By James Abela, ICT Leader
The challenges of modern parenting can be overwhelming with a new social network appearing every other week. Whilst some are clearly unsuitable for children, such as Ashley Madison whose slogan is “Life is short. Have an affair.”, others initially appeared to be harmless such as Ask.fm whose aim was to be a question and answer site resulted in at least 7 documented suicides. With such odds stacked against parents, what can they do to ensure that children are communicating safely and appropriately?
Modern computers have sophisticated parental with Windows 10 leading the way with a full range of options that enable you to whitelist (you choose from a list of sites that your children can use), blacklist (you block certain sites) and limit time on the device and hours that they are allowed on the machine. Microsoft can also send you a weekly email with applications and websites visited. Apple also have controls on the Mac that enable a similar level of control. Newer versions of Android and iOS devices have simpler parental controls, but they do not allow the same level of control. For technologically-savvy parents, it’s possible to filter all of the WIFI traffic using a DNS filter such as OpenDNS Family Shield. You should be aware that ever more technocratic children will find ways around these systems from using 4G to reprogramming your router to give them control.
However much less technical solutions exist such as the policy in our house where all children’s devices are used in common areas such as the lounge and are kept overnight in a common ‘charging’ area. You can also choose to limit your children 3G data credit or rather than give them a Smartphone, buy something more basic. Smartwatches for children are also in rapid development and these are specifically designed to only enable contact with parents.
For younger children, rather than expose them to the entire Internet http://www.kidrex.org/, http://www.swiggle.org.uk/ and http://www.gogooligans.com/ enable children to research whilst keeping out unwholesome sites. You can also check the suitability of apps via https://www.commonsensemedia.org/
As parents, our best defence is our relationship with our children. Modelling good behaviour online ourselves and talking about what they do online is far more revealing than relying on the gadgets to police themselves. Until they pay for their own Internet access you are responsible for all that occurs at your address and therefore it is perfectly reasonable to see what they do online and ask for passwords as necessary. When all else fails there’s the off switch and resting your router overnight will improve its lifespan.