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Computers can be a wonderful resource for education, and great source of entertainment such as games, movies, and music. However, when you hand over a computer of any kind to your kids, lots of things can go wrong. Here are some general things to watch out for, and how to protect you and your children.

Accidental Expenses

Handing over your smart phone or tablet to a child is a bit like giving them your wallet. Most devices have an “app store” where kids could, accidentally or otherwise, purchase new apps. Many applications and games also have mechanisms for built in purchases within the game, costing real world money. Apps may also display banner ads that direct users to web sites such as Amazon, where an accidental purchase can easily be made with “one click ordering”. Finally, your mobile device may incur expensive data charges when used outside the home.

Most devices have controls to disable or require a password for both app store purchases, and “in app” purchases. Either do your online shopping on a separate device that your children don’t use, or be very careful about always signing out from e-commerce web sites when you are done using them. To avoid unexpected data charges, you can set limits on how much data your device can use in a given time period. See the resources section below for more details.

Revealing Personal Information

Many mobile applications and games are free or inexpensive, but in exchange they require access to your personal information. This may start with your name or email address, but may also include access to your location, contact list, calendar, email, and more. Once this information is given away it is difficult to get your privacy back. The best option for children is to avoid storing any personally identifiable information on the device used for educational apps and games. Encourage children to use a nickname that can’t be linked back to their real name for games and apps.

Internet Safety

Chromebooks and mobile devices blur the lines between using the Internet, and using a local computer. You should generally assume that most applications are connected to the Internet, and any data you provide to those applications could make their way onto the public Internet. The only way to be sure you are completely disconnected is to disable your mobile data and wifi connections, and use password protection to prevent children from turning them back on again. Some of the resources below provide more information on how to do this, depending on what kind of device you are using.

Safety Resources

A handy list of information on computer safety, and manufacturer information on how to use their safety controls.

  • Canadian Red Cross. This Canadian Red Cross page has lots of useful tips on how to keep children safe online, including a “top ten” list of guidelines for parents.
  • RCMP Internet Safety. Internet safety tips from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, with particular detail on cyber-bullying, and protecting yourself from online scams and fraud.
  • Wired Safety. Wired Safety is a large and mature organization dedicated to computer safety. Their site has a large amount of resources and information for both children and parents on how to use computers safely.
  • top 10 safety tips for children. A nice summary of advice on how to keep younger children safe when online
  • Apple Guide to Parental Controls for iOS. This guide shows you how to enable parental controls for iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch).
  • Guide to Supervised Users on Chromebook. Chromebook has a concept of Supervised Users, which configures the device with more limited capabilities. This guide shows how to use this feature to create a safe computing environment for your children.
  • Google Guide to Restricted Profiles on Android. The Android version of parental controls is called Restricted Profiles. This guide shows you how to set up a resticted user on Android tablets and phones for your children.
  • Computer Security Training: Learn About Social Media Safety. Information on how to protect you and your family on social networking platforms. (Thanks to Amelia for this helpful link!)
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