During these uncertain days of COVID-19 quarantine, ensuring that your children are safe online is more important than ever. Screen time for children has jumped with kids learning at home, virtual socializing, and even as an intentional distraction while parents scramble to find ways to keep kids busy as they work from home.
But the additional screen time creates additional risk. It’s reported by the Organization for Social Media Saftey that 82% of child sex crimes originate from social media sites. And the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received over 10 million CyberTipline reports of suspected online child enticement and exploitation in 2017 alone. A number that continues to rise exponentially.
Unfortunately, human trafficking and abuse issues remain a problem because traffickers and abusers can and do operate virtually. What is alarming is that the demand for cybersex has not waned, but increased during this time. In late March, the FBI issued a warning: “Due to school closings as a result of COVID-19, children will potentially have an increased online presence and/or be in a position that puts them at an inadvertent risk. Due to this newly developing environment, the FBI is seeking to warn parents, educators, caregivers, and children about the dangers of online sexual exploitation and signs of child abuse.”
The good news is that keeping your kids safe online is definitely possible, and there are some powerful tools available and literally, at your fingertips. Whatever you decide to use, it’s important to remember that nothing can replace conversations you should have with your children and teens about the need to include safe practices online and the dangers of predators, disturbing content, and porn. At the same time, it’s important to remember to be a safe place for your children to come to, in case they do encounter a problem online. If they believe they will get in trouble for seeing something, they will keep it secret and the damage can snowball. A family technology contract is strongly advised -- and it also happens to be a great starting point for that first conversation.
Each of the following tools are all highly rated, so all you need to do is decide which software or hardware is the best fit for your family’s needs and device type. You might only need one tool with robust internet content filtering, but consider adding another that has social media monitoring capabilities for older children and teens.
Highly ranked on several platforms, this software is pricier than some but delivers when it comes to controls and safety. With the ability to block and limit inappropriate content, games, and apps, monitor social media, manage screen time, and track location, your bases are covered.
Aside from enabling content restrictions, it blocks harmful YouTube search requests, helps manage screen time, games, and inappropriate apps. It should be noted that it reports only Facebook activity, but shares expert advice from child psychologists about online issues.
#3 Net Nanny
Though this software doesn’t monitor social media content, it does provide strong support in basics like parental controls, screen time management, an internet filter, the ability to block apps, websites, with a focus on blocking pornography. Alerts and online activity are reported in a daily feed which can be viewed from any browser.
Bark’s focus is content monitoring with the capacity to monitor 30+ popular apps, social media platforms, and even text messages and email. Created in collaboration with child psychologists, youth advisors, digital media experts, and law enforcement professionals, Bark will alert you via email or text if it detects potential risks, so you don’t have due diligence on every internet search or social activity. You can also manage screen time, filter websites, and track your child’s location.
With Mobicip you can monitor all devices from one app, control and lock devices immediately, review a month’s worth of internet browsing, block websites by category, allow or block social media apps, games, video streaming apps, and sites. However, there is no ability to monitor social media here.
With the capability to block specific apps, or even allow them for a certain period of time, scheduling particular allowances on your child’s phone or tablet is easily done. OurPact also has content monitoring, but not within social media. Geo-fencing is also available with this software. Designed for iOS and Android devices, texting can even be blocked or scheduled.
Software designed to filter content on all devices - including Chromebook, Kindle, and Nook. Parental controls customize content filtering, and even the capability to restrict internet access to specific white-listed domains. History of internet use is available for a year.
The Circle Home Plus device is a small cube that connects with your Wi-Fi router to manage every device on your home network and is controlled through an app. The service is provided through a subscription offered for three months at a time, one year, or for a lifetime. Choose filters for each device based on age, track history, or pause internet access. Circle also has a rewards setting to add additional screen time. Location tracking is available.
A router with parental controls that boasts a “7-layer IntelliFilter” to customize what type of internet content you’d like to fiter, logs all activity per device, offers personalized settings for time restrictions, emailed reports of internet use, blocking by keywords, and it filters searches and content according to your preferences on YouTube.
This software is different from many in that web content is not blocked, but monitored. Parents receive real time alerts to their phone when inappropriate websites are visited, a new app is downloaded, or there are concerning topics/words in SMS messages. When photos are uploaded to social media platforms, parents are alerted with a view of the post and comments which are monitored. Screen time curfew is available, and the capability to immediately lock devices. Location tracking and geo-fencing are included.
Take a few minutes this week to discuss these safety tools with your family and choose what works best to keep your kids protected. Prevention is always the best option when it comes to online safety.
Read more about the connection between human trafficking, child sex crimes, and social media.