Today is Safer Internet Day! I know, there’s literally a national holiday for EVERYTHING. This one, however, is near and dear to my heart, for obvious reasons. The people who started this day did so to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology for children and young people and inspire a national conversation. That is definitely my mission as well, so I’m excited to help inspire this conversation.
Many parents ask me how to make the internet safer in their homes. It’s a common problem that the majority of parents want to solve. There is so much bad on the internet, but there is also a whole lot of good. I had to look through huge dictionaries or encyclopedias to get information on various topics. Today, kids can just ask Google to tell them different facts!
Fortunately, there are ways to help keep most of the bad from getting in, allowing you and your children to take advantage of the good.
Turn on SafeSearch
Google has a feature on both the standard search functions and on YouTube called SafeSearch. When it is toggled on, you can search for the things you want to see without worrying about accidentally stumbling on something you don’t want to see.
In order to turn on SafeSearch, go into the settings (either on Google’s main website or on YouTube) and just toggle it on. There are some 3rd party apps like Boomerang that will allow you to toggle it on for your children’s devices. I also have a router with parental controls called the Gryphon which allows me to force the SafeSearch toggle on for any of the devices on my network.
SafeSearch isn’t foolproof though, so you will want to use it together with some other tools to make sure your family is safe.
Use a content filter like OpenDNS
Many people aren’t aware of a free content filter called OpenDNS. The filter is compatible with most routers. It essentially routes all of the traffic coming to your house through their content filters and only returns results that you have allowed.
The free service allows you to pick various categories to block like pornography, weapons or gambling. Once you have told OpenDNS which categories you want to be blocked, you can also restrict individual websites. The service will also allow you to whitelist different websites, but just remember whitelisting it for yourself will also whitelist it for your kids.
OpenDNS also has a paid version that allows for greater reporting on the activities on your network. If you need to look into an issue you are having with your children, you may want to pay for the full version.
Give the internet a bedtime
No one in the house really needs to be on the internet in the middle of the night. I give the internet a “bedtime” so none of the internet-enabled devices in the house will work after a certain time. I do this through our Gryphon router as well.
Make sure you understand all the different ways devices can access the internet too. If the WiFi is disabled at a certain time, the phone could automatically switch over to the cellular network. I use Verizon’s Family Safety app to give the data service a bedtime as well.
Educate family members on safe internet practices
Kids are quickly becoming targets for phishing attacks. Many children are willfully handing over their passwords to Fortnite or Roblox to try and gain free “bucks” in the games. Once they hand it over, their accounts are being taken over by the attackers.
Make sure your kids know what phishing looks like. Educate them on what grooming looks like as well, and make them promise to never give out personal information to ANYONE, especially someone online. Don’t give passwords to friends (even if you need them to keep your Snapchat Streaks alive). Never tell someone online your name, age, address, school, city, or even state!
Most importantly teach your kids what they should do when they do come across something that doesn’t seem right. Whether it’s a photo or video they stumbled upon, or if someone is trying to chat with them. When they know what to do before it happens, they will be better prepared to deal with the situation when it comes along.
My new mission in life is to teach everyone how important it is to enable 2FA (2-factor authentication) on any of your accounts that will accept it. 2FA requires something you know and something you have. Usually, your password and your phone (that can generate or receive codes) This is especially true for your email account, smart home devices, and banking information.
If an attacker can get into your email, they will have the keys to the kingdom. With access to your email, they can reset any password they want. Make sure your email account is one of the most protected accounts you have, with a STRONG password and 2FA enabled.
Most of the recent smart home hacks have happened because 2FA was not enabled on the user’s account. Yes, it can be a huge pain, but in the long run, it will protect your accounts from unauthorized access.
The internet is a terrible and wonderful place. With a few minor adjustments, you can keep out most of the bad, while enjoying the majority of the good. Nothing is perfect though, and there will always be some things that slip through the cracks. Make sure you continue to have frequent conversations with your family on what they will do when they see something that seems off. Together you can make the internet in your house a safer place to play.
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Sarah Kimmel is a digital parenting coach and family tech expert. She has spent the last 16 years of her career as a Microsoft Certified IT Manager supporting over 100 small businesses. During that time she started Family Tech LLC to help families understand and manage the technology in their home. She has regularly appeared as a family tech expert on KSL News, BYUtv and Studio 5, and has been invited all over the world from tech companies like Lenovo, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, and Samsung. Find out more on her website SarahKimmel.com