How to protect your child online

By Kirstin Buick
28 January 2016

You can’t always be there when your kids use the internet – so here’s the next best way to make sure they’re safe.

Parenting in the information age can be a nightmare. How are you meant to protect your child when there’s crude, violent and sexually explicit content just a few keystrokes away?

Chucking the WiFi router out the nearest window is probably not an option and you can’t always be around to look over your child’s shoulder when they log in. Luckily there’s a range of tools out there to make sure you don’t have  to.

Here are the best tools your computer and the internet have to offer to make sure your kids see only what you want them to.

The basics

On PC

The Windows Live Family Safety feature, which is free to download as part of the Windows Essentials package, helps you monitor and change the settings of your kids’ computer user accounts.

To create separate user  accounts for each child, go to Start, Control Panel, User Accounts. Once you’ve downloaded Windows Essentials package, go to Start, All Programs, Windows Live, and open Windows Live Family Safety. You’ll be asked to enter your  Microsoft account details, or given the option to sign up if you don’t yet have one.

Read more: There’s now a ‘child-friendly’ search engine just for kids

The Family Safety Wizard will walk you through managing the accounts you want to monitor. Once you’ve completed these steps, you can edit the settings of each unique account. To do this, go to familysafety.microsoft.com, and sign in with your Microsoft account details.

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Click on view activity report next to the user’s name to turn on activity reporting, and take a look at everything your kids are getting up to on the computer.

You can also click on Edit settings under each child’s account to turn on web filtering, which will block adult content online at different levels of intensity. You can choose to allow  access to general site categories, block only adult sites, or compile a list of sites you’re comfortable with them browsing.

If your child stumbles on (or seeks out) a website that’s blocked a message will pop up reading, “This page is blocked. Ask your parent for permission to use this page.” From here they’ll be able send you a request to access the site, which you can respond to the next time you log on.

Read more: 10 things you need to do to make sure your Facebook account is safe and secure

On Mac

The iMac has a built-in parental control feature – you must create a controlled account for your child to use. Go to System preferences, select the Users & Groups preference then click the lock icon at the bottom of the screen.

Enter the computer administrator’s name and password and click OK. Then select the plus (+) button, and choose Managed With Parental Controls from the New Account pop-up menu. You’ll be able to add details such as your child’s name and a password for them.

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Click Create User to finish. You’ll now be able to adapt your settings by clicking the Open Parental Controls button.

Click on the Web tab, where you have three options: “Allow unrestricted access to websites”, “Try to limit access to adult websites  automatically” and “Allow access to only these websites”.

Read more: There’s now a ‘child-friendly’ search engine just for kids

On the web

Google’s SafeSearch screens sites that contain sexually explicit content and removes them from Google search results. To turn on Safe-Search, go to google.com/preferences and tick the box “Filter explicit results”, then click save at the bottom of the page.

If you have a Google account (to create one go to accounts.google.com/SignUp, and follow the instructions), you can log in to lock Safe- Search mode. It’s one of the simplest ways to filter out graphic content on your browser.

Google Chrome also has a function called Supervised Users, which allows parents to create supervised accounts for their children. The main user can keep tabs on the supervised users’ browser history, block them from going on to certain websites or even only allow them access to specified sites.

Once you’re signed in to your Google account, click on the Chrome menu icon on the top right of the screen and select Settings. In the users section, click Add New User.

You’ll be able to choose a name and icon for the new account. Make sure you tick the box next to “This is a supervised user managed by <your email address>”. From there, you can go to the supervised user dashboard to set which sites you want to be no-go ones.

In order for this to work properly, you need to ensure the supervised user is signed in whenever the child uses the web.

This option is perhaps best for younger kids who aren’t as tech-savvy. YouTube offers a Safety Mode feature too, which filters out what the video-sharing site calls “objectionable content” using flagging (where other users flag videos they find inappropriate) and age restrictions.

Go to youtube.com, scroll right to the bottom of the YouTube homepage and click on Safety Mode. Turn on YouTube Safety Mode, then click on “Lock safety mode on this browser”.

You’ll need to enter your Google account password (YouTube is owned by Google).

If you have more than one browser (such as Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer), you may need to follow the same process on all of them. When you’re done, log out of your Google account and the next user won’t be able to unlock safety mode. It’s not foolproof but it makes a difference to search results.

A bit more high-tech

Browser safety settings can go only so far, warns Joburg-based security analyst Dimitri Fousekis, but there are a number of additional programs and extensions that can be downloaded to turn a normal browser into a watertight platform.

He recommends:

  • NetNanny: It costs about R700 for the program on one computer, but it has an excellent reputation and functionality. It’s also available in app format.
  • Chrome Web Store : The Chrome browser has a store for add-ons that include parental controls and security filters. On Android devices you’ll find programs to complement Chrome’s security in the Google Play store.

Hands on

Educational psychologist Mari Lautenbach gives tips to deal with kids and web safety in particular age groups.

2 – 10 Answer any questions they may have. “Use these opportunities to teach your children right from wrong,” Lautenbach advises. She recommends you supervise your child’s internet use if they’re younger than 10.

11 – 14 “When your kids are this age it might not be practical to physically supervise their internet use at all times,” she says. However, it’s still a good idea to have their computer set up in an open area of your house where you can keep an eye on things. Set clear rules and enforce appropriate punishments when those rules are broken. “Encourage them to tell you if something or someone online makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened. Stay calm and remind your  kids they’re not in trouble for bringing something to your attention.” 15 – 18 Teens may be more savvy than you are but it’s your responsibility to keep tabs on the websites they visit. Create rules, Lautenbach suggests. “Specify the kinds of sites that are off limits, hours, and what information shouldn’t be shared online. Try to keep computers in an open area of the house and not in a teen’s room. She recommends parents download the free program K9 Web Blocker.

It allows them to block websites via category (such as pornography, gambling or drugs), enforces “safe search” on all major search engines and even allows parents to set time limits for internet use, making it inaccessible outside those hours.

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