The Internet is a necessity these days, like electricity and food. Social media is a constant presence and fact of daily life for most of us. We use it for shopping and buying movie tickets and finding recipes. It’s how we stay connected to friends and family. At younger and younger ages, children need it for school work and projects.

We know how to keep our financial information safe online: change passwords regularly, use anti-virus and anti-spyware tools, use complex passwords, etc. But what about how to keep our children safe online?

Unfortunately, as the multitude of corporate hacks have proven, nothing is foolproof. Build a better mousetrap, and someone builds a better mouse. But there are common sense steps to take and tools to use that can help keep your family safer while online.

  • On Facebook, you can set posts to “friends only,” which limits who can see them. You can even create specific lists of the people you want to see photos or posts about your kids and limit post visibility to that list.
  • Don’t share the name and address of your child’s school.
  • If the full name of the school is imprinted on a photo, block it before sharing.
  • Don’t mention names of your child’s friends unless you’re also friends with their parents and know it’s okay to do so.
  • When you’re taking “first day of school” photos, make sure that your address, the school and the school bus’s number aren’t visible in the photo.
  • Bury photos of your children in the album so they aren’t the first few. On vacation, for example, make the first few scenic photos.
  • Tell your teens about the dangers of checking in to places online. Anyone who follows the business or venue can see that check-in post.
  • If you don’t want family to share your child’s photo without clearing it with you, make that clear. If someone violates that policy, ask them to take the photo down.

Those are the things adults can do within their own social media activity to protect children online. What about when the kids are surfing? Playing a game, doing homework? First of all, talk to your children. Make sure they know where they are allowed to go online.

SafeSearchKids is a Google project that filters search results to be safe for kids. The site also includes informational guides about cyberbullying, cell phone safety and more. The site doesn’t filter to only sites that are aimed at children. A search for “clowns” brings up news articles and other pages that are adult level, but contain no unsafe material.

Kiddle is another Google search product, but it’s a visual search engine. From the Family Education website: “The first three results to each query are kid-safe sites and pages written specifically for children and hand-picked by the editors at Kiddle. Results 4-7 are also hand-picked by the editors, and include safe, trusted sites that are not specifically written for kids, but have simple, easy-to-understand content. Finally, all the following results are written for adults, but filtered by Google safe search.”

Common Sense Media offers lists of safe browsers and search sites for kids. For example, Zoodles says it is a smart browser that “corrals info into kid-safe ‘playgrounds.’”

The Family Education website offers a list of other safe search products, including the ages they are appropriate for. Of course, no tool is perfect, so it’s important to make sure that children use the Internet with supervision and regular check-ins. Keeping the computer they use at home in an open area is a good idea as well.

Don’t forget to check devices! The Kindle Fire, for example, has settings that allow parents to dictate how long children are allowed to use it and limit web access, app access and more. The iOS and Android operating systems for smartphones and tablets have similar control settings.

The Internet is a powerful, useful and often fun tool of 21st century life. Like any tool, it can be abused. Following some common sense practices and getting technological help make it easier to protect the ones you love the most while they’re online.

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