I have been on a mission for quite a long time now to find a reliable parental control solution and content filtering solution and created a detailed post on the subject a few years ago.
I have tried all kinds of software, most of which has been lacklustre or simply unreliable as it will randomly stop working (Microsoft Family Safety, Bitdefender Parental Controls) or simply doesn’t do what it claims and gives you a false sense of security (Qustodio).
Many parents cannot afford to pay for software for all their devices as it is, and Apple has now made this an even more difficult solution for parents by blocking all 3rd party software vendors from using parental controls on iPhones and iPads or by crippling their software and making it useless.
So if you are thinking of buying your child an iPhone or iPad, I would suggest you consider an Android device instead if you want any kind of parental control.
Lately, I have been trying out a number of DNS filtering services and I believe I have finally found one that not only works, but is also FREE, at least for the basic service. It is called CleanBrowsing DNS.
What this basically does is that it takes you DNS requests and instead of just return the IP address to your device as normal DNS would, it will process the request itself and returns the website content with any filtering applied.
So it will either completely block any website on the not allowed list, or will enforce the SAFE SEARCH mode on sites like youtube and google, thus overriding local settings on your devices.
Using DNS filtering is a simple case of changing the DNS servers on your broadband router admin, which will affect every device in your house that is using WIFI or connected to the router via cable.
If you have older kids with mobile phones, then you would also need to apply the cleanbrowsing DNS settings to their phones directly, otherwise, it would have no effect when they are connected to the mobile network.
Please bear in mind that DNS filtering is very easy to bypass for any kids that are quite computer literate or even just know how to use google to search for a workaround.
So for older kids, you will need to have some parental control software on their devices in order to stop them changing the DNS settings, and be sure to check for yourself that it cannot be changed. I recommend MMGuardian.
On Windows computers/laptops, you simply need to make sure that your kids are not administrators, and only standard users, then they will not be able to change network or DNS settings. You should make yourself the only administrator.
The free version of CleanBrowsing will not block social media sites. If you want to do this, then you will need to purchase the paid plan so that you can add your own filters to block those sites or others which are not blocked by default, you can also create separate profiles for each child if required.
If you have set the DNS filtering at router level and want to bypass the DNS filtering on your own devices, then simply set different dns servers on those devices. I recommend using CloudFlare DNS rather than your ISP.
Qustodio seems like a popular choice for many parents due to marketing and the endless amounts of affiliate clickbait reviews. Read my “honest” Qustodio review to find why you should NOT be using Qustodio for your parental controls.
If your kids have multiple devices on different OS’s (Apple, Android, Amazon, Windows, Mac, Linux), then parental control can be a real nightmare, as most apps are not available on all platforms.
For desktop security, I was using Microsoft Family Safety for time limits and activity reporting plus BitDefender for cybersecurity + openDNS for an additional level of content filtering at the router level.
For my kids mobile devices, I was using MMGuardian + Kid-Control. If your devices support these 2 apps, then I would recommend using these over Qustodio.
Last year I bought Amazon Fire tablets for my eldest boys, and due to their age I could not use the built-in “fire for kids” mode as it was too childish and restrictive, and they just refused to use the tablets. Sadly MMGuardian is not available on Amazon marketplace, so I had to look for something else, as It quickly becomes very confusing and a lot of hassle if you are using different products on different devices, so I started looking at the limited options available on the Amazon store.
There was little choice on Amazon marketplace, so I decided to give Qustodio another try.
TL/DR summary: Qustodio has very poor security and is easy for kids to bypass or simply uninstall the app. You definitely cannot rely on Qustodio and will need to be diligent and technically aware enough to also manually check and monitor your kids devices every single day to make sure they have not tampered with Qustodio.
I tried out the trial version of Qustodio a few years back when I wrote my article Cyber Security: How to protect your kids online, but it was lacking in several areas so didn’t bother installing it on my kids devices and opted to go for MMGuardian + Kid Control at the time, as MMGuardian had better monitoring, better activity tracking, better security and more control but lousy GPS tracking, which is why I used kid-Control as well.
Overall, the first impression of Qustodio is that it seems to do a fairly decent job at blocking content and controlling screen time. It blocks dangerous sites, it enforces safe search in all browsers and on youtube, it allows you to block or allow specific apps and websites either globally or per device, and it also allows you to set time limits.
The interface is not especially intuitive, and until you get used to the app, it is quite an effort to figure out how some features work and where to find the settings as some options are rather disjointed and the web interface does not match the Android app. My wife still struggles to find where or why something is blocked or disabled.
With the screen time, you can enable/disable time controls, by setting which hours of the day the device can be used and you can also set allowed number of hours each say. So you could, for example, say that they can use their tablet for 4 hours per day between 9am – 7pm.
Since I have started using Qustodio, they do seem to have implemented one of my suggestions, and you can now set time limits on specific apps as well, which means you can limit time on games or social media only for example.
All access levels is very much an all or nothing solution though, so you cannot make a change that applies today only for example, so if you block access on Tuesday, it will be blocked every Tuesday until you undo it.
What I really wanted is a time quota solution like Microsoft Family safety, allowing time to added ad-hoc on a daily basis, so kids have no time by default, they have to come home from school, do their chores etc, and then they could request time, at which point I would grant the request and give them x number of hours screen time.
This was very flexible and very easy to manage and meant that if they were banned for being naughty, I just did not give them any time that day.
Lack of Monitoring
One huge issue is the complete lack of any social media or chat app monitoring. Qustodio claims on their website to have social media monitoring, but this is not true. The only option they have is for Facebook on desktop pc, which requires the child to install the Qustodio facebook app, which can just as easily be removed by your child, so is essentially useless.
There doesn’t seem to be any support for the facebook mobile app or monitoring for the many other social media websites or apps on mobile devices such as Twitter, Instagram, Google+ or any of the myriad of chat apps such as WhatsApp, Skype, Saraha and all the others.
The whole reason for monitoring your kid’s online activities is to make sure they are not being harassed, threatened, bullied or getting involved with bad people. In this respect, Qustodio completely fails and is essentially useless. They could be chatting to paedophiles or being groomed by drug dealers, and you will never know.
Location Tracking is Unreliable
Most times I tried to use the location tracking to find out where my kids were, it gave a completely wrong location or was still reporting an old location from hours or even days ago.
For this reason, I do not rely on a single product, as none of them has been perfect. I primary used kid-control for the location tracking, but this has also become unreliable, so I am again looking for alternatives.
Note: I am now using Life360 for tracking, which has been very reliable.
Changes require a reboot
This one really does defy logic for me. If you make any changes to your child’s settings, such as block/allowing an app, adding/removing time etc, this will often not take effect until the next day unless you reboot the device.
So let’s say your child is being naughty or has not done their chores, and you lock their phone as punishment, you think they now have no access. In fact they are sitting up in their room using their phone as normal.
Tomorrow comes, the block has now kicked in, but your child has now gone out with the friends. You remove the lock, but of course, it has no effect. So unless your child thinks to reboot their phone, they are now stuck unable to use their phone or make calls and think you have done it on purpose.
I contacted Qustodio support about this and they confirmed this is intended behaviour. I did point out the above reasons why changes need to take immediate effect or they are pointless, but they were not interested and did not remotely care about the safety of the kids.
Poor Security, Easy for kids to bypass
Sadly, any good features about Qustodio are rendered completely moot by the fact that the security is terrible and it is very easy for kids to bypass.
The first thing I noticed, is that when the screen time runs out, Qustodio locks the screen whenever you try to do anything, but it takes a few seconds for it to kick in. This means that the kids can still use the device in those few seconds, as they just continually keep opening the apps for a few seconds to read messages etc. It is also possible for them to perform blocked actions if they are quick enough, as they can perform the action before Qustodio blocks it.
For example, even if you have blocked access to the play store, so they cannot arbitrarily install apps, this can be bypassed. Granted it is repetitive and arduous, but kids will go to any lengths to get around restrictions.
All my kids are quite IT literate, and since I wrote this review originally, one of my boys figured out how to completely uninstall Qustodio and told his brother how to do it. Frankly, it wasn’t hard, a quick Google search brings up a youtube video showing you how to do it. It took me a couple of weeks to notice since Qustodio does not alert you that the app has been removed and is no longer being monitored, so that was 2 weeks of unrestricted access for both my boys.
Since then I have discovered an even easier method. You simply uninstall Qustodio in the usual way (hold icon, drag to uninstall link), if you do it quick enough then you will bypass the anti-tampering, as it takes a couple of seconds to kick in.
There is no easy way to stop your kids from doing this either, so my only option was to tell them I was now monitoring for the app being removed and to regularly check their phones. I did contact Qustodio a few months back to report this issue, but they didn’t care.
A few weeks later my kids had then figured out how to bypass Qustodio instead by using the android Guest account, meaning that when I checked their phones, everything seemed fine to me. I only found out about this due to them slipping up and using their phones right in front of me after bedtime when they were supposed to be locked and forced them to show me what they had done. If not for this slip-up, then I would have been oblivious for who knows how long.
I advised Qustodio support about this issue too, and again no real feeling that they care and clealry nothing has been done to address this as it is not exactly a new hack. The best they do is offer a workaround, which is to make yourself the primary user on your kids phones, and then add them as guest accounts. Not ideal.
If all else fails, your kids can simply reboot their Android device in safe mode, which bypasses any parental controls. I have only found 1 app which has a solution to this, which is MMguardian. Thy have a special version of the app which you install during the phone setup, which acts as the phone admin. NOTE: This is not the app you get from the play store.
So if your kids are good with IT and computers, or are even just savvy enough to use Google to search for “how to hack Qustodio”, then they are going to get around Qustodio easily, and it might potentially take you months until you twig.
I would have to recommend MMGuardian over Qustodio 100%, which while not perfect, is way more secure and does have better monitoring. I have switched back to mmguardian myself and had to resort to just DNS filtering for the Amazon tablets and taking them away at bed time.
To be blunt (no insult intended), most parents are not very computer literate and are also oblivious to the dangers of letting their kids loose on the Internet without supervision or protection.
This is not specifically because you are parents but simply a statistic based on research that shows that 69% of the population are not very computer literate and 26% cannot use a computer at all. It is also based on my 18 years as a parent and dealing with schools and other parents.
While your kids might be better with technology, they have ZERO knowledge or experience of staying safe online, and will happily look at much of the inappropriate stuff you would rather they didn’t and of course, the more you tell them not to, the more they want to.
Are you aware of the most common dangers that the Internet and social media (Facebook, twitter etc) present? children are regularly bullied online, your little darling could even be the one doing the bullying and this cyber-bullying has led to many children committing suicide. They can be easily manipulated into performing any number of dangerous or perverted acts, or groomed into meeting a sexual predator or sharing photos.
Using the internet without protection can also cause you a lot of damage, and if you are allowing your child to use your computer or tablet, then you could end up being the target of cyber-crime. Everything from malware and ransomware attacks, trojans and bots using your computer to attack other people to identity theft, and emptying your bank account.
Just as you do in the real world, you need to offer guidance, set boundaries, and, depending on your child’s age and maturity level, carry out some safeguards.
You also need to be aware of where the threats are coming from, so it is your responsibility as a parent to educate yourself about online security and take action not just for your kids, but for yourself and other people’s children too, who can be indirectly affected by your lack of knowledge or action.
I of course lock down my own home internet connection and my kid’s phones and tablets and PC’s , but the problem is, that none of the other parents ever did the same. This then meant that all the content I had blocked could simply be viewed on my kid’s friend’s phones, computers and consoles. This includes looking at porn and whatever else unencumbered, thus bypassing my efforts.
When my kids were at primary school, they had friends who were watching porn on their mobile devices and playing adult games like grand theft auto at only 10 years old, and probably younger. Alas the school did not care and was not interested in my advice or help, which is what prompted me to write this article several years ago.
So these are practices you not only need to put into place yourself but ideally your friends as well and encourage your school to promote them, post them on social media for other parents to see as well.
If you need help in getting your home network and devices secure, then I can provide this as a service, which in most cases I can do remotely.
I also recommend to read: Screen Time Guide for Parents Screens are everywhere in the modern world. But spending too much time looking at screens can be harmful to your children’s eyes, bodies and minds.
Things you can do right now to protect your kids
1. Install Internet security and parental controls on all your computers and mobile devices
Children are just as vulnerable as the rest of us, if not more so, to clicking on bad links and downloading malicious software. Every device that is connected to the internet needs to be protected from malware. You also need the ability to block them from viewing inappropriate websites.
Some anti-virus software has parental controls built in, but generally, it is not very good and you are better off using separate products.
Internet Security / Anti-Virus
Windows computers do have Windows Defender built in, which is better than nothing and will block most malware, but lacks a lot of other cyber security features.
Windows defender may well be sufficient for the security savvy user who never clicks on dodgy links, always checks URL’s and SSL certificates, never visits porn sites or downloads pirate software or movies etc. But for anyone else (including your kids), you need something better with more protection and more features.
There are some of the most popular free products available from trustworthy brands. Bear in mind that the FREE versions are limited in functionality and features, and may not be much better than Windows Defender, so for the best protection, you do need to use a premium product.
For your mobile devices, just search for the names in the Apple or Android store. When it comes to the mobile versions, there is not a huge difference.
If you want maximum protection for you and your family, then there are so many choices out there from excellent to terrible. I would personally avoid the likes of McAfee or Norton/Symantec as these are well known for causing system problems and being notoriously hard to remove.
I personally use and recommend the premium edition of BitDefender Internet Security, which is a full internet security suite and has consistently been the #1 in the industry and is what I use on all my devices, previous to that I used Kaspersky, which is also a good product.
If you have multiple devices in your household, then the BitDefender family pack is a great deal as it allows you to install on unlimited devices, there is also a mobile version. The other very handy thing about BitDefender is that you can monitor and manage all your devices from their website portal.
I suggest avoiding random brands you have never heard of or which you get spam emails about, as these are quite likely malware themselves or next to useless products.
According to the Pew Research Institute, 50 percent of parents have used parental control tools to block, monitor, or filter their child’s online activities.
BEWARE: Most online reviews of this type of software are written by people who have not actually used the software and probably do not even have kids. The reviews are often sponsored or written entirely to gain clicks on affiliate links.
If you have an Apple device, then it has a screentime app built right in, you can find more info on that HERE, but it is quite limited.
Since writing this article, Apple has either crippled or completely banned all 3rd party parental control apps from their Apple store. These apps are now essentially useless and do virtually nothing useful.
The whole ethos of Apple is based around privacy and secrecy, even for kids and based on their aforementioned actions, they clealry do not care about the welfare and safety of children, It is also easy for any child to bypass the built-in screentime, they can simply choose to turn it off.
As a result, I do not recommend giving an Apple iPhone or iPad to your child due to the lack of security and parental control and would strongly recommend purchasing an Android device instead.
There is also a popular 3rd party ScreenTime app available for Apple, Android and Amazon devices. The app is free for one child and includes the ability to monitor the device remotely and to see your child’s web and search history. A $4-per-month premium version adds daily time limits, the ability to block apps, and block the use of the device during school hours or after bedtime. (nb: I have not actually used this one myself yet)
Some of these apps (such as mmguardian) will let you track your child’s location, monitor their text messages, and generally spy on their activities. Which one you use depends on your requirements.
Of the above-mentioned apps I have used MMGardian and Qustodio. I have explicitly not mentioned any apps I have tested that I found inadequate and not worth recommending. I have left Qustodio on the list purely as a warning not to use it.
Qustodio is one of the most well known and popular parental control apps, it is also one of the most insecure and useless apps I have tried. I do not recommend it.You can read my full review here.
I currently use Google Family Link and life360 on my younger kids phones, and they fully understand why, and they do not moan too much. The only time they moan is when I lock their phones at bed time or when they have been naughty.
Of all the apps I have tried thus far, mmguardian was the best of the bunch, although it is only available for Android. The GPS tracking however was not 100% reliable, so I had to use a separate solution for that. I am currently using Life360 for the gps tracking.
Note: Since writing this, mmguardian has also become highly unreliable will randomly stop working and fail to do its job. I have therefore had to stop using it and look for another solution. Currently, I have bit the bullet and switch to Google family link and have to live with the fact it doesn’t work with Google workspace.
Life360 is not just good for your kids, it is also handy for friends and family too. It allows you to create groups with which you can share your location, your kids can do the same with their own friends too. It also allows group chats, thus negating the need to allow social media apps.
NOTE: once again, since writing this article, Life360 started going downhill and started to have a lot of issues. Tracking would just stop working, would send alerts/notifications hours later would randomly report my kids being somewhere other where than they actually are. We have also had issues where it had been reporting them leaving school in the middle of the day or leaving the house in the early hours when everyone is sleeping. The only solution from Life360 support is to constantly keep logging out, resetting passwords, and deleting accounts, which is rediculous.
If you ever get a new phone, Life360 will continue to try and track your old phone, even if you uninstalled the app, factory reset the phone or completely destroyed it. This is because every time you install the app it creates a new profile and will still count all old profiles as online and being tracked, even if there is no phone to be tracked.
We are still using Life 360, as the issue was intermittent, but do not rely on it as the only tracking solution.
Google family link is a relatively new edition, at least it was not available when I originally wrote this article. Annoyingly it does not work with Google Gsuite (now workspace) accounts, only free Gmail accounts. It also doesn’t seem to play well with older phones. however, if one can live with these compromises it does work well for managing screentime and control access to apps.
Family link does not have any way to monitor messaging or chat apps or detect any suspicious or dangerous messages or texts.
When dealing with older children, be sure to explain to them why you are using these parental control apps, that you are only protecting them from all the issues with bullying, abuse and threats social media presents and spending all their time on social media turns them into mindless vegetables unable to speak proper English.
Remember that you would not be happy with this level of control, especially if it was forced on you with no explanations. Education is the key here.
The last thing you want to do is lose your child’s trust and have them go out of their way to bypass your parental controls, which will no doubt figure out how to do given enough time, or to get themselves a burner phone which you cannot tracks.
Explain that knowing their location is important in case something happens to them or they get stranded so you can find them. It is also useful to point out that they can see your location too (using life360) and can use it with their friends so that it seems less of a stalking app to them when you can all see each other.
YouTube is the new children’s TV. It is one of the most popular sites out there, but a massive number of videos are not suitable for young children. One minute they will be watching someone playing Minecraft, the next they will be bombarded with swearing and making sexual references, even from children’s characters like Elmo.
My best advice is “Do not give your kids unrestricted access to YouTube”. Ideally, you want to limit youtube to use on a TV or PC where you can monitor what they are watching, if this is not possible then I suggest you block YouTube altogether. This can be done in your parental control software.
The youtube site does have a “restricted mode” safety feature, and if you are going to let your kids loose on YouTube then you should take advantage of this, although be warned that there is absolutely no way to block the majority of explicit content because it has not been flagged as explicit by the maker, so is thus regarded as safe by YouTube. There is also nothing to stop a savvy child from turning this setting off again.
On the desktop site, if you scroll down to the bottom of the screen, there’s a “Restricted Mode” setting that hides videos that have been flagged as containing inappropriate content.
In the mobile apps, click on the three dots at the top right and click on Settings > General and scroll down until you see the “Restricted Mode” option.
If your children have phones or tablets, then you can remove the Youtube app and install Youtube Kids instead, which is a kid-friendly version with filtered content. Don’t forget that you will also need to install some parental controls to stop then undoing your changes.
You can also use DNS filtering to force youtube (and search engines) into safe mode for any device on your network.
If you are thinking of buying a tablet, then you may want to look at the Amazon Fire tablet for kids, which is completely locked down by default and only allows child-friendly apps and content, had child-friendly videos, and also has a 2 year guarantee, during which time they will replace the tablet for FREE if your kids break it for any reason.
Be warned though kids who have previously been used to using a regular phone or tablet, will get annoyed with kid mode very quickly, so it’s best to start with this from the get-go. For older kids, you can just factory reset it and use it in regular mode. You are also restricted to apps from the Amazon store.
3. Help your kids set the privacy controls on their social media accounts
Most social media sites have an age limit of 13, and I highly recommend that you obey this and keep them off it until they are 13, as social media is a nightmare and the cause of no many problems. But kids sign up regardless and lie about their age, and frankly, if they have the ability to do this behind your back anyway, then you are better off at least letting them do it so you can monitor their activity.
If your children share messages, pictures or videos on Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, they might not be aware of who can see their posts, in fact, many adults do not realise that everything they post/share is public by default.
Most apps do have privacy settings, however, letting your children control who they let into their lives is not really the responsible or safe thing to do, so you should take a hands on approach to this too.
Here are the links to information about the privacy settings on the most popular apps:
4. Set up separate accounts for your kids on your computers
If you share a device with your children, then you need to set up a separate account/user for them. Each account would have its own home screen and, depending on the device and platform, a different choice of features, apps, and permissions.
Not only does this help you protect your own data — or video recommendations — but you can also set up customized security and privacy settings for each child.
On Windows computers, you can set up a new user account for your children. Go to Settings > Accounts > Add a family member > Add a child.
You can blog specific apps, games, or websites, or set screen time limits. Visit https://account.microsoft.com/family for more information. Although I would not rely on this alone, as Microsoft family safety has were notoriously unreliable and randomly breaks.
5. Set up separate accounts for your kids on your mobile devices
Tablets and smartphones also allow multiple user accounts on the same device.
On Android tablets, you can create a restricted account for your child, with limits on which apps they can use.
On Android phones, you can create a new user account for your child, but the only account restriction now available is to turn off the ability to make phone calls and send text messages. However, you can restrict their Google Play account. Go to Settings > Parental controls and turn them on. You will able to set specific content restrictions on apps and games, movies, TV, books, and music.
On the Apple side, iPhones and iPads have controls for apps and features, content, and private settings. Launch the Settings app and go to General > Restrictions and tap on “Enable Restrictions.”
6. Secure your gaming systems
Don’t forget that your gaming console is also an Internet device these days. Children can download games and make in-game purchases, and even surf the Web.
Most devices have parental control features that allow you to restrict the kind of content your children can get, limit their purchases, and restrict or turn off their Web browsing. You should take some time to use your kids games consoles and find out what they can do setup the parental controls accordingly.
The best console for parental control is the Xbox, which because it runs on windows 10, has quite granular controls allow you to set age limits and actions which can be performed, down to allowing and blocking individual games.
The PlayStation is not so good, you must setup a parent account and then create sub-accounts for your kids, which is an all or nothing solution, with no granular control. This is fine for the little ones, but for your older kids who want to play online with their friends and use game sharing mode, I find it far too restrictive. And the only workaround is for them to setup a full adult playstation account.
7. Consider using kid-safe browsers and search engines
For added control, you can install a kid-safe web browser for your children to use.
NOTE: This is not an alternative to parental supervision. You need to keep an eye on what they are doing, who they may be talking to, what websites they are browsing.
Zoodles, for example, offers a child-safe environment, and there’s a free version for Windows PCs and Macs, and for Android and iOS tablets and smartphones. The premium version, which costs $8 a month, includes ad blocking, time limits, and other features.
There are also some built-in tools in the browsers you’re already using.
If you use the Chrome browser, you can set up a “supervised profile” that will block explicit search results, show you what websites your children visited, and even restrict what websites they can go to. The way the restrictions work is that you can either have a list of approved websites, where your children can only visit the sites on this list, or a list of restricted websites where they can visit any website except for the ones you’ve banned.
If you want to be able to hand your phone to your child to play with in the back seat of the car without worrying about them messing up your phone or surfing the web for creepy content, what you can do is open up an app for the child and then set it up so that they can’t exit the app.
On phones running Android 5 and higher, it’s called “screen pinning.” First, go to Settings > Security > Screen pinning and turn it on and also enable “Ask for PIN before unpinning.” Then load your app, hit the overview button — the little square on the bottom right — and swipe up until you see a pin icon come up in the lower right corner. Now your child will need your PIN in order to switch apps.
On iPhones and iPads, this is called “Guided Access.” First, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access to set up Guided Access. Then when you’re in the app you want to lock in, triple-click the home button to bring up the Guided Access settings. You can turn off Guided Access either with a PIN or by setting it up to work with your Touch ID through Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access > Passcode Settings.
10. Make sure your kids are only using safe chat rooms
Some kid-friendly platforms offer chat rooms where kids can talk to other kids. Vet the sites first, to make sure that the chat rooms are monitored.
In addition, teach your kids not to share their real identities on such platforms, and use anonymous screen names, instead.
Teach, Educate and Talk with Your Children
11. Teach your children not to respond to messages from strangers
obviously I am talking about older children here. Small children really should not even have access to apps where they can received messages from strangers.
If they get a text message, instant message, email or social media message from someone they don’t know — they should just delete it.
Make sure they know not to open it, not to respond to it, and, of course, not to click on any links or attachments.
If those girls from Pretty Little Liars followed that advice, the show would have been over after one episode.
12. Educate your children about the risks of “sexting”
Last year, in a report to the U.S. Congress, the Justice Department revealed that the most significantly growing threat to children was something called “sextortion.”
It’s bad enough when minors send nude images of themselves to boyfriends or girlfriends, and those images then get distributed to others.
In addition to the psychological damage, children who both send and receive the “sexts” are breaking the law — and could result in prosecution and even registration as a sex offender.
And it gets worse.
According to the FBI, the “sextortionists” have gone pro, with individual criminals targeting hundreds of children each. They pretend to be the same age as their victims, trick or coerce them into producing child pornography for them — and even get them to recruit friends and siblings.
In a review of 43 such cases, the FBI found that two victims committed suicide, and ten others attempted to kill themselves. Victims also have their grades decline, drop out of school, get depressed, and engage in cutting or other types of self harm.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, reports of sextortion were up 150 percent during the first several months of 2016 compared to the same time period in 2014.
In 4 percent of the sextortion reports, the children engaged in self-harm, threatened suicide or attempted suicide as a result of the victimization, the Center said.
13. Warn your kids about file sharing
Uploading illegal files is, of course, illegal.
And so is downloading, though fewer media companies seem to be prosecuting kids these days.
But downloading illegal files also carries other risks, such as viruses.
Fortunately, there are now many free and low-cost services out there where kids and teens can get videos and music.
14. Warn your kids about online polls and surveys
There are lot of fun, harmless polls out there, like the one that tells you what kind of poodle you are.
Others ask for too much personal information, and could land your kids on spammers’ email lists, or open them up to identity theft.
Many adults have a separate, throw-away email account for when they need to provide an email address in order to register for something. If your child have a legitimate reason to fill in questionnaires that require an email address, consider helping them set up a throw-away email account of their own.
15. Warn your kids about getting too close to strangers
When you’re meeting someone for the first time after, say, communicating with them via an online dating app, you know to set the meeting in a public location, such as a coffee house, and to let friends know where you are.
This is common sense.
But children and teenagers often lack that basic common sense — or might be tricked into keeping their online relationships secret.
Of course, predators can also communicate with potential targets via traditional mail, or meet them at bus stops. But the Internet allows them to scale up their activities dramatically.
Attackers can use online relationships to lure children to meet them in person. Or, more frequently, they will try to trick children into making unnecessary purchases, or sharing information, photos, or videos.
Know your children’s online friends. And, just as with regular friends, confirm their identities, and talk to those kids’ parents. If those “kids” are, in fact, kids.
And the rates are even higher for children who are overweight, disabled, or LGBT, or members of a minority group.
Victims have physical problems such as sleeping, upset stomachs, and headaches and also suffer psychological effects, such as depression, anxiety and alcohol and drug use.
Let your kids know that they can turn to you for help, and find out what resources are available from your local schools.
You should save messages and other evidence of the cyberbullying and report the bully to the social media platform, telephone or Internet service provider, school, or local law enforcement authorities. In addition, you should block the bully from your child’s social media, telephone, or email accounts.
How many baby pictures and vacation photos have you posted online? Before lecturing your kids about staying safe, make sure that you yourself are a good model. Learn about the privacy settings in the social media apps you use most, then check that you aren’t sharing private, personal moments with the whole Internet.
Also, don’t drive while texting or talking on the phone.
Wait until we all have those self-driving cars, and do your texting then.
18. Set rules about what your kids can share online
As an adult, you know to be careful about what information you post online. You know not to share your financial information or social security numbers with strangers.
Make sure your kids know the rules and understand the reasons behind them. Even seemingly innocuous information, like vacation pictures, can let criminals know when your house is empty.
Some information, like funny picture of your cat in the snow, can be shared with everyone. Some information, like vacation plans, can be shared with family and close friends. And some things should never be shared online at all.
In addition, the recommended age for children to have their own social media accounts is 13.
You’ll be able to see if they are posting inappropriate things online and can step in before problems escalate.
It’s not foolproof — there are ways that children can keep their communications hidden from you. And if you are too heavy-handed in your monitoring, it may cause your children to be more secretive.
20. Set limits on how much time your children can spend online
According to a recent national survey, tweens spend an average of six hours a day with their devices, and that’s not including the time spent on school or homework. And teens spend an amazing nine hours a day staring at their screens..
Sure, some of that is listening to Spotify while exercising. But the bulk of the time is spent watching videos, playing games, and using social media.
The American Academy of Pediatrics used to recommend that children under two should not have any screen time at all, and had very conservative limits for screen time for older children. In late 2016, the organization re-evaluated current research and loosed its recommendations.
Some screen time, such as video chats with relatives, or educational applications, can be very valuable, even for the youngest children.
However, the organization recommends that parents limit the use of screens during meals, and for an hour before bedtime. Also, phones and tables shouldn’t be charged overnight in the child’s bedroom, to limit the temptation to check the devices at all hours of the night.
21. Additional resources
Internet Matters: Resources for parents looking to keep children safe online, with age-specific how-to guides, free apps, and device safety checklists. https://www.internetmatters.org/
Family Online Safety Institute: Parenting guides and news and reports about online safety issues. https://www.fosi.org/