Can We Make Cyber Kid-Safe?
Don't Assume A Site's Safety by its Hype!
May The Force Be With You' if you're a parent!
I'm so confused by all the 'cyberspace' security warnings and popups every time I login that I end up running a scan! And, if I am, I can only imagine how petrified are the parents of pre-teens and teens. Can we really make our cyber kid-proof? That's a hard question to answer. Is fear making us duplicate our software? Maybe! Well, here's my take on it.
Sometimes I wish I had a GPS warning me as I’m about to visit a new unsafe site. Wouldn't that be cool? And--continuing the dream-- that it would alert my computer guy via cell of it. Well, we do have the alerts and the anti-virus software that prevent a virus from embedding into your computer. Sadly it's still not enough. Trust me, I do have all the anti-virus protection software installed on my computer. But, even with the latest antivirus software, my computer kept slowing down and I knew that it was due to junk files. So, I bought scanning software, and I found junk files in the thousands! Where do they come from and how do they attach themselves to my computer? That's really the issue at hand. Scary, right? How can junk files attach and pile up in nano seconds? Well, they do and it's hard not to become a little paranoid because of it. These files attach themselves to your computer even when you're not visiting untrusted sites. What happens when you do visit those? If I am paranoid, I can imagine the dilemma that parents are facing! Having talked to a few computer programmers and software designers, here's the deal! Better be safe than sorry and here are a few protective measures that can help ease cyber navigation paranoia.
Limit internet unsupervised time: Many educators seem to agree that internet time is best allocated with age as a variable. The younger you are the less you should have it. Some recommend taking computers away from bedrooms and leaving them in a public space. We have all heard the stories of predators who prey on children via the internet and find ways to manipulate them into doing things.
An educational or parenting site isn't always a safe site: Yes, don’t judge a site by its name, or partial content. Parental, conservative, religious, and family sites are not all 100% kid-safe. Facebook and twitter are a headache to upkeep and handlers sometimes hire web hosting services to build and maintain them. I discovered that the hard way. I was new to Twitter and I thought I'd follow educational and parenting sites as I was interested in some of the content. I was assuming all their content was vetted just because of who they are. I assumed that someone was keeping a watchful eye on their standards but I was wrong. I was shocked to find myself, on few occasions, bombarded by erotic and graphic photos. I began deleting or blocking some of the feeds. Then it was becoming too time consuming and after speaking to a few, I discovered that the blame was really in basic social media maintenance. Outsourcing is the problem and companies cannot always be expected to have their staff devote time to social media maintenance. I made peace with that. Their standards haven't changed but their sourcing had. The educational content is still good even though some of their social following is unscrupulous.
Smart phones and social media: This brings me to my point: Even though you’ve set family computer screen time and blocked profane content, it's hard to ensure that all your followers have kid-friendly feeds. So educators seem to agree that smartphones with internet access are not a necessity at a really young age. Preview whatever children are about to login to before we they do. Hard to do that when they are allowed to be on the internet unsupervised. I'm a children's book author and I like to read parenting type articles. One such site retweet me and I checked them out. I was shocked that they were following feeds with erotic content displaying explicit porno and sexual photos. You cannot assume that a website or a Twitter account is safe just because they are geared toward parenting. It isn’t possible to “make” a site completely childproof with any software. You can disable all cookies and enable “sensitive content display” options, but nothing is better there yourself.
The good side of digital. Even though the internet is scary, you cannot take away the immense educational access that it has availed. Search engines alone are amazing. You can Google the spelling of a word. Let alone the historic and scientific backstory to anything. That is just amazing. And, that is a true learning tool. Even in the depth of the jungle -with internet access of course- a child can learn whatever his heart desires. We should embracing our digital life with all its imperfections. A major challenge to families in day-to-day living. Have you seen a teen without a smartphone? Have you seen one lately without a selfie stick? Even with laws against texting and driving, I still see them doing just that. But, even smartphones are incredible tools too. They have saved many lives in emergencies and with their quick video mode, many tragedies have been captured in realtime. I guess we need to accept them as part of our lives just like umbrellas but we should be vigilant. Educators think that younger smartphone users shouldn't be given internet access and only limited text and minutes. A routine check of their history is advised as a way to monitor their cyber habits.
Technology presents us with lots of cool innovations that come with a degree of responsibility. The Internet remains a great learning tool and super valuable in education. There are so many free kid-friendly downloads, from games to coloring books, that are great for the entire family to enjoy and learn a thing or two in the process. PBS and Discovery offer great venues. My three-year-old nephew still loves to fall asleep while watching a spooling video of a choo-choo train arriving at the station. His father repeating softly the basic mechanical aspects of what makes the train move. How can you take away the helpful aspect of such a video? A way to keep the attention and help explain a concept. It's such a value in learning!
Can we make the internet child-proof? Not really. But here are some basic tips to make it safer.
- Request from your child's school their lists of kid-friendly sites, games, and downloads. Check their teachers' social feeds and content.
- Be there whenever possible when your kids are surfing the net. Nothing replaces a parent’s own judgment. Is your kid's computer in the bedroom? Some suggest computer placement in common areas like the kitchen or the living-room.
- Delay allowing pre-teen kids Internet access on their smart phones.
- Invest in security software. Some come with parental control options built in. Some scan automatically every few days, deleting junk files and increasing computer speed. I recommend investing in a basic scanner software ($30.00 a year) in addition to an anti-virus one (Norton or McAfee). You can go to trusted sites and get their recommended software. i.e. Microsoft and Apple.
- Most major computer manufacturing companies have 24/7 customer service and they are happy to help you make your computer kid-friendly. Sometimes a change in settings is all that's needed as more and more computers are equipped with spyware. They can walk you through changing your settings to be more parental controlled. Some Internet, cable, and television providers have representatives trained to help you.
- Remember to double check all computer lenses and ensure that eye is masked. A simple post-it or painter's tape will do the trick.
Finally, I'm really thankful for our electronic age and for all the tremendous access it provides. We should embrace and value its contribution to our lives. Many aspects of it still need to be guided by parents. But as a whole its benefits outweigh the negatives. I for one will be navigating through it, making mistakes, learning, and sharing my journey. So far so good!