Here comes summer, arriving with equal parts excitement and dread for parents everywhere. Suddenly, there are 8 hours of unoccupied time that your child has to fill, and if they are anything like my son, they will head straight for the computer. They’ll browse to sites you’ve never even heard of, click on files randomly, and potentially create electronic chaos on your usually well-managed computer. So before they dive in, take a few precautionary steps to ensure the safety of your kids, and your data.
Backup your Data
Despite your best efforts and perfect digital behaviour from the kids, accidents will happen. Take the time before the summer gets underway to set up and test your automated backups from each computer and device. This is the perfect time to upgrade to a full network-attached storage (NAS) solution like the WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra, so that you have enough storage space and a full redundant copy of your data in case disaster strikes. The online cloud sharing will come in handy when you and the family hit the road, allowing you to access your data from anywhere you have an Internet connection.
Update your Antivirus
It is simple math: more users + more time on devices= higher risk. Update your virus definitions and review your security policies to ensure that you don’t lose any time to a malicious piece of software. McAfee Total Protection 2016, for example, has antivirus and expanded protective services for an unlimited number of personal computers and mobile devices. The addition of mobile device protection is important, because if a device is on your network, it is another possible point of risk to your whole computer network. And McAfee Total Protection 2016 comes 5 True Key profiles. True Key allows you to use facial recognition to log in to your devices instead of the traditional individual password per device. It also has some basic built in parental control features that supplement the standard account controls in Windows/Mac operating systems. And of course, the next line of defense against intrusive malware is smart browsing habits. Remind the kids that installing plug-ins and software from untrusted sources can lead to a quarantined device. For younger kids, make sure that administrative privileges are turned off for their accounts, so that they cannot accidentally load your PC up with 1001 spyware and malware applications.
Schedules and Limits are your Friend
Ah, the imagination of a child come to life. Specifically, the moment when your kid wakes up and believes that they can spend an uninterrupted 8 hours on the computer. You could wait until their body odour and lack of muscle tone alerts you to the need to kick them outside, or you can have a plan in place. By setting a reasonable computer/device use schedule, you can avoid the continual battle for screen time that the summer could devolve into. As an added feature, make sure the screen time allotments are earned with household chores, and watch the house sparkle! (Or at least it will stem the messy tide that comes from a bored kid bouncing around the house.) Here’s a bit of learned wisdom about that, though: make the tasks achievable and manageable, or be prepared for an overwhelmed child on the verge of a meltdown.
Keeping the Little Ones Safe
You’re a vigilant parent, but there’s a limit to the number of hours you can spend actively directing your child’s online activities before you lose your mind. Installing a kid-friendly browser app will give you the peace of mind you need. As an example, the Zoodles app (available for PC/Mac and Android devices) gives your child access to curated content, access to approved websites, and safe online searching. The app is free, and has a paid premium version that adds a host of additional features like usage reports and customization.
Keeping an Eye on the Older Kids
It’s a fine line to walk, between giving your older child the freedom to make their own decisions, and the responsibility to keep them safe from harmful online experiences. They’re going to get into some ill-advised corners of the Internet, regardless of your efforts. One approach to take is to use Windows 10 family features for every computer user. You can set restrictions on content ratings and app usage, and most importantly, you can get a summary of the user’s recent activity. Remember that the point is not setting a trap for your tween or teen, so tell them ahead of time that you will be reviewing their computer usage from time to time. We all behave more appropriately when we think someone might be watching, after all.
And if your child is having difficulty self-selecting the right online behaviour, you may have to implement a more restrictive solution. Net Nanny has content-control software that offers you more in depth tools to limit what your child can and cannot access. It masks profanity, blocks pornography, controls specific access to the Internet with set time limits, and a variety of other tools. The Net Nanny also offers a social media monitoring service called Net Nanny Social. You add each social media account you want to monitor to the online dashboard, and from that point on, you can review all of the activity on those accounts in one location. There’s a monthly cost for both the software and the monitoring service, and using them might lead to a difficult but important discussion with your child about personal privacy.
Everything in Moderation
The key to a successful summer of electronic fun is balance. We’ve all found ourselves stuck in front of the computer, flipping through the same websites again and again as we hope to discover something new and entertaining, and your kids will fall into the same boredom trap. That’s the sign that it is time to turn off the computer, pick up the sunscreen, and go out into the beautiful sunshine with the kids. Time spent together as a family is the most kid-friendly activity there is.