved by anyone for later viewing or distribution. If your computer has been hacked, another user could remotely control your webcam, so if you have an external camera, unplug it or cover your camera when it's not in use.
  • If your child is using live text and voice chats for online games, warn them not to give personal information to a stranger.
  • Be careful about what you post about your children or activities related to them like the location of their school, or where you or they are volunteering.