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Safer Internet Day 2016: How to keep children safe online

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Want to know how to keep children safe online? We're here to help

Today is Safer Internet Day (SID) 2016. With the goal of promoting more positive use of the web, especially for children. We spoke to Tony Anscombe, the ambassador of free products at AVG (and a parent), to find out more about SID and what parents need to do to keep their children safe online.

While having up-to-date internet security software installed on your computer or phone is the first step to protecting your children from inappropriate content, there are plenty of other steps you can take.

Related: Sexting and cyber-crime? Welcome to the teenage internet

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1. Don’t be embarrassed to talk about it with your children

“Parents feel more awkward talking about what you might see online than they do about the birds and the bees. When you start talking about inappropriate content and what you might see online, it’s a super-hard topic for parents to talk about and they feel very uncomfortable having that conversation.

“Once you give your child a smart device that isn’t managed, you’ve got to start making them aware that there are things that might not be appropriate. The best thing to do is to have open dialogue. Create an environment where your child doesn’t feel either embarrassed or awkward asking questions. I believe to do that what you need to do is be honest.

“However awkward or embarrassing it is, just tell the child exactly what it is because otherwise you’re going to make them reserved and they’ll hide away from it slightly.”

2. Teach good passcode management

Ensure your children learn the right things. Teach them that different passcodes should be used for different accounts, and that phrases are more secure than words alone.

Anscombe formulates his passcodes by thinking about personal experiences. The last football game he saw was at Wembley back in August, where Arsenal beat Man City 2-0 – out of that came ‘A2mc0!’.

“That’s nearly unguessable,” said Anscombe. What’s more, you can always add an underscore and ‘FB’ or ‘TW’ to the end, to indicate different accounts. “It’s the same password but slightly different on every site and while it’s not using any real words, it’s still ticking all of the right boxes [in terms of symbols and capitals] and it’s memorable.” To anyone else it looks like jumbled code.

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3. Use two-factor authentication where you can

While it can be slightly off-putting in its current form, two-factor authentication “will probably become the norm,” according to Anscombe. He thinks it will evolve to become a little more user-friendly in the future, but it’s still worth making use of wherever possible. Security is worth sacrificing a little convenience for.

4. Set usage limits

Whether these are time or device constraints, there is such a thing as too much technology. A lot of devices feature parental controls – exercise them. “There’s got to be a balance in life,” says Anscombe. “There’s a time and place [for technology].”

5. Set up a Google Alert about your child

This will highlight everything about your child that’s in the public domain. You’ll be emailed every time your child posts something on social media, or if a friend posts something about them, that’s in the public domain. It’s a great way to spot potential problems before they get out of control and it’s useful way of seeing if you’re children are accidentally posting information publicly they mean to keep private.

Creating a Google Alert is really easy too. Simply head to the Google Alerts website and enter the words you want to get alerts on in the ‘Create an alert about’ box. You’ll also be able to determine how often you receive alerts and the types of websites you want to get them from.

6. Actually read app permissions

Whenever your child downloads an app, read up on the information each piece of software requires access to. Loads of third-party torch apps have been exposed for requesting contact information and the ability to read your messages – think about why they might want that data. It’s best to look for a separate app that does the same thing but requires less permissions.

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Unfortunately there are no shortcuts yet – you have to do the long reading. Some apps frequently change their permissions too, so try not to get caught out. Companies are guilty of over-complicating matters to put you off reading into their policies, but it’s worth taking a look.

7. Run the apps your children run

Ask them what they’re playing with, run the same apps yourself and see what they do. It’s a simple step that could help you spot a malicious app that looks innocent.

8. Look for telltale signs of cyber-bullying

Whether that’s more reserved behaviour than usual or unusually secretive use of devices, understand your children’s behaviour. As always, talk to them about it first and then take any issues to the school, if appropriate. There are a number of excellent charities out there to help parents deal with this type of situation, such as Childnet and ChildLine. What’s more, if you see evidence of bullying, take screengrabs.

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