13 Tips For Keeping Your Kids Out of Trouble Online

Teach Your Kids The Rules of The Cyber Road BEFORE Their Internet Journey

Photo: JGI / Jamie Grill

When your child finally gets their driver's license, they’ve likely had hours and hours of practice on the road with you or some other adult by their side, making sure they drive safe, but when your kids get on the Internet, it’s a whole different story. They may not have had any supervised practice at all.

Would you let your child drive in an area that you aren’t familiar with? Would you let them drive in a car that isn’t safe? Would you let them visit strangers? Of course not, right? But if you let your children on the Internet, without giving them any kind of basic guidance or rules, then you are doing exactly that and may be putting them in harm’s way.

Let’s take a look at some things you should do to try and ensure that your child’s Internet travels are as safe as they can be:

Don’t Let Your Kids on The ‘Information Superhighway’ in an Unsafe ‘Vehicle’

As parents, we want our kids to be safe drivers. A big part of our responsibility is to make sure the car they are driving is safe.

We need to do the same for the device they are using to access the Internet. Similar to a car, their Internet browsing device also needs to have safety features. How can we make it safer for them? Here are a few things to do:

Update Their Device’s Operating System and Install All Security Patches

You certainly don’t want your kids to become the victim of a hack attack, so the first thing you should do is give their device a tune-up so that it is Internet road worthy.

Run their device or operating system's update tool so that it goes and downloads the latest system patches and security updates. Sometimes this process can be set to automatically download and install these patches, but other times it requires some user intervention.

Continue to run this tool several times until it reports that the system is completely up-to-date and that no new patches are available. Having the system up-to-date is critical in preventing attacks that rely on vulnerabilities that go unpatched.

Update And Patch Their Web Browser

Sometimes the device’s web browser software doesn’t get updated with the rest of the operating system updates. This is especially true if a third-party browser is being used such as Firefox. You'll want to run the web browser’s software update tool to ensure that it’s running the latest available patch level.

You’ll probably also want to check to see if a newer version of the browser is available as well because sometimes browsers will only update the particular version you’re using and won’t offer to upgrade to a newer version of the browser.

Additionally, take a look at the browser’s privacy settings and other security features to see what you can change to create a  safer experience for your kids. Definitely turn on the pop-up blocker and turn on the opt-out of tracking across websites feature (if available).

Install / Update Antivirus Software On Their PC

Depending on the type of device being used by your child to access the Internet, you will probably want to install an antivirus / antimalware solution. Many of these are available for free, however, the free version may not offer advanced features such as real-time malware protection, so it may be advisable to purchase one that does unless real-time protection is available in the free version.

Real-time protection is important for guarding against malware that is clicked in a link via a web browser or in an email. This active protection helps to defeat a virus BEFORE it makes its way onto a system and becomes an active infection.

Install a Second Opinion Malware Scanner

Antivirus is great when it catches a virus, but what happens if your antivirus software misses something and a virus makes it onto your system undetected?

Enter: Second Opinion Malware Scanners. Second opinion scanners are exactly what they sound like they are. They are a secondary malware scanner that acts as a second layer of defense in case your primary antivirus software fails to detect a threat.

This class of scanners is built to not conflict with your primary scanner, but rather to work alongside it as a second set of virtual eyes watching over your system.

Point Them To Family Friendly DNS Resolvers And Kid-friendly Search Engines

Before you let the kids drive on the Internet roads, they need a map of all the safe places, right?  But sometimes they won’t use a map. So what should a parent do to make sure they don’t take a wrong turn?

You can point your Internet router’s DNS setting to a free and family friendly DNS server that will help filter out phishing, malware, and adult-content sites. This will prevent your kid from going to a pretty good chunk of known bad sites. The nice thing about DNS filtering is it can block bad sites no matter what device your kids are using to access the Internet from (as long as you have made this setting change at the router).

Family friendly DNS filtering isn’t fool-proof and it can’t filter everything, but it will help screen out a lot of inappropriate content, scams, and malware. OpenDNS FamilyShield and Norton ConnectSafe are a couple family friendly DNS services worth looking into.

Additionally, even though kids can circumvent them, it's always good to set their start page to a kid-friendly search engine. Older kids will bypass this in a second but it should help keep younger kids from accidentally ending up on a bad site (assuming they don’t circumvent it).

Some good kid-friendly search engines include KidRex and Primary School Safe Search.

Teach Them The Rules of The Internet Road

Before you let your kids loose on the Internet, you should establish some expected rules of behavior that you both agree on. Here are some good ones to get you started:

Don’t Talk To Strangers

This is a no-brainer in the real world, but many people forget this rule online. Predators can pretend to be any age or anyone they want to online and it's important that your kids understand that bad people often lie about who they are. Stress to your child that they need to be very careful who they are talking to online.

The best rule of thumb, don’t talk to ANY strangers online. Turn off voice and text chat features for their online games if possible. A lot of kids are into online games such as Minecraft. Check out our article on Minecraft Safety for Kids for some tips on keeping your Minecrafter safe.

Tell Them to Not Give Out Any Personal Information to Anyone They Don’t Know

Another important lesson to teach your children about being safe online is to never give out any personal information.

This includes information such as their real name, address, birthday, where they go to school, names of family members, and any details about their whereabouts. They should never under any circumstances let anyone know that they are home alone.

If Something Scary Happens Make Sure They Tell You

If your kids accidentally visit a bad site, make contact with a stranger, or anything else that scares them, it’s important for them to know that you are there for them and that they can come to you about anything without fear of being punished.

Although your instinct might be to get mad at them, resist the urge to, especially if it's something that scared them such as threats made by a stranger or scammer they met online.

If you, as an adult, don’t know where to turn for help. Consider contacting the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) or your local law enforcement agency. They should be able to help you find out the best way to deal with a scary online situation.

Show Them How to Properly Close Tricky Pop Up Windows

One of the biggest problems my kids encountered when they first started using the Internet was being fooled into clicking on pop-up boxes. They would be tricked by the ones where no matter what you clicked in the box, it refused to close unless you clicked on the top right corner of the box.

Teach your kids that there is only one way to properly close a pop-up and that’s by clicking the “X” button in the top right corner of the window (or the red dot on the top left corner of a window on a Mac). Don’t let them be fooled by clicking a “Close” button within the body of the pop-up message itself. This fake “close” button may not close the window at all, in fact, it may take them to another site which attempts to scam them or tricks them into installing malware.

Show Them How to Handle Suspicious Email Attachments

If your kids have an email account, you also should give them a lesson in how suspicious email attachments can end up infecting their computer and that they should never open an attachment from an unknown sender. They should also be leery of attachments that are forwarded by friends, as it may not really be their friends sending them (could be coming from a friend's compromised account).

If in doubt, have them scan the attachment with their Antimalware software to see if it contains malware or not, or have them come get you so you can properly deal with it yourself.

Make Sure They Have Their Privacy Settings Set Correctly On Social Media

Your child may go a little bit nuts when they first get their own social media accounts. They may want to share everything about themselves with the world and they may end up Oversharing way too much stuff.

Sit down with them and review their various social media account privacy settings. Check out our articles on Facebook Privacy, Twitter Privacy, and Instagram Safety for tips on what settings you might want to consider having them use.

Also, take a look at their sharing settings for services such as Instagram and Twitter, if you see options to make their profile/pictures private (invite only) instead of Public (where anyone can “follow” them) you may want to consider using the more restrictive settings in order to better protect them.

They’ll be mad that they won’t have as many followers once you make their profiles/tweets private, but you should explain to them that some of those followers don’t always have the best intentions and may just be creepy stalkers.