The Fierce Advocate: Internet Safety Tips for Your Kids

Anna and boys A Steadfast Love

The moment Darling 1 was born my primary role and most important job became that of mom. I have many titles: mom; wife; daughter; sister; lawyer; friend, etc. But it's the title of mom that I will always answer to first and foremost. As I have written in an earlier post, my credo as a parent is to love and protect – always. It's a love that I did not quite know or understand until the very second Darling 1 made his debut in this world. I am a fierce advocate for my Darling Boys.

Because of my steadfast love for my children I want them to be aware of dangers, but not afraid of them. Well, maybe a little afraid. That is, afraid enough that they don't wander off in a store; willingly go with a stranger; jump from the top of a slide or get into a body of water without an adult. And when they are teenagers, I hope they are afraid enough not to experiment with drugs and tobacco; drive after drinking; text while driving or any other crazy stunt.

Good Strangers v. Bad Strangers

Lately, the notion of a stranger is discussed fairly frequently in our home. The question is always how do you know if someone is a good stranger or a bad stranger? The answer is: you don't know. Strangers are anyone we don't know. This is really not an easy concept though considering we casually and politely chat with "strangers" all the time. And sometimes there are people DH and I know, but the Darling Boys don't who seem like strangers to them, thereby further clouding the already murky answer.

Strangers and the Internet

The question is even more difficult to answer when you start talking about being on the Internet. How do you identify who a "bad stranger" is online? People may not be who they say they are online. If your child is on Twitter, he or she is almost certainly communicating with strangers and tweeting about his or her life, which can be picked up and read by strangers. Now, Google, Facebook and Twitter have added a location option that tells anyone and everyone with access to these accounts exactly where someone is and what they are doing. There are profile pictures and photo albums on many social networking sites. Not much information is off limits anymore, giving strangers a clear picture of who and where your child is.

Strangers can invade your home in many ways through a computer. Information about your child may be freely available to strangers, depending on how the security levels are set on social media accounts. Additionally, hackers can gain access to any of this information regardless of how high someone's security is set. Hackers can even gain access to a webcam built into your child's computer, thereby giving them access to what your child is doing on the computer, but also allows someone to view your child and his or her setting through the webcam. Your child may also unwittingly communicate with an adult that mean him or her harm when it appears your child is conversing with another child.

Of course, these are all worse-case-scenarios. The Internet is a great place to learn; ask questions and find answers; have contact with people from around the world; play games; watch news; etc. I am a huge fan of the Internet and all it has to offer, especially now that I am a parent to two very inquisitive boys. Where else would I find the answers to all of their questions? So, my solution is to employ several practices and software to protect your family as best you can before you send them out onto the digital highway.

Internet Safety Tools and Tips

While there are many tools that limit access and protect kids from predators online, no software comes with a 100% guarantee. You must be mindful of what your child is doing on the computer. Frequently check on your child while he or she is online. Talk with your child about Internet risks and what to do if any of these threats are encountered. Here are some tips on taking an active role in protecting your kids:

  • Become computer literate and learn how to block objectionable material.
  • Keep the computer in a common area, not in individual bedrooms, where you can watch and monitor its use.
  • Share an email account with your child so you can monitor messages.
  • Bookmark kids' favorite sites for easy access.
  • Spend time online together to teach your kids appropriate online behavior.
  • Forbid your child from entering private chat rooms; block them with safety features provided by your Internet service provider or with special filtering software. Be aware that posting messages to chat rooms reveals a user's email address to others.
  • Monitor your credit card and phone bills for unfamiliar account charges.
  • Find out what, if any, online protection is offered by your child's school, after-school center, friends' homes, or anyplace where kids could use a computer without your supervision.
  • Take your child seriously if he or she reports an uncomfortable online exchange.
  • Forward copies of obscene or threatening messages you or your kids get to your Internet service provider.
  • Call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at (800) 843-5678 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (800) 843-5678      end_of_the_skype_highlighting if you're aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography online. Contact your local law enforcement agency or the FBI if your child has received child pornography via the Internet.
  • Many sites use "cookies," devices that track specific information about the user, such as name, email address, and shopping preferences. Cookies can be disabled. Ask your Internet service provider for more information.
  • Warning signs of a child being targeted by an online predator include spending long hours online, especially at night, phone calls from people you don't know, or unsolicited gifts arriving in the mail. If your child suddenly turns off the computer when you walk into the room, ask why and monitor computer time more closely. Withdrawal from family life and reluctance to discuss online activities are other signs to watch for.
  • Set up some simple rules for your kids to follow while they're using the Internet, such as:
    • Follow the rules you set, as well as those set by your Internet service provider.
    • Never trade personal photographs in the mail or scanned photographs over the Internet.
    • Never reveal personal information, such as address, phone number, or school name or location. Use only a screen name. Never agree to meet anyone from a chat room in person.
    • Never respond to a threatening email or message.
    • Always tell a parent about any communication or conversation that was scary.
    • If your child has a new "friend," insist on being "introduced" online to that friend.

In researching this topic, I did come across several tools that look interesting and helpful to me: Zoodles and Kidoz. Here is the review I found on these products:

Zoodles is a safe and secure way for your kids to browse online content. It is an Adobe's AIR platform supported free browser that can give kids a safe place to play and learn online. It can also be used as an online parental control service as you can restrict and moderate what your kids are doing online. As this works in Full Screen mode, your kid may not access anything but the browser and this also prevents him from messing up your files.

The interface looks colorful and fun, a perfect one for kids. It simultaneously syncs with the desktop application to show a full statistics about your child's online activity. You can control everything your children is doing online like see what they are browsing, help them in learning and more from the Zoodles Parent Dashboard.

Best features of Zoodles which makes it standout from other browsers for kids are..

  • Virtual "Toybox" filled with puzzles, games and all sorts of fun activities which will adapt to the age and ability of each child.
  • Ad blocker which strips out all unnecessary ads and prevents your kid from browsing anything dangerous online.
  • Best educational content on the web: teaching through games based on Math, Design, Memory Skills, Computer Literacy, and much more.
  • Parental Control and Monitoring
  • Play-Along mode which allows parents to play side-by-side with their children

If you are a parent or guardian worried about your kids online browsing, Try Kidoz, an Adobe Air application for  free and safe Web Environment which is especially designed for young kids to surf their favorite sites, watch videos and play games with enhanced security with a lot of personalization options.

Kidoz provides a password-protected Parental Control page which lets you moderate and control your child's browsing activities and allows only pre-approved content. The system blocks links, scripts and any other attempts that lead to sites and content that have not been approved, preventing them from being viewed by the children.

Along with it you can personalize Kidoz by uploading new content, selecting user interface and content languages, enhancing security settings, allowing/blocking any content, and more.

The different features available are..

  • Kidoz TV with YouTube for kids and access to personal and uploaded videos.
  • Kidoz Game Center which have kid-safe games with all banners and links blocked and customization of game content according to your child's personal settings
  • Favorites management
  • Parental Control where you can moderate, personalize and share content with other users
  • Available in 17 languages

Download Kidoz and use it to create a fun filled web environment with colorful user interface makes it one of the best tools for Kids online entertainment.  You need Adobe Air to use this product.


For those of you with Macs, I found Mac Minder. Mac Minder allows you to monitor your kids while using a Mac; protect your kids from certain sites or content; and even limit the amount of time your kids are the computer.


Useful Websites


The U.S. Justice Department's Cyber Ethics page has many great links to safety tips and information:

Focus on the Family was the only website I found with reviews on multiple filtering and blocking software and devices. This list covers computers, phones, TVs, DVD players, basically all kinds of electronics. I thought it was a good list to start with in choosing what method is right for your family:

This Microsoft page has great Internet safety tips and information with steps for setting up the parental controls:

The Scoop

It all comes down to some basic principles: Be a good example online and foster open and honest communication lines by talking to your kids about these safety concerns and how to handle these situations. It's a good idea to have access to your kids email and social networking accounts should the need arise for you to check up on your child. But make sure your child is aware that you have this access (to do so without your child's knowledge does not foster open communication lines between you and your child). An impromptu poll conducted on Facebook and Twitter asking what age a child should be allowed to have such social networking accounts received fairly similar responses. All participating parents answered somewhere in the range between 11 and 17. Where do you draw the line? I will post a bit of Motherly Advice on Friday. Over and out…