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Eight tips to help you keep your kids safe online

Tuesday 10 February 2015 is Safer Internet Day. What better time to talk to your kids about staying safe online?

How safe are your children online? What your kids think about internet safety (if they think about it at all) depends largely on how old they are. For younger children, the web is an Aladdin’s cave of games, funny videos and online friends; they don’t worry about the potential darkside because they don’t even imagine it exists. Older kids are likely to be more savvy but, nonetheless, they are as susceptible as the rest of us to the old ‘it will never happen to me’ belief.

The reality is that hackers, trolls, spammers and other unsavoury characters await the unwary and naive online. With Tuesday 10 February marking Safer Internet Day, here are eight tips to help you develop your children’s internet safety sense.

Start ’em young

It’s never too early to start talking about internet safety with your kids. If they’re old enough to show an interest in computers, they’re old enough to hear about the basics. Even if you feel like your words are going over their heads, by repeating safety advice to them regularly you can help make it part of their whole understanding of the web.

Spend time browsing the net alongside your child to help them learn

Keep it real

The subject of online safety can feel off-puttingly techy, but you don’t need to get bogged down in conversations about security software and settings. Sure, it’s helpful to show them how to update an anti-virus program, but what’s key is teaching them to think about their online behaviour.

Those lessons aren’t so different to the day-to-day behaviour you’ll already be encouraging. Don’t share your details with people you don’t know, don’t accept gifts from strangers, don’t arrange to meet people you don’t know, don’t be a bully. Staying safe on the internet starts with this understanding that the online world is not separate from the offline.

Make sure they keep their details safe

As parents we’ve seen the web develop over the last two decades and our own behaviour has developed with it (along with a healthy level of scepticism). Our kids don’t have that experience, they’re being thrown in at the deep end of a highly developed online world. That makes them an easy target for scammers and tricksters, so they need to be reminded never to share personal details, such as their address, mobile phone number or email address online.

Set their boundaries

How much time will your kids be allowed on the internet each day? What sites will they be allowed to use? It’s up to you to decide; by thinking about these boundaries and settting them you’ll help your kids to know where they stand. But perhaps more importantly, you’ll also prompt yourself to really think about what you’re happy for them to do online.

Keep them offline

Whatever device your children use to access the internet, make sure it’s default setting is ‘offline’. You can set tablets, phones and laptops to forget the wi-fi password when they’re switched off. That way, you can keep the password to yourself and ensure they can’t access the net when you don’t want them to.

Ensure they’ve got good passwords

One central strategy for online safety is the use of strong passwords. After all, the stronger the password, the less likely the account is to be hacked. Make sure your children are using different passwords for each of their accounts, and that those passwords are as secure as possible while still being memorable. A short sentence is ideal – long strings of characters are extremely secure.

Listen to what they’re up to

We all have our own parenting styles, but you’ll be able to have more influence over your kids’ online behaviour if you make it easy for them to talk to you. Let them know that they should tell you if anything unusual happens online, no matter how banal. That way, you’ve got a better chance of finding out before they download a virus or share sensitive details.

Emphasise that nothing is lost

Once your children are old enough to use the internet by themselves, one of the big risks is what they share about themselves. Make it clear to your children that, once they upload something to the internet, they can no longer control it. Text, images, video – whatever they put online will be there forever, potentially accessible by everyone from friends to future employers.

Define some rules

A foolproof way to make sure your children stay safe is to make sure they never go online without a parent present. That way, you can not only keep them safe and sound, but you can teach them about safety as you go. You might want to be less strict, or your children might be old enough for that to be impractical. In that case, you need to make sure you’ve explained the dos and don’t to them so you know you can trust them to make the right decisions.

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