Help me with some internet safety tips for families
February 16, 2015 3:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm doing some presentations for parents of kids K-12 grades about the nebulous topic of internet safety and could use some advice/stories/resources from real-world parents to help me make sure this is relevant and useful.

The school district has decided to do this big Internet Safety Day which is pretty broad and wide-ranging. There's an intro, then we break out for 30 minute workshops. I'm doing one that is like "Ten Apps in Ten Minutes" where I explain what Snapchat is and stuff. That one will be fine. The other ones is more broad/vague: "How the heck does this work? The nuts-n-bolts of personal electronics and home networks: how to enable filters, how to (try to) block dangerous content, how to get info on accessing text messaging on different phone plans" (principal wrote it, not me). This is not a very tech savvy community. Kids are tech savvier but not that much. Some kids have smart phones, some don't, most that do have Android phones.

My main thrust is "Talk to your kids about this" but I'd like people to know what options are available them even if they are not ones I would suggest.

I'd like to do a decent job, so I'm going to outline different parental control options loosely

- How to use Parental Controls in Mac/Window environments
- What people can do at the router level (turn internet off from 2-8 am for example, some firewall and filtering stuff)
- Options for kids' cell phones (find my iphone, android equivalent, websites for safety info for parents for various major ISPs and telcos)

I'd love good, clear, realistic suggestions for the above if people have websites or tutorials or even books that they think are really useful or things that have worked in their house with their actual kids. I do not have kids, and most of the kids I know are on the younger end of the spectrum and not very online. This is a 30 min talk maximum so pretty broad strokes for a lot of this (not looking for big scary negative examples like this question) . Thanks!
posted by jessamyn to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
A few years ago my school had a visit from the MA Attorney General's office about internet safety. Their website may have ideas; I remember that their advice was dead-on and relevant.
posted by kinetic at 3:21 PM on February 16, 2015

We have a rule that I must be consulted about any pop-up.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:06 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can summarize my own parenting and teaching experience as: no matter what type of intervention is put into place, kids will find a way to get around it. My own students showed me how to get around our school's firewalls. Adults should not rely on interventions to keep kids safe. It's more important to talk about cyberstalking, bullying, all the ugly stuff.
posted by kinetic at 4:24 PM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

I tried a commercial Net Nanny type service when the kids were about 8 and 6. I gave up after two weeks because it was so arbitrary. My son was real interested in military history (still is actually) and I remember the thing that finally pushed me over the edge was the service was blocking the West Point reading list. I had the Net Nanny set for older teen, and I still couldn't get it to not see legitimate history content as "violent." So I gave up and relied on talking to my kids, and keeping the computers in a public space in the house. It worked.

Something else I did, which is totally unpractical for your talk, is set up the PCs to dual boot and required everybody to use Linux when online. That was I didn't have to worry about viruses and malware. That worked too, and resulted in two kids with no respect for Microsoft :)
posted by COD at 5:07 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I Agree with Kinetic- there are very,very few types of controls that kids will not circumvent if they want to. conversely, there is very little network usage that can be hidden from authorities if they want to track it. You can't easily block select internet usage, nor can you hide your usage from being recorded.

A more productive approach is to teach young students safe and honorable habits, and have them be aware of common hazards of online activity. has some good guidelines and is not too sensationalistic.

on a related note, there should be a session hosted by the school administration that presents the legal limits and requirements that the School and the parents each are responsible for, as the principal adults providing internet service to minors. There is an Acceptable Use Policy document required for all students, right? that a parent must sign? It could be reviewed and discussed. What is the parent's consequence or legal risk if a student engages in cyber-bullying? What is the school's/district's limit to their ability to police/monitor student usage? and etc...
posted by TDIpod at 5:54 PM on February 16, 2015

Response by poster: Adults should not rely on interventions to keep kids safe.

That is definitely the message that I will be telling people. At the same time people need to know what tools are available to them and I do not know what all of them are, so I would appreciate pointers from people who have them.

There is an Acceptable Use Policy document required for all students, right? that a parent must sign?

I am not the IT person, nor am I a teacher at this school. I was brought in as the "tech person" to talk about what I am specifically talking about. I'm personally interested in those issues but they're well outside my professional wheelhouse in this situation since I have nothing to do with school policy.
posted by jessamyn at 6:26 PM on February 16, 2015

Not sure whether this is exactly what you're looking for, but: we let my 8-year-old download iPad games, but we hold the password. We don't have to think a game looks awesome, but our hard and fast rule is nothing massive and multiplayer, because we don't know who's playing, and they might be jerks. By holding the password ourselves, we get to ok everything that gets downloaded, and to be sure, it's mostly badly designed crap. But I'm not worried about bad Minecraft clones, I'm worried about bad grownups, so for the moment this works for us.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:32 PM on February 16, 2015

We don't use any parental controls, filters or anything like that in our house (almost 13 year old boy) because I've always felt they were more trouble than they were worth, they'd block things I don't want to block, and eventually he'll learn how to defeat them. We always require that screens are to be used in common areas of the house though, not in private.

One thing you might want to show parents is where to find the internet history in various browsers (and then tell them about incognito mode as an example of how easy it is to get around these things) as well as any relevant system logs. We always use "remember, we CAN find out what you're doing and if we feel there's a legitimate reason for us to do so, we will" as a deterrent.

System logs can be useful if there's an issue with screens being used at times when they're not allowed. Just seeing that a computer had been used by a certain person at a certain time can come in handy. That might be a bit too technical for most parents but maybe just show that these are tools that exist that they can look further into. Viewing the basic activity logs in Windows and Macs are pretty easy things to learn about.
posted by bondcliff at 6:48 PM on February 16, 2015

My daughter just turned 13, and I have the passwords to all her social media accounts. I very rarely log into them, but knowing I can check on her at any time has made her think twice about what she posts online. This is based off me being a 35 year old who is friends with my mom on Facebook, so I make sure never to post anything I wouldn't want my mom to read. I think it's a good rule.
posted by Ruki at 7:27 PM on February 16, 2015

We use the Apple parental controls. On the desktop machines we give kids defined user spaces that set defined hours of operation, and we set applications that may be used.

The iOS devices restrict what content may be searched within the App store (by age limit) and the iCloud family plan thingy ensures purchases/downloads are routed to us for approval.

We have an 11 year old and a 8 year old and have (so far) been pleased by environment they have been exposed to.

My daughter's friends all use Instagram and this has been a point of contention (we will not let her have an account until she meets the minimum age requirement; her friends have simply lied), but it has led to a discussion about why we are doing this (essentially we want her experiences to be good and healthy ones). In the end I think our kids respect this.
posted by mazola at 10:28 PM on February 16, 2015

And to add to this, we have countered by adding 'Insta-Fam' and 'Insta-Grams' where the children have a safe environment to share pictures with us (via iCloud shared albums) and have direct access to their Grams for texting, etc.
posted by mazola at 10:32 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

A couple small things come to mind.

- I recently setup "Family Sharing" on my daughter's iPad. Previously, she had my iCloud/iTunes account, and if she wanted anything, I'd have to enter my password. Now, she can send me requests for any purchase remotely, and I get a buzz on my phone, and I can tap yes/no to make it happen. It was a total pain in the ass to get it all working (it was very buggy and un-Apple-like) but now I have a good handle on everything she has and wants on her iPad (free stuff has to be approved by me too). It's a good way to monitor what kinds of inputs she's getting. And since it's easy to send requests, I get them more often, but she isn't just downloading apps but using it for music and iBooks (mostly graphic novels on their bookstore). It has worked out well.

- Outside of tech solutions, there are family/social rules of thumb maybe worth covering in a class. We have a house rule where no laptop/tablet is allowed inside her room and never behind closed doors. Basically, she can only use devices in social settings where a parent is around.
posted by mathowie at 10:52 PM on February 16, 2015

I've always made sure the kids have their own login to the 'family' computer and have been strict about them using their own login. This way, there's no argument that 'it wasn't me' if something shows up in history or elsewhere.

Ditto only parents having the password to iTunes account or equivalent. Double-ditto to insisting on having login details for social media accounts - my rule has been that, if I try and log on and can't, everything gets nuked. I have been unfortunate enough to have to use this and it can be incredibly useful if things go awry to be able to (as much as is possible) undo the damage.

I do have a number of domains blocked on our router at home, but I don't kid myself that this is any real barrier - it's more there as a reminder that that site is forbidden so there's no excuse that it got clicked on accidentally because it takes a conscious effort to get around it. My kids also believe the router logs every single thing that goes through it and which device it was requested by (although this could be a bit like the period where kids know about santa clause but don't say anything in case they stop getting presents).

I think the real key is to make sure kids understand the dangers and the consequences of getting into the wrong places, then trusting them. But keeping your eyes open at the same time ...
posted by dg at 2:07 AM on February 17, 2015

Just Nthing the idea of having children and young teens use their PCs and smart phones in a public family space.

This isn't about tech specifically but I'd ask parents to think about their reactions if they had a child who sent a naked selfie to a "friend" who then made it public. Since at least 2 young women have killed themselves after having such photos become public and then being bullied and shamed about it, I think it's impossible to divorce the use of tech and the misuse of tech. I told my kid that I did not want her to send naked pictures but if she did, and they went public, and anyone gave her shit about it that I hoped she'd say, "I have a beautiful body. That doesn't make me a slut. What's your problem?"

Of course, she would never say that but I really wish we gave the young victims of sext shaming hugs instead of suspension from school, etc.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:02 AM on February 17, 2015

I'd ask parents to think about their reactions if they had a child who sent a naked selfie to a "friend" who then made it public
Much as we hate to think about it, it's worth thinking about what your reaction would be in the reverse (ie they were the one making it public. Just saying.
posted by dg at 6:53 PM on February 17, 2015

I am not a parent, but one social media thing that some successful parents I know do is that any social network that the kids belong to, the parents get an account and get added as contacts/friends/whatever.

These days, with smartphones and stuff, the rule of "only use the computer in the public areas of the house (living room, kitchen, whatever)" is harder to do, but may still be useful.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:54 PM on February 17, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for all the feedback. The meeting went off well last night. I did a quickie "Ten Apps in Ten Minutes" thing which went well and supplied people with resources including this report from Berkman Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies and the Connect Safely website along with Common Sense Media which had some of the best sensible information including some facts to counter some of the media-fomented drama (child sex abuse is actually way DOWN, not up, even though the internet is HUGE now and wasn't 15 years ago, most kids don't bully, most kids aren't bullies, most kids don't sext, etc). I also added links to the family/parent info sites for the major local ISPs/telcos and support forums talking about family/safety options in Mac/Windows environments.

The most helpful part for parents was talking to the other parents and asking stuff like "Is my turning off the internet in the house at 8:30 reasonable?" "How much do you think it's okay to have kids' passwords to sites" "Do you let your kids sign up for sites where they have to be 13 if they aren't 13?" and I was able to share some stories from this thread especially about keeping screens in public places.

Best surprise was that one of the school co-principals really did show up armed with the acceptable use policies and also the working legal definitions of bullying and harassment that they used and talked about the laws and policies surrounding online hassling/harassment that slops over on to school time and how they work out those issues at the school. He also has a policy that all the devices get charged in his room overnight, so kids don't get to go to bed with their phones. Interesting evening all around. I learned a lot of stuff and I hope people learned some things from me. Thanks for your help.
posted by jessamyn at 5:37 AM on February 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Glad it went well. For anyone still reading, check out the BBC's Woman's Hour podcast on internet safety.

"A new survey commissioned by the BBC reveals that more than half (57%) of 11-16 year olds questioned have done something considered risky or anti-social on networking sites with the majority (62%) saying peer pressure played a part." Shocking, isn't it?

That segment of the podcast deals in part with cyber grooming and mostly with what parents can do to make the internet safer without sucking out the fun for their kids.

What I found interesting is that one of the speakers put it in terms of "modern day stranger danger" and emphasized the importance of teaching children that internet personae can be deceiving. One thing that was mentioned was to regularly go through their contacts and delete any that are not real life friends/contacts, IIRC. Another thing was to encourage kids to alert their parents if anything untoward happens and make sure they know how to report inappropriate online behavior.

This are the links they included:
posted by travelwithcats at 6:29 PM on March 3, 2015

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