Lots of parents ask us for advice about how they can keep their children safe online. As more young people begin to spend more time online, it’s important that parents have a few tools up their sleeve about how they can protect kids from harm and also support them to keep themselves safe. Here are our top three ideas on keeping children safe online:

1. Parental controls

There are some great technologies that parents can use to enhance the safety of the spaces children use online. While these tools can be really helpful in keeping children safe, it’s important to remember that there is no silver bullet. No filtering is 100% efficient in preventing access to harmful content. There will always be weaknesses in systems and some people (including your kids) will find ways to beat the software. Parental control software is one part of keeping children safe online, but remember that knowledge and understanding of what young people are doing online and what they can do if they experience difficult challenges is just as important.

We have listed below a small selection of apps or software that are out there for various devices but we have not tested them. We recommend you read the reviews and evaluate a free trial before purchasing:

Android devices
With Android you can filter the Play Store to only show apps that are appropriate for children and restrict costly in-app purchases. You can also set up user accounts with restricted permissions that can only access certain apps on the device. Some handset manufacturers also have additional settings or modes/apps that help with filtering.

There are also many apps in the Android marketplace to filter adult content and even monitor calls, texts and web activity.

Apple iOS – iPhone, iPod Touch
Apple’s Restrictions settings can be used to prevent purchasing on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch and prevent the Safari browser, Siri assistant or other apps from being used.

The iOS operating system can also control which apps have access to your private information and the use of GPS based Location Services.

Other software for multiple operating systems
Intel Security Safe Family
Free for 6 months – grant and block access with time limits and age-based rules

Norton Family
Parental control software for multiple devices, free for 30 days

Some software suites also offer monitoring and logging of websites and app usage. We strongly encourage parents discuss this with their children before they install it to build a sense of trust.

2. Have the conversations

The most important thing a parent can do to keep their child safe online is to start a conversation about it. If your child is using online technologies, it’s important that you give them the tools and support they need to keep themselves safe:

Set the expectations: Talk to your child about the type of behaviours you’d like them to adopt. For example, how long they should spend online, what apps and social media sites you’d like them to use and what is appropriate content to view. This will be different depending on the age of your child, and what you feel comfortable with.

Understand what they are doing online: Talk to your kids about what they’re using the internet for. What’s involved? Who’s in their network? What information do they share? Really listen to what they have to say – what might seem like ‘just a game’ to you, could in fact be a way for them to connect with people who have similar interests. If you really don’t understand it, try it! You need to understand the technology to better understand the challenges that young people face online.

Showing an interest in the things young people do helps to build your understanding of what their online world looks like and creates an environment that makes it easier to have more difficult conversations about it in the future.

Talk to them about what to do if something goes wrong online
Let your child know the options that are available to them – talking to a trusted adult, their school or Netsafe. We have a team of friendly people offering free and confidential advice for everyone in New Zealand. We can help young people with online bullying, abuse, harassment and other challenges they might face online. Let them know we can help.

If they come to you for help, count to ten before you react (we know this can be hard sometimes!). When young people ask for help from adults, it’s important to understand this was a big decision. If you overreact or take away the technology, then you’re less likely to be the first port of call next time something happens . Focus on fixing the issue, not on punishing or confiscating their devices.

3. Ask for help if you need it

We can help you or your family with guidance about online safety. Whether you’re dealing with online bullying, an online request that looks suspicious, or you just want advice for family members using the internet we can help. Our contact centre is open to help you from 8am-8pm Monday to Friday and 9am-5pm on weekends.

0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723) – help@netsafe.org.nznetsafe.org.nz/report

If you or another person is in danger or a crime is being committed, call 111 or visit your nearest Police Station. If you are outside of New Zealand please report the incident to your local law enforcement agency.