How To Keep Your Location Independent Child Safe Online

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A recent post on the NuNomad blog talked about the pros and cons of travelling with kids at different ages. It’s an excellent post, packed with useful info for location independent parents – or those planning a nomadic lifestyle.

One of the things it brought to my mind was the need to keep your kids connected with the world beyond. But how do you do that safely in a world where the internet has brought not just benefits but real dangers to children?

In talking to friends recently, some of them were amazed that my seven year old had her own email accounts, but for me it was an obvious way for her to connect with friends and relatives abroad. She is an excellent reader and enjoys writing emails, so I just had to find a way to make it easy and safe.

To do that, I created an email account for her on my own domain, using Google Apps. I like Gmail because it has a great spam filter and since I limit what she signs up for there shouldn’t be any worrying emails in her inbox in the immediate future. She liked the fact that she could have a child-friendly theme (featuring dolls and ice creams, I believe). I disabled chat and contact sharing, but will review the chat decision when she’s a bit older. For phone calls, she uses my Skype account when she needs to chat.

Like most kids, my daughter loves games and many of these are online. I adapted some guidelines from an internet safety book someone sent me to create some rules that will keep her safe. She knows that she is not allowed to sign up for anything without asking first (and when she does I check the parental information thoroughly to see that her privacy is guaranteed).

For now, I am banning forums though she can use the private messaging system on some of the sites. I’ve found the Disney sites such as Toontown and Pixie Hollow to be pretty good, as is Moshi Monsters – and of course Cbeebies/CBBC is a great site for educational and fun games.

I have enabled Google Safe Search on both browsers on her computer to prevent her from accidentally discovering anything inappropriate. I’ve found this a better option than the parental control software I used before because it allows her to follow her interests while still staying safe (rather than blocking almost everything, which frustrated us both, especially when I kept forgetting the unlock password).

I’ve told my daughter about the importance of keeping personal details secure (no giving out her real name, address, phone number or email address). She’s been very good at sticking to the rules.

For older children, consider a contract with your child about observing the rules for internet safety – a good starting point for an online safety pledge is here.

The final aspect of making sure she stays safe is being in the room (most of the time) when she’s on the computer. That way I can use my parental sixth sense to spot any potential issues early. How do you handle internet and connectivity issues for your location independent children?

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10 Responses to How To Keep Your Location Independent Child Safe Online

  1. Carmen

    May 12, 2010 | 8:10 pm

    Thanks so much for the mention, Sharon. There are so many more things we have to think about nowadays in terms of child safety than our parents did. One thing our family did that was recommended by our school was to have computers only in very public areas of the house such as a table in the kitchen or in the family room. It gives us as parents the chance to interact with the kids during their computer time, chat about what they’re doing and seeing and keeps the computer time from being a clandestine activity which it can so easily turn into.

  2. Sharon Hurley Hall

    May 12, 2010 | 9:07 pm

    Yes, that’s a good tip, Carmen. My daughter’s computer is near to my own workspace for that very reason.

  3. soultravelers3

    May 16, 2010 | 9:51 am

    Great post on an important topic!

    I think it is quite tricky today & as kids get older. We’ve been living a paperless, totally mobile world traveling lifestyle since 2006 when our child was 5, so have had to keep this in mind for a long time.

    I wrote this on a somewhat related post:

    “being tech savvy should be a part of the curriculum for these digital natives, but one must also educate about the addictive nature and harms.”

    http://www.soultravelers3.com/2010-03/long-term-family-travel-homeschool-roadschool-world-school-digitalnomad-lifestyle-design-virtual-.html#more

    Another look at safety online is monitoring total “screen time” and monitoring what exactly they are doing online. Even with a kid sitting right next to you on their own laptop, dangers can lurch & older kids will sneak into forbidden places.

    With Skype open once, we got a spam porno text message that she answered about a date. Ugh! Luckily, it was not graphic and she did not understand, but an example of how things can happen. ( She thought it was a friend, so is quick on the draw with Skype calls or IM messages as many of her relationships & classes are via Skype webcam calls).

    There is much that is addictive on the internet and I think that area of safety is VERY important as well. I’ve blocked many of the kids sites like Moshi Monsters because they promote addiction ( you have to check in everyday or lose your play money!).

    I often ask myself, “What’s the use of a location independent or 4HWW life where one learns time equals wealth, if one and one’s kids are always online? ”

    Unplugging is one of today’s greatest and most important luxuries!

    Even more than adults, we need to keep kids off the internet and more in nature and when they ARE on, it is only for useful purposes. Writing emails, doing blog posts, learning programing through MIT Scratch, reading books online, learning languages/geography/science etc online are great….just playing games and getting addicted…not so good & downright dangerous to their health and well being.

    As a child gets older (mine is 9), it gets harder to keep the balance( can’t even imagine teen years). I try to keep screen time down to an hour a day for her and only on good things, but this year when she took Mandarin Chinese online, we needed to add a little more time.

    Unlike moms who have babies and toddlers using iphones, nintendo ds, wii, ipads & ipods, we have skipped all of these things so far.

    For me, the biggest safety concern is how to use the best of online technology without addicting them to a brain numbing ( & some say brain damaging for kids) always- plugged-in life.

  4. Sharon Hurley Hall

    May 16, 2010 | 1:47 pm

    Good points, Jeanne. I can imagine this getting more challenging as she gets older. I don’t mind a few games for fun, and have recently discovered a game that combines physics, strategy and fun called Home Sheep Home. On Skype and any other software, I ramp up privacy setting to max.

    Your point about some sites promoting addiction by requiring daily check-ins is interesting and gives me another aspect to think about.

  5. Jenn Miller

    June 16, 2010 | 11:24 pm

    This is an excellent article and a great topic! We have four kids, aged 8-14, and have been LI for about two and a half years. At the moment we have four laptops between us that are used for work, school and fun.

    I tend to lean the direction of SoulTravelers3 in a “less is more” approach to screen time for our kids. That being said, the internet is the single biggest facilitator of a nomadic lifestyle in the modern era. It is what allows our kids to stay socially active in their circles, keep up with the grandparents and engage in a high school AP Literature class from any continent.

    We put the K9 program on our machines recently, which allows customized blocking, based on the needs of your family, but also tracks all urls visited on that machine, with no possibility for “private browsing” features helping the kids hide.

    Our goal is for our children to be fully engaged in all aspects of culture, on-line and “real life,” and have the discernment necessary to make wise choices in both worlds. This involves LOTS of talking, especially with the teens, about the “realities” of both worlds. It’s impossible to lock them down forever, and at the same time, we’d be fools not to protect them. It’s a rocky path to independence! I’m definitely interested in hearing from other parents what is working for them, especially with their older teens!

  6. Sharon Hurley Hall

    June 19, 2010 | 10:31 am

    Thanks for this contribution, Jenn. I think talking to children about the reasons for things is a good approach in any case and as my daughter gets older, I try to provide her with the info that will guide her decisions. We do a lot of ‘what-if?’ discussions. Luckily, she’s still at the age where she mostly follows the rules; if that changes, then I’ll need to look at other options. By the way, I tried K9 for a while, but even when I customized the filters it seemed too restrictive.

  7. Russ

    July 2, 2010 | 11:51 pm

    Good post.

    One thing to add…

    My daughter Olivia is 8 and I also set her up with a gmail account as she was getting a ton of spam from her hotmail account.

    I also went one step further and set up a special gmail filter that automatically forwards all of her email to me that way I know (usually before she does) of any questionable email (which there hasn’t been).

    I have made a brief tutorial on how to do this on our 5Nomads blog:

    http://www.5nomads.com/how-to-secure-your-childs-email

    Good luck,

    Russ

  8. Lana

    July 11, 2010 | 6:18 pm

    This is an important topic! Thanks for bringing it up. As a mother of a 7yo boy, I’m very much concerned about his online safety and anonymity. My son also has his own email and facebook accounts (we live abroad, far from our relatives and friends, and it’s important that he keeps in touch with people who love him), and although I try to restrict and monitor his online activities, it doesn’t always help. I can’t keep an eye on him and the computer 100% of the time :( .
    What I did though is I installed a subscription-based VPN. It encrypts all the internet traffic and changes IP address which is visible to websites, chats and forums. It also has other benefits. This way I know that whatever my son does online, his identity is fully protected.
    There are many VPN services out there. The one which I use is very good because it offers additional protection options, but I don’t want to advertise it here.
    It’s really worth looking into.

  9. Sharon Hurley Hall

    July 14, 2010 | 8:12 pm

    @ Olivia: I haven’t done that, but it’s a good tip. However, since my daughter’s email account is on my domain, I can check at intervals to make sure everything’s ok. At the moment, she’s not allowed to use it to sign up for anything, so her privacy is pretty safe.

    @Lana: Thanks for the tip. I hadn’t thought about that option.

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