Back to School Online Safety Guide
As school starts back up for most students across the country and parents face the inevitable back-to-school frenzy that follows, most parents tend to overlook one very important preparation aspect: the digital safety aspect.
The back-to-school season is responsible for billions of dollars spent on digital devices; laptops, tablets and smartphones are changing the way our children learn, and subsequently, the way they interact with the world around them. Unfortunately, many children fall victim to the negative aspects of technology: cyberbullying, sexting and online predation. While certainly all children won’t encounter these issues, it certainly doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and it isn’t an excuse for you not to be aware. In today’s digitally connected world, one of the best things we can offer our child is our parental, involvement, education and vigilance. While you certainly don’t have to stay ahead of your kids when it comes to knowing about the coolest photo app, it is critically important that you know when they start using it; you have a safety plan in place, and you know what to talk to your kids about as well as have insured that all their digital devices are safety enabled.
Geotagging and How to Disable It
Geotagging is when GPS location data is embedded in media, such as photos and videos that were taken on a digital device – usually a smartphone. For example, if you use your smartphone to take a photo of your child at the beach and then upload it directly to Facebook or Twitter, someone with the proper know-how can easily determine the exact location where that photo was taken. Browser add-ons for Firefox and Internet Explorer allow users to view something called “exif data”, which essentially contains geographical coordinates that pinpoint the photo’s origin.
Luckily, disabling geotagging on Apple and Android devices is pretty straightforward and easy to do. Click here to follow the step-by-step guide.
Computer and Smartphone Parental Monitoring Solutions
Monitoring your child’s digital activity on their smartphone and laptop isn’t an invasion of privacy or a reflection of the trust in your relationship with your child; it’s a safety necessity and responsible parenting. Thankfully, there are numerous monitoring programs available to parents, granted some are better than others at giving you the information you need while making your child feel comfortable when they use the computer or smartphone. Some software solutions are comprehensive enough to track and record a child’s web history, social media activity, emails, and even chat sessions.
Computer monitoring solutions are separated into two main types of programs: web-based and computer-based. Web-based programs can be accessed on any computer that has an Internet connection. The only downside with this option is that it’s usually less comprehensive than computer-based programs.
Computer-based programs, on the other hand, are installed directly onto the target computer and can only be accessed from that machine. They are less convenient than web-based programs, but they are typically a little more comprehensive. Computer-based programs work best on a shared household computer where parents can check activity without arousing suspicion. As a parent I am partial to web-based monitoring programs just because they are more convenient and allow me to check in while at work or from my own personal computer. Some programs take it a step further and send parents a summary report email that documents the events of that day. It goes without saying that this is a nice perk when you come across it.
Below are several reviews of computer monitoring solutions, both web-based and computer-based.
In addition to computer monitoring solutions, there are also smartphone monitoring solutions that log text messages, emails, social media activity and phone calls. They can range in intensity from mild to actual spyware. Once again, it’s up to parents to decide on how severe they want the monitoring to be. Personally, I like to use mobile monitoring programs that aren’t spyware, meaning they show up on the phone and my kids know the program is there. I feel that monitoring solutions should be used to reinforce positive behavior without taking away a child’s privacy by spying on them without their knowledge. Below are reviews for several mobile monitoring solutions, some are spyware and some are merely monitoring programs.
Ad Blocker Web Browser Add-On
Ad blocker add-ons for web browsers are extremely useful because they help stop advertising companies and marketing firms from creating “online profiles” of your children based on their browsing habits. They do this by tracking what ads your child clicks on, making it easy for them to serve your child with more relevant or interest-specific online ads. Fortunately, the ad blocker plugins are easy to install and set up.
Here’s a quick before-and-after photo of AdBlock in action.
Click here to find out how to install AdBlock on Safari, Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer
Safety Enabling an iPhone
Keeping an eye on all of your child’s online activity is close to impossible these days, especially since smartphones are only getting faster and easier to use. Mobile monitoring software helps, but sometimes it’s not necessary when the only thing your children need is a gentle reminder. For that, you can use the iPhone’s general settings to help make this smartphone safer for children, and even young teens.
In the how-to guides linked below, you can learn how to disable Internet access, remove certain apps from the device, set restrictions on what apps can be purchased from the App Store, set content restrictions for videos and music, and disable in-app purchases. All of these are very important safety features to take advantage of when it comes to protecting your children digitally and potentially saving yourself hundreds of dollars in unwanted credit card charges.
You can learn how to do it, here.
Setting Parental Controls on Mac OSX and Windows 7
What most parents don’t know is that both Windows 7 and Mac OSX have some pretty impressive, standard parental controls. Unfortunately, they aren’t activated right out of the box, which means parents are going to have to go in and activate them manually. As part of a balanced strategy of using monitoring software and parental controls, parents can ensure their children’s online safety while still giving them the freedom to explore the Internet.
On OSX, parents can limit the types of applications that their children have access to, block certain websites from being accessed, create a list of allowed email addresses that their children can message, and set time limits on computer usage.
The Windows 7 parental controls are similar, offering the ability to set time limits, application restrictions, gaming access based on ESRB ratings and parental controls on their flagship web browser, Internet Explorer.
These parental controls, combined with the advantages of monitoring software and a consistent dialogue, should provide all the protection that children need when using their computer or smartphone in the 2012-2013 school year. Links to both Mac OSX and Windows 7 Parental Controls can be found in the links below.
Back to school is a fun and exciting time in my household. Of course, by the end of summer, we are ALL looking forward to starting a new year. I just want each of you, like me, to welcome the new school year and NOT be overwhelmed by the technology aspect of it.
We at Yoursphere for Parents are here to alleviate this particular stress in your family’s digital life.