It's the Wild West out there in cyberspace. How do you shield your kids from inappropriate photos and videos, or from giving out too much information to the wrong source, or from cyberbullying and screen-time overkill?
The answers aren't easy.
But they're getting easier.
Beth Katz, director of product management at the online safety company AVG, says online limits are like giving your kid a key to the house. "You probably gave them a set of rules or taught them about the warnings at home," she says. "It's the same when you trust them to use any online service. You have to teach them how to protect themselves."
AVG released a free e-book for kids over the age of 2 to learn about cyber-safety.
Remember that staying in close touch with your kid -- lots of honest conversation, holding firm on limits and age-appropriate rules, and checking in often -- is still the best way to stay informed about where they're going and what they're doing, whether online or geographically.
The below apps and programs help on the family Internet frontier, too.
Net Nanny (left). The Mary Poppins go-to for parental control, this hack-proof software masks naughty words on pages that are otherwise okay, controls time and game use, flags fishy IM conversations, gleans detailed information from social media sites, and sends detailed activity reports, all configured remotely by you. ($39.99; Net Nanny netnanny.com).
AVG Family Safety. Using a web-based configuration, you will receive text alerts if this home PC filter sees something inappropriate as it monitors your kid's activities in chat rooms or social networking sites. It filters websites based on age-appropriate content, sends text or email reports on web usage, delivers warnings if there are words, phrases, or language that's typical of child victimization, tracks social media activity, and manages time, apps, and more. A free, simple version is available for Apple or Windows mobile devices, helping kids surf safely, blocking mature content, and preventing data tracking ($49.99; AVG Family Safety).
McAfee Family Protection. Keep an eye on the family network on up to three computers in the house with a web-based configuration, as well as manage the accounts remotely. It blocks inappropriate sites and videos, monitors email and IM conversations, and checks out some social networking posts -- beware: Some review sites say it can be disabled somewhat easily if your kid is crafty. You can also block games and programs and receive activity reports from your home computers. ($49.95; McAfee Family Protection).
Mobicip Safe Browser Premium App. Phone surfing is NBD when you've installed this app that filters all Internet content on Windows, Android, and Apple devices based on the Family Online Safety Institute's ratings for content. It comes with three filtering levels for elementary, middle, and high school. Set up time limits, review browsing history, filter YouTube, and more. There's a super-basic version for free, too, if you want to give it a test run first ($9.99; Mobicip).
iHound. Find and recover lost or stolen devices with GPS, remotely wipe sensitive data, share your location with people you trust, opt in for automatic location sharing on social media, receive up to 100 half-hour snapshots of where your device last was, receive an email when your kid gets to school -- all this info is available through this app designed for multiple devices. Slap on a trackable iHound sticker to your device, for an old-fashioned return via basic human kindness (Subscriptions from $9.99/year; iHound).
uKnowKids. With your kid's cooperation, you can monitor his texts, photos, posts, and location, displaying it all on a dashboard that flags potentially questionable activity, such as A/S/L, which stands for a request by a sender for your child's Age/Sex/Location. The company website provides a useful parenting blog for family cyber education. ($9.95/month for one kid, $19.95/month for up to four kids; uKnowKids).
Mama Bear. This app for both Apple and Android devices is free, though you must allow push notifications for both the parent app and the child app. Watch your kid's web activity with a news feed, and receive notifications when they want to check in or be picked up from somewhere. You can find out arrival and departure notifications for safe places like school, home, and practice. Also handy: Receive an alert if a young driver exceeds a customized speed limit. (Free; MamaBear App).
Screen Time Parental Control. If your only mission is to establish specific screen limits (limiting when a child can use his phone and for how long, rewarding screen minutes through household tasks, or blocking game apps during homework time), this is a simple, noninvasive option that can't be uninstalled without a password. A remote app for parents controls every screen in the house from any location with a tap -- no more begging for shutdown at mealtime. (Free; Screen Time Labs).
Is Your Home WIFI safe? Find out here!