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How to keep your family safe in the digital age

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The online world poses a host of new dangers to children, but taking the right precautions can make them safer than ever before

Once upon a time, the main danger parents worried about for their kids was who they might meet when playing outside unattended. However, a National Trust survey in 2016 found that children are spending half the time that their parents did outside. But new dangers have arisen from what kids are doing instead of accepting sweets from strangers. Now, the sweets are virtual, and the strangers are encountered online.

Lots of children these days have computers in their bedrooms, plus their own tablets and smartphones – all from an early age. Peer pressure has made it nearly impossible to keep kids away from online gaming and social media, and this new social milieu can be where cyberbullying takes place. Children are also likely to be far less cautious about what they download and install on their devices than adults, leaving them open to malware and viruses.

In 2016, the NSPCC recorded an 88% increase in kids calling its ChildLine regarding online abuse since 2011. From malicious and hurtful messages to death threats and suggestions of suicide, the kinds of treatment kids experience via social media and chat apps is fast becoming the primary form of bullying they receive and ask for help with.

Children now spend three hours on average a day online according to Childwise’s 2017 annual report, and this is longer than they spend watching TV. One in eight say they spend more than six hours a day online. They are just as likely to watch content on their phones as on TV. In fact, they are more likely to use their smartphones for mobile entertainment than texting or calling, and 23% of the children surveyed said they missed sleep due to overuse.

Kids are clearly not missing out on the smartphone revolution in ubiquitous mobile computing, and now take their media and communications with them wherever they go. However, rather than being a threat, the smartphone can actually help them to be safer than ever before, and keep parents more directly in touch with what they are up to.

Lots of kids don’t want to be “friends” with their parents on social media, but it’s still possible to use some of the same services as they do to keep the lines of communication open. In fact, it can help show that you as a parent are taking their lifestyles seriously. They may not want parents to see what they say and do online, and you may not want to intrude on their privacy to this level. But that doesn’t stop a parent installing Snapchat, WhatsApp, Discord or the Steam chat client on their computer or phone and communicating directly, if the child prefers these systems. Taking an interest doesn’t have to be interfering, and you can even make a joke about your adult misunderstanding of the functions of these systems.

On a more proactive level, because smartphones are location-aware devices, they can be used to keep track of where your child is, or find their phone if they lose it. With appropriate software, it’s also possible to create a “geofence” – a boundary around where your child is supposed to be, for example their school grounds. If they leave the area during the time and date that this geofence is active, you will be alerted.

Although this is another area that might not be popular with your children, it is a parental responsibility to keep some kind of tabs on who they are talking to on social networks and what they are saying, or what images they are posting. Similarly, you may feel the need to monitor who they are calling and texting.

Most importantly, some kids find it hard to regulate the amount of time they spend looking at their various screens and using specific applications. Cutting out screen usage entirely is never going to be possible when so much of our contemporary culture revolves around computing devices and online activities, and particularly if kids see their parents doing things they have been told not to. But balance is important, and screen time needs to be combined with alternative activities in “real life” such as sports, which may need some time limits on screen time being set externally.

These methods put together can be very effective for keeping your children out of harm’s way, and a great way to implement them is Kaspersky’s Safe Kids, which brings together comprehensive protective measures into one place. The free version lets you manage your kids’ online activities, which applications they can use on their computers, and how they use their devices.

However, the premium version, costing £14.99, adds the ability to track a child’s location via their mobile device including geofencing, to monitor their social network activity, particularly Facebook, and to keep track of their Android calls and SMS messages. It will even send you alerts in real time if suspicious activities are detected.

It’s always imperative that you discuss what you are doing with your children when you implement software such as this, and how it benefits their safety, so that they don’t rebel against it and try to disable it. But you can choose how far you go with monitoring activities, and even use this as part of a multi-layered approach to parenting.

Rather than taking a blanket approach of spying on your children to ensure they are safe, greater or lesser amounts of control can be used depending on how responsible they are showing themselves to be. In the long run what you really want is for your child to know how to be safe for themselves. But they are still children and may not have learnt this yet, so with their buy-in, Kaspersky Safe Kids has all the tools you need to keep them safe in the digital age.

Find out more about Kaspersky Safe Kids and try it out for free.