Unlocking the World Wide Web for your church and children can also open a Pandora's box of undesirable videos, images and information.
You can purchase internet security software, but you also can implement free security measures.
Here are eight do-it-yourself security hacks:
1. Talk about it
When your children begin to engage the world of technology, be open and honest about what is there and what you are doing to keep them safe.
Teaching kids about online security and social media basics is as important today as teaching them to look both ways before crossing a street.
Predators use social media platforms, discussion boards, chat rooms, online gaming and phone apps to interact with children and teens. Talk about the dangers, what safety measures you have set up and why it is important to follow specific rules.
Together, develop a plan of what to do if they accidentally stumble upon suspicious content.
- Common Sense Media: Privacy and Internet Safety offers security tips and talking points categorized by age group.
- Common Sense Media: Facebook, Instagram and Social offers the most up-to-date research on social media basics, the latest apps and tips on talking to your kids.
2. Create user profiles
With every operating system, you can create customizable profiles for a more secure user setting. Create a profile for each person or group of people (younger kids, teens, etc.) and use your master account to manage them.
Many systems have built-in settings for children. Windows OS has a child profile setting you can select while setting up a new profile. Mac OS has parental controls for new or existing profiles in its system preferences.
3. Use passwords
Strong passwords provide a solid defense for keeping information secure. Many applications can be set to open only with a password.
If you have an iPad, you probably use a general login code to access the device. You can go a step further and put passcodes on specific apps through general settings (General > Restrictions > Enable Restrictions). Similar protections can be set up for an iPhone.
If you host a website, you can password protect your web pages to prevent someone from tinkering with your content.
If it is a WordPress website, you can use the publish settings on the right side of the screen choose to password protect the page. Each page can have its own password, so you can share specific pages with specific people.
Do not allow your browser to save passwords. It is easy for anyone to reach sensitive information on your computer when the password is automatically plugged in.
4. Secure your browser
If you use the computer profile restriction settings, the browser(s) will be fairly secure within those profiles. However, most browsers have their own security or privacy settings that you can adjust for extra protection. Your browser's security settings can also help protect against the newest malware sites.
If you use a home internet connection, many routers can be set up to block sites and certain keywords. If you do not want to lock down your browsers beyond the profile settings, you can monitor online activity through the browser history.
Some savvy teens delete their browsing history, which makes it tough to track their activity. If you find missing periods of browsing history, that is a red flag signaling it is time for a talk.
5. Social media lockdown
Contrary to many perceptions, social media sites can be quite safe. Facebook and Google Plus have created settings options to regulate what gets through to you (and what people see about you). Check the settings on individual social media sites to make sure they are safe for everyone.
On the other hand, chat rooms, online gaming environments and even private texting apps can provide an unsecure environment. Common Sense Media and iparent.tv are great resources for parents and church leaders to keep up to date on the trending technology that children and teens are using.
6. Keep up to date
Computer systems will frequently prompt users to make security and software patch updates. Pay attention to them. These patches and updates help to keep out unwanted hackers and/or provide new features to increase security.
7. Stay informed
Many sites have great information on keeping families safe online. Microsoft's Family Safety center is a good place to learn about best practices and get news about safety practices.
Google has a safety center that has great information on individual and family safety. Google’s information is especially helpful if you use several Google products (search, YouTube, Android, etc.).
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8. Monitor mobile devices
To prevent mishandling of a church- or family-owned device, you can install free or paid apps to help you monitor activities, such as call or browsing history, SMS, email, GPS, pictures, video and calendar updates.
Some paid apps can create time limits or time slots during which designated phone features/apps are usable. They also can restrict or block browsers, websites and contacts. Some apps will send you alerts if certain keywords are used.
If you need to monitor multiple devices, My Mobile Watchdog is an excellent choice. If you suspect that abuse has already occurred, you may want a more robust app, such as PhoneSheriff ($179 yearly for one device).
Determine all the features you require. Keep in mind that if you use every feature, you risk moving from monitoring to spying. Establish transparent rules and boundaries for both the monitor and the individual(s) being monitored.
You may choose not to monitor activities daily and instead adjust settings to receive alerts when suspicious behavior occurs. You may choose a more cost-efficient option that offers great security filters for the web.
Regardless of the security measures you put into place, there will be websites or viruses that slip through the cracks. Some adult content may filter through your security settings. The best line of defense is to teach your children about the dangers of the web and give them the tools needed to practice safe habits.
WHEN YOU SEE SOMETHING
In most cases, shaming a young person for finding something objectionable will only harm future communication and possibly spark curiosity. Be assertive in taking appropriate actions and beefing up security as needed. Contact various platforms (Facebook, YouTube) when abusive content is found. If things escalate, you may want to call legal authorities.
Dangerous web content is increasing exponentially, but so are the tools to help protect your church and family. Take the time to discover and put these safety measures into practice and keep everyone safe.