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Online Safety for Kids

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You only need to glance at Facebook and Instagram to see feeds dedicated to moms and tots. Their lives are so glamourous and their outfits are always perfectly put together! While any mother knows that those gorgeously styled Instagram pics are far from reality of motherhood, it highlights a growing trend in an ever increasingly social world. Everything we do these days is shared via social media… on Facebook to our nearest and dearest (and old high school boyfriends).

And in a world where lives are lived on electronic devices and “Share” no longer refers to toys in the playground, what can we do to keep our kids safe?

As the mom of a 2 year old toddler, I had this thought when I launched my online baby and kids fashion website BAMBINISTA.COM earlier this year. I had spent many years working in retail buying of fashion and kids brands around the world, and after the birth of my baby girl in London, I searched all over for the right style of modern, trendy and minimal baby clothes that reflected my own style. After extensive searching, I realized there were a ton of really cool brands from the UK, Europe and further that had what I was looking for, but they were really hard to find. Worst of all there was nowhere that had a bunch of amazing kids’ clothes in one place. This is what lead me to start my online store, BAMBINISTA.

In the early days of starting my company, I realized very quickly that social media was what it was all about to spread the word of my business, and people don’t just want to see pictures of products and soulless brands, they want to know your story. Who are you, what lead you to be here, how can we “connect” with you. They say that the second most visited page on a website after the home page is the “About Us” page. People REALLY care who you are.

Cue problem. 

My husband is an IT geek who is so concerned with online privacy that that he doesn’t even have a Facebook profile. I’ve always been careful, when posting pictures with my daughter in, to make sure that my privacy settings were high, I never tagged my home address, there were never any pictures with the baby in the bath, etc. But if I continued to exclude myself and my family from my website and social media feeds, it would be just another soulless brand. This meant finding out about how to protect my family’s safety while still being able to share pictures and stories about my life. 

And whether you use your social media for a business or purely to share your life with your loved ones (or complete strangers) near or far, there’s still a lot to think about when it comes to keeping your kids safe. Sadly, most of no longer live in a world where we can play in the street on our bikes with our friends as long as we’re home by supper time. 

And now with the internet, a whole world of unsavory characters have access to our kids. I’m not saying lock them in a dungeon until they are 21 (trust me, I’ve considered this option), but there are some things we can do to make sure they are safer and we’re doing our best to protect them.

 

WHAT CAN YOU DO YOURSELF:

Check your privacy settings: This sounds super simple, but when was the last time you checked your privacy settings in Facebook? Who can see your posts and pictures? Friends? Friends of Friends? ANYONE?!?!? And how well do you know your friends’ friends? Probably not well enough to email them photos of your child, so why let them see them on FB?

Geo tagging: Do you know what this is? I hardly do. Every time you take a picture on a smartphone, that picture is embedded with certain information. Like the exact location that photo was taken. Pop that onto Instagram and anyone who really wants to know can find you. Especially at home. Eeeeek!

Location Tagging: We all do this… “The family eating lunch at at Blah Blah Place” add cute picture of your kid. Fantastic. All unsavories in the area know exactly where to find that cute kid. How about tagging your location on social media AFTER you leave?

And remember… Don’t post pics of other people’s kids without their permission. Actually, don’t even take pictures of other people’s kids without their permission. Once someone has that picture, you don’t know what they will do with it.

 

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO PROTECT YOUR KIDS:

Even if we ourselves are super conscious of our actions online and on social media, the reality is that all kids have access to various devices from a very early age. It’s more important than ever to know what you can do to protect your kids.

Most importantly… EDUCATE YOURSELF! It won’t surprise you that your kid is more technically savvy at 5 years old than you were at 25! Research parental settings, and find out what apps your kids are using. Facebook and Instagram are no longer the social apps of choice for kids.

MONITOR: Only allow access to internet in family spaces rather than allowing kids to retreat to behind the closed doors of their bedrooms. And make sure all your devices have parental controls. Insist on knowing the passwords to your children’s devices so that you can randomly check their activity. It’s not always going to be possible to monitor their activity 100% of the time, but don’t accept them saying you don’t give them privacy… you are parenting, and that’s OK! 

COMMUNICATE: Talk to them early and often. Ask questions. Explain to them why they need boundaries and the potential dangers on the internet.

 

The below advice by age group is from Getsafeonline.org and offers some great tips for protecting your children:

Advice if your child is under 5 years old:

  • Start setting some boundaries, even at this early age … it’s never too early to do things like setting limits for the amount of time they can spend on the computer.
  • Make sure devices like your mobile, tabletor laptop are out of reach. Set up passwords/PINs and make sure you keep these details to yourself.
  • On computers and any other devices your child has access to, set the parental controls to the appropriate age, and enabling access to only appropriate content.
  • Buy or downloadparental control software, switch it on and keep it updated. There are many versions on the market, which work in different ways and available at a range of prices, starting at free.
  • The big four Internet Service Providers (ISPs) give their customers free parental controls which can be activated at any time. Check them out and take advantage of them.
  • Buy or downloadonly apps, games, online TV and films which have age ratings, which you should check before allowing your child to play with or watch them.
  • Share your technology rules with grandparents, babysitters and your child’s friends’ parents so that they know what to do when looking after your child.
  • When using public WiFi– for example in cafés or hotels – remember that it might not include parental controls. Innocently letting your child play with your mobile or tablet while you’re enjoying a latte may result in them accessing inappropriate content or revealing personal information.
  • If you have a family computer or tablet, set the homepage to an appropriate website such as Cbeebies

If your child is aged 6 to 9 years old:

  • On computers and any other devices your child has access to, set the parental controls to the appropriate age, and enabling access to only appropriate content.
  • Buy or download parental control software, switch it on and keep it updated. There are many versions on the market, which work in different ways and available at a range of prices, starting at free.
  • The big four Internet Service Providers (ISPs) give their customers free parental controls which can be activated at any time. Check them out and take advantage of them.
  • Agree a list of websites your child is allowed to visit and the kind of personal information they shouldn’t reveal about themselves online, such as the name of their school or their home address.
  • Set time limits for activities such as using the internet and games consoles.
  • Make sure your child is accessing only age-appropriate content by checking out the age ratings on games, online TV, films and apps.
  • Discuss with your older children what they should or shouldn’t be showing their younger siblings on the internet, mobile devices, games consoles and other devices.
  • Discuss with other parents subjects such as what age to buy children devices that connect to the internet.
  • Don’t be pressured by your child into letting them use certain technologies or view certain online content, if you don’t think they are old enough or mature enough… no matter how much they pester you or what their friends’ parents allow.

Advice if your child is aged 10 to 12

  • Set some boundaries for your child before they get their first ‘connected device’ (mobile, tablet, laptop or games console). Once they have it, it can be more difficult to change the way they use it or the settings.
  • Tell your child that it’s very important to keep phones and other devices secure and well hidden when they’re not at home, to minimise the risk of theft or loss.
  • Discuss with your child what is safe and appropriate to post and share online. Written comments, photos and videos all form part of their ‘digital footprint’ and could be seen by anyone and available on the internet forever, even if it is subsequently deleted.
  • Talk to your child about the kind of content they see online. They might be looking for information about their changing bodies and exploring relationships. They also need to understand the importance of not sending other people - whoever they are - pictures of themselves naked.
  • Remember that services like Facebook and YouTube have a minimum age limit of 13 for a reason. Don’t bow to pressure, talk to other parents and their school to make sure everyone is in agreement.
  • Explain to your child that being online doesn’t give them anonymity or protection, and that they shouldn’t do anything online that they wouldn’t do face-to-face.

Advice if your child is aged 13 or over

  • It’s never too late to reinforce boundaries … your child may think they are adult enough, but they definitely still need your wisdom and guidance.
  • You may be starting to think your child knows more about using technology than you do, and you may be right. Make it your business to keep up to date and discuss what you know with your child.
  • Talk frankly to your child about how they explore issues related to the health, wellbeing, body image and sexuality of themselves and others online. They may be discovering inaccurate or dangerous information on online at what is a vulnerable time in their lives.
  • Review the settings on parental controls in line with your child’s age and maturity and adjust them if appropriate. They may ask you to trust them sufficiently to turn them off completely, but think carefully before you do and agree in advance what is acceptable online behaviour.
  • Also talk frankly to your child about how they behave towards others, particularly with regard to what they post online. Be willing to have frank conversations about bullying, and posting hurtful, misleading or untrue comments. Make them aware of the dangers of behaviours like sexting and inappropriate use of webcams.
  • Give your child control of their own budget for activities like downloading apps and music, but agree boundaries beforehand so that they manage their money responsibly. Don’t give them access to your payment card or other financial details.
  • Be clear in your own mind on issues such as copyrighted material and plagiarism so that you can explain to your child what is legal and what isn’t.
  • If your child has the technological know-how – and with sufficient influence from others – they could be vulnerable to experimenting with accessing confidential information from the websites of other people or companies. Hacking amongst this age group is very rare, but it does exist. Explain the dangers and consequences.

Here are some questions you could discuss with your children, now that they are older:

  • Do you really know everybody on your ‘friends’ list?
  • Do you know how to use and set privacy and security settings? Can you show me how?
  • Do you ever get messages from strangers? If so, how do you handle them?
  • Do you know anyone who has made plans to meet someone offline that they’ve only ever spoken to online?
  • Are people in your group of friends ever mean to each other, or to other people, online or on phones? If so, what do they say? Has anyone ever been mean to you? Would you tell me about it if they were?
  • Has anyone at your school, or anyone else you know, taken naked or sexy photos and sent them to other people, or received photos like that? 

And if all else fails… maybe we can consider locking them in a dungeon until they are 21.

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