It's a brand new academic year, and for most of us that means a whole host of 'new year' resolutions, everything from better bedtimes to dedicated reading periods, less junk-food and more family-time.
But, however you decided to start this new school year, we bet there's still one area of your child's life that could do with a thorough 'spring-clean,' and that's their devices.
We met up with Romi Ezzo at Online Sense/ICDL Arabia to find out what's new and ask his advice on you should be doing to keep your child safe online.
It's a new school year and a fresh start, what do you think are the main 'tech' related areas parents should focus on- on their children's devices?
As parents, you can break this into two different parts: the technology your children use, and how your children use technology.
As of right now, we still see a lot of children active on social media (or anxious to use it if they are under the required age). However, we are seeing a transition of young people spending more time on apps than the websites themselves.
To most youth, the social media they like to use blends traditional social media usage (i.e. posting pictures and videos to their connections) with modern text messaging for specific friends. Nowadays, everyone is now on social media, including parents; grandparents; teachers; uncles and aunts. Apps like Instagram and Snapchat make it ‘cooler’ to post things to specific people and/or certain circles of friends.
Another area of focus is gamification. This refers to apps and games that involve competition with others. Pokemon Go became a huge hit in a matter of days because of this; kids love the urge of catching Pokemon and training their characters to fight against other players. FIFA is another example. Many games on the PS4 and X-Box provide kids with an opportunity to compete against each other online to earn coins for their Ultimate Team.
As kids transition from ‘summer mode’ to ‘school mode,’ parents need to think about how long their kids should spend on these applications. They are quite addictive, and putting no limits will definitely affect their schoolwork. Set time schedules and stick to them.
Furthermore, most kids continue to interact with their friends without thinking about how it could affect them (or others) afterwards.
As parents, we need to focus on where our children are online; what they do on these websites/apps; and how to maintain a balance between the virtual reality and… reality.
What should we look out for specifically on children's devices?
One thing to keep in mind is the cookies installed on your computer.
When you go online, websites install cookies on your computer that track your movements. Some cookies can be beneficial, such as those that remember your login names. However, some cookies are designed to remember everything you do online, build a profile of your personal information and habits, and sell that information to companies.
It’s also important to check your child’s browser history. You could do it together, so they can answer any questions you have about the websites they used.
Of course, it’s essential to look over your child’s privacy settings, as well… across all their devices.
What do you think is the minimal security/protection parents should insist on- on their children's devices?
If your child owns a smartphone, for example, make sure you help them turn off the ‘location services’ option for all their apps. This will prevent criminals (e.g. online predators) from tracking your child and chatting with them.
(For iPhone users, can find this under Settings > Privacy. For Android users: Settings > Location.)
It’s also important that you help them adjust the privacy settings on all their social media accounts. Every major social media platform has one; if it doesn’t, they probably shouldn’t be on it.
It’s also important to explain to your child the importance of not allowing apps to share data. Some apps might use the information on their phone (i.e. their contact list).
Can you give us 3 really great product descriptions for monitoring our children's devices?
The first monitoring app – and probably the most powerful one – is called mSpy. It tracks data from all kinds of modes of communication exchanged on your child’s phone, tablet, or computer. This includes websites visited, apps, phone calls, email, text messages, video calls, and major social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram.
What’s even more amazing is that it can save the data so you can refer to it later and/or analyze how much time your kids are spending on each platform. This data includes stories on Snapchat, an app known for its 24-hour content visibility feature.
There are several things you can do within each feature, as well. For example, you can also block contacts to prevent someone from calling your child. It has a keylogging feature, in case your child is searching for content you find inappropriate. Most importantly, it allows you as a parent to know what your kids receives and sends to other people.
You can get an insider’s look to every feature on their website. Just click on the View Demo button once you’re on a feature page. (You can also find watch this
That said, perhaps you feel like mSpy might give you a little bit too much information and invade your child’s privacy. Maybe you’re only interested in filtering what your child can see online.
This leads to my second recommendation: Net Nanny.
Although the UAE blocks several websites, Net Nanny goes the extra mile by filtering other online elements. For example, it masks profanity within every website (including social media platforms), meaning that your child will see symbols (!@#%) instead of curse words. It can also prevent your child from seeing bad content on social networks.
Furthermore, it can identify reputation-damaging images, cyberbullying messages and other online threats, and alerts you in real-time (via text or email).
There are two annual family plans: one where you can monitor up to 5 devices for USD $60 (AED 221), and one where you can monitor 10 devices for USD $90 (AED 331).
The third and final suggestion is Qustodio, which is for those parents who are looking for a free parental control tool.
Qustodio gives you summaries for which websites, apps, and social networks your child is using, and how long they spend on them. It can also give you information on the website or app your kid is viewing: “How trustworthy is it?” “How popular is it?” “How safe is it for my child?”
In addition, you can set a time schedule or limits for how much Internet time your child can spend each day, or track how long he/she is spending on the Internet overall.
Qustodio’s free version is limited to monitor just one device and one user. However, if you only have one child and want to monitor his/her phone, this tool is sufficient to monitor your child’s online activity.
You can upgrade to the premium version, which can allow you to protect 5, 10, or 15 devices. The plans are all annual and cost USD $50 (AED 184), USD $88 (AED 324), and $126 USD (AED 463), respectively.
How often should parents check their child's device and how should they go about doing it?
These two questions go hand in hand, and they can both be answered with a metaphor:
Think of yourself as your child’s cyber safety guidance counselor, not a spy.
How often you check your child’s device depends on the relationship you have with your child. As a parent, you know your kid best and you probably know when your child thinks you’re being too intrusive.
It’s more important to be transparent with your child. Maintain your trust by having conversations with them about what’s safe to post online and why monitoring their behavior moderately is a good idea.
When monitoring your child’s online activity, recognize that kids know their parents can monitor their activity. Many of them don’t like it, as their online activity is a way for them to seek more independence and individuation. This leads them to create multiple social media accounts that their parents won’t see. For example, they might post regularly on an account for family and then create another account just for friends.
The only time you should spot-check more often is if your child is in danger and/or feel that they aren’t using their devices for appropriate reasons.
Help your child make the right decisions online rather than control every decision they make.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Romi Ezzo is the lead copywriter at Online Sense, a public awareness initiative powered by ICDL Arabia aimed to educate and communicate with parents, teenagers, and teachers about cyber safety. These topics include, but aren’t limited to: cyber bullying, online addiction, cyber exploitation, and online radicalization. Follow O.S. on Facebook and Twitter to make better sense on the online world.