When I was a nipper the Matthew Broderick movie War Games was about as far as anybody got to internet safety, and that didn’t really change until I was at university writing about the local music scene in the early days of the world wide web.
Things are obviously an awful lot different now. Everything is connected, the idea of having to wait for TV scheduling is increasingly becoming anathema for kids raised with on demand telly, and as parents we really need to get with the programme or risk having our kids exposed to all sorts of horror online.
Enter, Parent Alert!
Parent Alert! How To Keep Your Kids Safe Online is an ace book by Nadia Sawalha and Kaye Adams, with security expert Will Geddes that deals with how to be responsible as an adult with regards to the internet use by your kids.
The book manages that neat feat of being both easy to dip into but very (very) comprehensive. Without wanting to sound full of myself, I actually learnt quite a lot, which surprised me.
The obvious things to worry about as a parent are i) porn and ii) our kids getting groomed by sweaty men who live in their mum’s basements and want to abduct our kids. But the obvious worries aren’t necessarily the most pernicious, and things like innocent YouTube videos running on to really inappropriate stuff or the whole incel movement, gamergate and many other things that younger people lack the experience or world view to know are stupid as anything.
Even as someone who often gets accused of working in IT (I’m an accountant, I just like tinkering with technology), there are areas of it all that still confuse me.
I’ve never really understood the attraction of Minecrafters like Dan TDM or Lady DJ Shadow, but I do know that Pew Pie Die and Logan Paul aren’t suitable for kids. But to be brutal honest, I’m more afraid of what I don’t know I should be afraid of.
Internet Safety tips are necessary for kids of all ages
Still, as the kids get older we’ve had to take some steps towards online (and offline for that matter) safety.
- My Playstation and Xbox accounts are both password protected to stop the kids playing unsuitable content (and not, as the eldest accused me, to stop him artificially improving my rank on Overwatch).
- The kids have profiles that are in both instances linked to Family Accounts. This lets us set time limits and restrictions on what they can play and when.
- I’ve also signed up to Circle, the Disney owned WiFi management app that’s compatible with our Netgear Orbi router. This lets me filter website sites, content types, and internet usage with a lot of granularity on a device by device basis, much to the chagrin of the kids! I’ve managed to block the internet on Ned’s iPad from 7pm in the evening and he isn’t very happy I can tell you.
What is important though is to treat your kids with respect and talk to them about the pitfalls of doing certain things. I’ve already had the “don’t take pictures of your bits” conversation with our two oldest kids (11 and 9), because although it’s pretty obvious, it still needs to be said and there is no harm reinforcing things as far as I’m concerned.
We have a family computer in our dining room/lounge, which means that the kids can use the computer (theres a plugin for Google’s Chrome browser that blocks out certain categories of search result and actual websites which is a good tool) whilst being supervised.
It’s always worth making sure things are done in plain sight because if anything untoward pops up you can have a constructive chat about it.
My key takewaways
One of the big takeaways I took from Parent Alert How To Keep Your Kids Safe Online is to pay more attention to unusual moods or behaviour in my kids as a potential sign that they’ve been disturbed by something they’ve seen online or by an interaction or incident with someone they might have been gaming with.
I think as parents we always tend to assume that upset starts and ends in the playground but of course there is a lot more to it than that in todays connected world. In many ways I’m glad I didn’t have a modem plugged into my Spectrum when I was growing up. Usenet would have been too much for me to deal with!
Reading this book and having a good think about it all has really upped my e-safety game. I’d heartily recommend you do the same! You don’t have to be an IT guru or a connected person to read and understand the issues involved on being online. But neither should you succumb to the moral panic that everything online is going to be bad. Things are never black and white after all.
We’re giving away 3 copies of Parent Alert too! Just enter your details below and good luck!