As parents try to juggle working from home and childcare, children of all ages are spending more time on devices, often without parental supervision. We spoke to two GRC International Group information security experts about their top tips to keep children safe online whilst using tablets, phones and other Internet-enabled devices.
James Andrews is Head of Technical Operations and dad to two
daughters aged four and seven. Adam Seamons is Systems Engineer and has a six-year-old
daughter and a baby girl.
Implement parental controls
It’s critical that parents understand what they are allowing their children to access online, and not to take the easy option when setting up devices or give into pressure. Most devices come with parental controls that enable you to set restrictions such as how long a child can spend on the device, the age appropriateness of the content that will be offered to them and how long they can spend on each activity. Think about the level of controls you would like and research devices that offer these. Many parental control services email activity reports to you or their account might be linked to your full account. Take time to read these reports and check what your children are doing online and whether it is appropriate.
If the device doesn’t come with adequate controls, there are
apps that will do the same. Search for ‘parental control’ in the device’s app
store to find something suitable.
Adam: “The Amazon Fire includes advanced parental controls.
It only presents age-specific content and we can direct relevant content that
we want our daughter to see. We also define how the daily time allowance is spent,
for example how much time can be spent playing games.”
James: “Our daughters have Android devices, mainly because
they are cheap and include parental control options. Parents should always
review these controls and add them before giving the device to their child.”
Some manufacturers produce specific devices for children. These are ruggedised to make them extra durable in order to withstand inevitable drops and accidents. Both James’s and Adam’s daughters use Amazon Fire for Kids. Adam explains, “We specifically chose the Amazon Fire for Kids for its durability as well as parental controls.”
Understand age-appropriate content
Video games are a great example of content that is
attractive to children but needs to be closely monitored.
Adam: “Video games aren’t what they were when we were young,
and they aren’t always safe for children. Not only is the content unsuitable
but also children can meet others online while playing. The age ratings for
games can be selected under parental controls so that only age-appropriate
games are available. Apps also display an age-based rating, which can be set
within the parental controls.”
ESRB (US) and PEGI (EU) ratings
Different countries and regions use their own age-based
rating system for games that refer to the suitability of the game’s content. The
same game might be rated differently in different countries, so understanding
the ratings and reviewing the game’s content description is advised. For
example, The Sims 4 received an 18+ rating in Russia, a 12+ in much of Europe
and a 6+ in Germany.
Search for child-friendly versions
Many well-known services such as Google, Netflix, Disney+
and Amazon Prime also have child-friendly versions. For example, Google has a
kids’ YouTube app.
James: “Child-friendly versions are evolving, so always
check how they interact with the adult version. For example, can your child
easily switch between their streaming service account to your account and
potentially access unsuitable content?”
Beware mixed-content platforms
Platforms such as TikTok contain
lots of fun content for children as well as lots that isn’t appropriate.
Adam: “My daughter loves watching TikTok videos but we don’t
let her download the app onto her device. The videos are only 30 seconds long and
not censored so she can very quickly be watching something totally unsuitable
or listening to adult music. This needs close monitoring.”
Further information and support
Safer Internet Day is an international programme to improve children’s awareness of Internet safety. The Safer Internet Centre runs the event in the UK and its website has a wealth of useful information for schools, parents and children.
London Grid for Learning (LGfL) – a range of online safety resources for schools, parents and children.
Microsoft Family Safety – information and guidance from Microsoft and how to create family groups.
Apple parental control guidance – how to set parental controls on Apple devices.
Google parental supervision guidance – help to set digital ground rules.
BBC Bitesize – the BBC’s Bitesize website has been a leader in free online content for many years. The content is divided into key stage and includes daily lessons as well as more fun age-appropriate games.