Internet Safety for Parents, A Summary
This Summary is the summation of a special series by intrepidNOW Lifestyle on Internet Safety. The series is targeted at parents that know that they must protect their children from the dangers of online access but are not quite sure how. We will interview the experts and share their prescriptive advice. We also installed and evaluated 3 top products for monitoring and managing internet use and provide our high level analysis on each.
Advice from the Experts – Interviews
The series was started in the fall of 2016, and these interviews are still very relevant:
- Click Here to listen to our interview with Scott Driscoll, Founder and President of Internet Safety Concepts
- Click Here to listen to our interview with Ciaran Bradley, CTO of Adaptive Mobile
- Click Here to listen to our interview with Tom Kersting, Author and Psychotherapist at Valley Family Counseling
- Click Here to listen to our interview with Glenda Snodgrass, President and Lead Consultant at The Net Effect.
The series was updated in the fall of 2018:
- Click Here to listen to our newest interview with Scott Driscoll, Founder and President of Internet Safety Concepts
- Cliek Here to listen to our interview with Attorney Tamra Bryant of Bryant Law, LLC
- Click Here to listen to our interview with Elizabeth Milosidov, eSafety consultant and Founder of Digital Parenting Consulting
- Click Here to listen to our interview with Richard Guerry, Co-Founder of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication (IROC2) .
The following are the best of the resources available to parents as identified by our experts:
- Click Here to go to Common Sense Media, probably the best resource available to parents on Internet Safety
- Click Here to access the Online Teen Safety Guide from StaySafe.Org. This is a great resource that includes a variety of very helpful materials! (added August 2018)
- Click Here to access a great resource from the Million Mile Secrets guide, “Protect Your (and Your Children’s) Identity When You Travel!”.
Advice from the Experts – Synopsis
For convenience, here is a listing of all the good advice that these fantastic experts shared:
Scott Driscoll (paraphrased)
- Getting an iPhone is not an inalienable right, your kids should earn the right to use technology by demonstrating responsibility.
- Respect the minimum ages set by those that created the software/device/app. Use the “opportunity” to follow the rules as a lesson vs. teaching your kids that they don’t have to follow the rules.
- Know what your kids are doing on their devices.
- Have the same brand of technology as your kids.
- Learn about the parental controls for each type of device in use, they all have some.
- For Apple users, use the same iCloud account as your kids.
- Set your kids’ social media accounts to PRIVATE.
- Don’t share any more personal information in account profiles than is required. (No addresses, phone numbers, birth dates, etc.)
- Don’t let a screen or a microphone change who you are.
- Don’t let kids use devices when a parent is not in the room.
- Common Sense Media is a good site for parents to keep up with technology issues, challenges, advice, etc.
- One of the best resources to learn about what your kids are doing are you kids. Just ask them.
Ciaran Bradley (paraphrased – and I did not include repeats of Scott’s advice)
- At random times, sit down with your kids and review what they’ve been doing on their devices.
- Don’t give out demographic information to anyone that you don’t know in the physical world.
- Don’t “talk” to anyone that you’ve never met before
- If your kids have experienced anything uncomfortable, they must come and talk to you about it.
- SafeKids.com is a good site for parents to keep up with technology issues, challenges, advice, etc.
Tom Kersting (paraphrased – and I did not include repeats of Scott’s and Ciaran’s advice)
- The only way to develop strong emotional intelligence is by face to face interaction with other human beings. Individuals with strong emotional intelligence are far more successful in every aspect of life (emotionally, relationship-wise, physical health, earning potential).
- Parents must work very hard to help overcome the fact that kids are measuring their self worth by “likes” and “thumbs up”.
- Make your kids put their devices away during dinner and other family times.
- You must limit you kids’ screen time. The constant task-switching learned by kids on their (many times multiple) devices has actually “re-wired” their brain to use the multi-tasking part of their brain (visual cortex) for all tasks.
- The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that you kids spend no more than 2 hours per day in front of a screen.
Glenda Snodgrass (paraphrased)
- When you purchase any new electronic device, change the default administrator password.
- Use “standard accounts” on your computers or your devices vs. using the administrator account.
- Think in terms of pass-phrases instead of passwords. Use 12 characters at a minimum, 16 or more characters is better.
- Do not re-use the same password across different sites
- Do not check the “save my credit card information” box when you buy online.
- Do not use public wifi.
- Be aware that the bad guys get us to do the hard work for them by fooling us with phishing schemes.
Scott Driscoll, second interview (paraphrased)
- At a younger age we want to teach responsibility, but also there are just certain things on the web that our kids shouldn’t be exposed to, they are not just age appropriate. So, at younger ages I think blocking is very important tool.
- Join a new app or game together. Watch them, talk to them about it, let them know what your concerns are, but also let them know what the expectations are. Give them the power to use that app/game as they get older and earn it from you.
- Access to technology/apps/games isn’t something to just give kids. Make them earn access by showing they are respectful to rules, respectful to themselves and respectful to each other.
- When we think about the widespread of age groups that play Fortnite, I think communication is the biggest factor. One of the ways you can be safer is you don’t have to play these games with the headphones or microphones, you could just play the game with no communication, and if we do that it’s like the old games that we used to play Atari style where it’s just on a screen having fun, what it’s meant to be. Also, as parents, maybe your should sit down and watch with their kids while they are playing.
- It’s so important that parents get involved. Parents don’t have to become experts because a lot of us didn’t have this technology when we were young, it’s new to us, but at least be aware and have a communication with our kids about what’s right and wrong and what to do if something does go wrong.
- Have a conversation with your children about what your expectations are for safety. One of the ways I have developed to make that easy is a contract that parents can download from my website, and when you have the conversation with you kids about what your expectations are, you sign a contract saying as a parent I’m going to learn a little bit about this technology. Note: Scott also provides a contract for teens.
- One of the biggest challenges today is how our kids who use technology refer to so many people as followers, and if you’re on social media and someone follows you, that means they get to see what you’re doing and they’re part of your life. What I challenge kids to do is go through your followers with two simple questions, who is this person? and why are they so important you’re communicating with them? And every day when I teach students kids come to me and tell me that they don’t know half the people that were following them.
- Kids have great strangers safety skills that parents have taught them since day one about if someone doesn’t seem right you run and tell something. But when we go online, we drop our guard. Just because we use the word follower, if we don’t know somebody that makes him a stranger, and because of some social media sites, they are almost encouraging our kids to bring in a lot of followers. I think it’s very important that we understand who we’re communicating with and limit the numbers of people we communicate with.
Tamra Bryant (paraphrased)
- Don’t worry about being the unpopular parent. Don’t allow your children to have a smartphone until both of you are ready and have proven responsible.
- According to Apple’s Federal Government Affairs Officer, they receive 100,000 app submissions a week and they only reject 36,000. It would be impossible for parents to be experts at every app. Well, one way to counter this is to have passwords and that seems very elementary, but so many of the children that I know, they know the passwords for their phones, so they just go in and download all the apps and parents aren’t aware of what these apps do. Number two, you’ve got to limit the time. And three, I would say just oversight. When was the last time you looked at your child’s phone? When was the last time you looked at the search history? When was the last time you went in and you looked at each one of these apps?
- You have to be mindful of what other parents allow. Make sure you know who your child is around, pay attention, be very mindful. Look for things, interact with the parents at your childrens’ events to learn their style of parenting because it’s just not what you do in your home, but it’s also you’re going to allow your child to be in another home.
- You must continuously communicate and educate your child. They are aware of stranger danger, but are not experts at noticing it online.
- Use resources like the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency community information center website, where anybody can enter their address and see all the sex offenders in their area.
- The biggest advice I have is to parent 24/7. Be involved and be active in your children’s lives. You’ve really got to take the time. Children they will talk, and that’s very important. If you paying attention to what they are saying, you’ll realize what they have access to, what they are seeing and what they are doing. Take that time, look through those search histories. Make sure you’re the only one that has passwords.
Elizabeth Milovidov (paraphrased)
- The biggest challenge regarding internet safety facing parents today is finding screen time balance.
- Regarding Fortnite, the best advice that a group of us – about 120 professionals, judges, lawyers, psychologists, etc came up with as parents was: grab a glass of wine, sit down and play Fortnite with your children. It’s the best way to understand the game and what’s at stake for them. So that way you could put appropriate limits on it later.
- The difference with games like Fortnite and Minecraft, because they are community-building games, can sometimes be easier for your child to come into contact with someone who will say something like, “Oh, I will be happy to trade you some equipment. Oh, I’m watching. What a great gamer you are. You’re doing so well. Maybe you should watch my tutorials.” They’re able to draw out our children just by using the game and the terminology of the game. What’s also important to remember is that grooming is something that is happening so easily, meaning that there are so many children online that it goes very quickly. So that means that someone who’s interested, an adult who’s trying to groom a child can just be trolling like as in fishing. Just kind of throwing out a lot of bait and it goes by very quick. It’s not like the unsavory character standing at the corner in the park.
- In Silicon Valley, the parents of engineers and the tech people who are in the know, are sending their children to schools where tech is not available. I find that particularly telling especially as we’re always looking for evidence-based research to back us up on our different claims and I say “look to what the engineers are doing”.
- Read the instructions. Really it’s all about critical thinking just to keep it as a nice little sound bite. Whether we are using Facebook or Instagram or Google Home or Alexa or even Siri, read the instructions and it will tell you how to limit your privacy settings.
- Blocking and monitoring is important, especially for younger children, However, any teenager worth his or her salt will go on to Google and will quickly type out how to disable parental controls and they will watch the tutorial and work around the parental controls.
- YouTube has a fantastic YouTube safety center which is just for these reasons and it’s there for parents, for children. You can ask for any video with questionable content to be taken down, especially for somebody who’s 12 years old because if you looked at the terms and conditions of using YouTube, it is not for our kids. YouTube Kids is for children that are under 13 and then creating a YouTube channel is for children between the ages of 13 and 18, but with parental consent.
- The easiest way for a parent to get up to speed is just to be in the room with your child when they’re on internet, social media, gaming. I know that it’s a bit harder for the teenagers, for parents of teenagers. But still, I think that they can talk to their children. If you are unable to, then see if there’s another trusted adult who can help out. But the important thing is that our children need guidance. They do need support on the digital highway. This is not a place where they should just be hanging out alone on their own. They really shouldn’t because they need the support of parents to help our children grow to become resilient. So that way, they can take risks and they will be able to bounce back because let’s face it, there are risks when being online.
- Don’t panic, parent.
- NOTE: Elizabeth provides two great resources: Her website www.digitalparentingcoach.com has a wealth of information and any parent should feel free to join the Facebook Group, The Digital Parenting Community, which is a great interactive community that shares internet safety parenting challenges and advice daily.
Richard Guerry (paraphrased)
- There are a lot of great tools out there that will allow you to monitor and block internet use, and basically those are programs that can be used as a tool to help minimize risk especially when we’re talking about a 7 or 8 or a 9-year-old who might be using a family computer or the tablet to play games or watch YouTube videos about squishes and flying. The only thing I need to say is these are not kind of a one-off where you can just put it on and not have any communication with your child about the technology they are using. I like to look at technology almost like a bike with training wheels. When my kids were young, they would all start playing games or my daughter would start taking pictures, and whenever they would play games or take pictures, I had security on the devices as well. Not that I didn’t trust them, but I just, there is a lot of people out there who even adults get scammed, and so I would always sit with them and have conversations. Eventually those training wheels are going to come off, those filters are going to come off, and so the hope is that while the training wheels were on and they were younger and we were there communicating, we were using the filters as a safety net, but we were also there to try and make sure it didn’t have to get used. So now that the training wheels are off, we’re hoping we have even installed enough information so they can make good informed decisions when we’re not around.
- If you use the power of technology responsibly and you combine that with the power of public and permanent, making things public, making things permanent that make you look incredible then you can open windows of opportunity that past generations never dreamed possible. But if we’re taking a tool that is built for communication, platforms that are built for communication, we are putting things on these tools that we do not want the world to see. Well, then we might have an issue.
- The three things I really like to try and reinforce when I’m talking to people, We don’t know 1) who the person we’re talking to truly is inside, 2) what they might do to themselves or someone else, who are their relatives and friends and what they’re might be doing and 3) what the world’s interpretation is of me if they see me putting out cruel stuff.
- Communication in gaming is part of gaming today, and in many ways the communication enhances the game, and so to say to a group of people don’t talk to people in gaming, it’s going to fall on deaf ears because a lot of the games require or incentivize people to do it to enhance the entertainment. Keep the conversation to the game then the risks of something bad happening go down tremendously because we’re not oversharing personal information and we’re not taking things from people that might make them think they have leverage over us.
- If you’re going to be online or your kids are going to be online, I might say to my child what did you create today that made you look amazing. If they were on social media, did you put something out there today that made you look beautiful that might enhance an opportunity, did you create something that made you look positive or might make somebody feel better? If my kids are going to be using social media, they are going to be using technology and they are going to be on their posting then I want to make sure that they are posting something positive.
- We are the first digital generation. We are creating the learning curve for every generation that comes next. I often use athletes as an example as today we’re all learning about concussions because early athletes got hurt. At the time we aren’t really concerned to worried about them, but it took people to get hurt for us to understand concussions and now we’re learning from it. And the point is the first generations pays the price for the next generation and as the first digital generation, this is what’s happening.
From speaking 200+ times per year, Richard provided the Top Parental Concerns/Questions that he observes around the country:
- Number one, what age do I give my kid a cell phone? Every child and every family is different. I would say when you feel like your son or daughter is responsible enough to power on a tool that connects them to a billion people they don’t know and you feel comfortable knowing that they are not going to create something that could cause them problems or let’s reverse that, you feel comfortable knowing that they are going to use that tool to enhance their lives, that’s the time to give them the phone.
- Number two, what is your advice about parental controls? I would never say anything derogatory about parental controls, I will just say that parental controls are there for you to monitor and see what your kids are doing, but you have to participate. If I did put parental controls on my son’s phone and let’s say he did send out a text that could get him into trouble and I got a real-time copy of it, what am I going to do about that halfway across the country, it’s already out. The goal is to teach them fire safety so you never have to use it, and if a parent is listening and you have parental controls maybe look at where they’re going, look at who they are talking to, look at the time online, and then from that information you can have communication with your child and say why are you going to these sites? what are you looking at? Hey, you are online X amount of hours, let’s cut that back to this. You can use those tools to communicate with your child, but it’s not about just putting them on and hoping they do the job, because that is not what they are built for.
- Number three, what are appropriate screen time thresholds? We are the learning curve for every generation that comes next and our non-profit, our programs focus on social responsibility. But there are certainly other things like addiction, being desensitized to things like pornography. When it comes to screen time, what I often recommend to people is use the tools that are out there to monitor screen time and if you see that if your child is on it for an extraordinary amount of time, show it to them. Show them the report, and just seeing it black and white will help them to scale back their time, they realized they had a problem. And a few people that I know personally who have done that, they found that their kids are sleeping better, they were actually doing better in school and they found that they were having less fights with their parents, but it came down to them having to see in black and white how much time they were really online and there are tools out there that will allow you to do that.
I installed and configured the following 3 products and used each for 2 weeks:
Our environment is almost totally Apple. Our son has an iPad, and we have iPhones, iPads, and iMacs. In the cases of Qustodio and MMGuardian, I installed the “control” app on our son’s iPad and regularly monitored his activity via their web based monitoring software. In the case of Circle, I installed the Circle device in our family room and set it up to control ALL devices in our house. I monitored activity via the Circle app on my iPhone.
Qustodio (cust-o-dio) is installed on your child’s mobile device and is administrated via a portal on the web. The software allows you to set up “Rules” to restrict specific applications (Minecraft, Facebook, etc) but not all the popular applications (not Madden Mobile) that kids use. It allows you to set time usage limits both by time of day (i.e. not before 7am or after 8pm) and by time online per day (i.e. 2 hours). It provides real-time alerts when your child goes somewhere that they are not supposed to. Qustodio allows you to restrict or allow any website specifically. Qustodio monitors your child’s device no matter where they are. I did have to call Qustodio for support and that did not go well until I told them that I was a blogger and was writing a review of my analysis of their product. They then got me in touch with their engineering resources, but still could not help me get the monitoring of a specific app working.
Here is a good summary of how Qustodio works.
Pricing: Small Family Annual Subscription $49.99
My observations on Qustodio: I really liked Qustodio for monitoring of individual devices. It gives you the ability to restrict specific apps and sites. I can see why parents would be satisfied with Qustodio.
MMGuardian is installed on your child’s mobile device and is administrated via a portal on the web. It is peculiar in that it disables all browsers (Safari, Chrome, etc) and forces you to use the MMGuardian browser. This could cause issues with sites that your kids use for school that require specific plugins for certain browsers. The software allows you to set up “Rules” to restrict categories (i.e. social media, games,etc) but I was not able to set up rules for a specific application. It allows you to set time usage limits both by time of day (i.e. not before 7am or after 8pm) and by time online per day (i.e. 2 hours). MMGuardian monitors your child’s device no matter where they are and allows you to restrict or allow any website specifically.
The MMGuardian website does a good job of describing it’s benefits.
Pricing: Family Annual Subscription $69.99
My observations: After trying Qustodio first, I found MMGuardian more difficult to work with. I thought it was a real burden to have to use their browser. If I had no other choices, I would be happy to use MMGuardian, but I found Qustodio to be “tighter”, have much better alerting, and to be easier to manage.