You threw your mobiles and tablets into the suitcase, along with the sun cream and swimming costumes, for a last-minute holiday in the sun. Now your kids are logging on to the hotel WiFi and glued to their screens. Time to relax! But you’ve forgotten one critical thing: their online safety. So, what can you do from beside the pool to keep your kids safe online on foreign shores this holiday?
I am sure that you don’t need telling that your kids are spending ever longer amounts of time online – and especially when they are on school holidays. The internet overtook television as the top media pastime for British children last year, according to the 2016 CHILDWISE Monitor Report.
But the first step you can take is not to panic. They may already be glued to their screens, but you can still make sure your kids are safe online while you soak up the sun.
The second step is to understand how your children will be using the internet and social media when they are on holiday.
The not-so-great escape from social media
The smartphone or tablet in the hands of your children will shape their holiday experience in ways that taking photos or sending postcards could never do. They may be taking selfies on the beach to update their Instagram profile or chatting on Snapchat with their friends about their snorkelling trip. Your teens may be making videos of their expedition to a ruined city to post online. They may use Google to help them discover local bands or places to hang out.
The downside is that it can mean that school never breaks up for summer. Once upon a time, you left the bullies behind when you went on holiday. Now they can be with your children anywhere in the world. The number of likes and the kind of comments, nice or nasty, they get for these posts may affect the way they remember what you think is a priceless family experience.
Social media in moderation
It’s also important to recognise that the effects of smartphones and tablets can be positive as well as negative on a last-minute holiday. This means that even when you have checked into the hotel, it’s not too late to have a chat that goes along the lines of “‘if you want to go on Instagram that’s great, but balance that time by doing other activities as well”.
“It’s something that every parent will talk about especially during school holidays – that children are in danger of seeing social media like sweeties, and their online time like junk food,” says Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner.
As parent’s we don’t want our children to eat junk food all the time – double cheeseburger, chips, every day, every meal – for those same reasons, we shouldn’t want our children to do the same with their online time.
Snapstreaks are a case in point. Snapchat is one of the most popular social media apps for young people to share pictures or videos on. A snapstreak is when you and a mate send snaps back and forth within 24 hours. Keeping a streak going by sending a snap every day can be a fun challenge for the children involved. However, the sudden ending of a streak can cause high levels of anxiety and even fights – even if it is due to dodgy WiFi on holiday.
Be a TEAM
The next step is to come up with a plan for keeping your kids safe even when you are unwinding in the sun. The children’s charity, the NSPCC, and O2 have come up with an approach called TEAM. TEAM is an acronym that stands for Talk, Explore, Agree and Manage.
TEAM does what it says on the tin. You talk with your children about your worries about those selfies they have just posted on Instagram – or the stranger on the beach who wanted their profile name. You put down your paperback and spend some time exploring their virtual world with them by playing Minecraft together, watching vloggers like Zoella on the same tablet and even shooting YouTube videos with your children. Together, you can then move forward and agree what’s ok to do online and what’s not.
Lastly, the “manage” element means that you have to manage the parental controls that many apps provide you with, and which may already be downloaded onto the device, to keep your children safe online. A new generation of apps such as Kaspersky’s Security Cloud even offers to protect the whole of your family on whatever device they are using. You may even be able to download apps like this by the pool.
Now, parental controls may sound very Orwellian, but they let you plan when and for how long your children use something on a tablet. They let you see what they are laughing so loudly about. You can even use these apps to stop your kids downloading apps and content they are too young for.
“Parental controls may sound dull, but it is one of the simplest things you can do to ensure your child is accessing appropriate content only,” says Jane Houghton, head of the Online Safety Helpline for O2.
“Technology is changing all the time, and it can be hard to keep up to date with the latest games, sites and apps, but it’s important to take on the challenge and treat it like any other parenting task,” adds Julia Fossi, head of child online safety at the NSPCC. “Talking to your child regularly and being part of their online world is the best way to help keep them safe.”
It is also important to talk through your children’s privacy settings on their social media with them. There is a good chance that they don’t understand them or even think they have set them when they haven’t. You should check your own settings as well. If your children share pictures with you, then it could be that you are endangering their safety by letting everyone you are connected with see them too.
In the end, all your good work could be undone if you have been lulled into a false sense of security by the WiFi at the hotel or in a beach café, because public WiFi can be an excellent way to hack your children’s tablets and steal their passwords and identity.
The best steps you can take to protect against this is that your kids should use their phone’s cell connection to share pictures – or set up your own WiFi hotspot using your phone. If you really want to use the hotel WiFi make sure you are logged into the real network and not a fake, disconnect when not in use and change your passwords when you head home.
Another good way to use WiFi safely when abroad is with the Kaspersky Security Cloud app which alerts you if the connection is not secure and suggests that you activate a Secure Connection (VPN). This allows you to use public WiFi without having to use your mobile data which can save you from accumulating a hefty bill back home!