Columns | Northwest Herald

Tech Tips: As school begins, remember family internet safety

Back to school is the perfect time of year to give your family computer a little TLC. And it’s also a great time to review your family’s internet rules with your kids. Here’s how to get your kids and their computers ready for the school season.

Although distance learning is no longer a constant for most families, it’s become part of the educational landscape. Some school districts are switching to remote learning days instead of snow days (much to the disappointment of the kids). So if your children don’t already have an assigned school computer, you should make sure there’s one at home they can use when needed.

When it comes to online safety, school computers are configured for you, and often have excellent protection thanks to school-wide security software. But if you’re configuring a computer at home, you’ll want to pay attention to the details. Use a strong antivirus app, not just the built-in software. Some suggestions include AVG, Avast, Bitdefender, Norton and McAfee. The free versions are adequate, but a paid subscription is well worth the cost in added protection.

Check your security settings as well as your parental controls. The parental controls included with Windows and Mac are fairly robust and provide most of the features you’ll need, like limiting access times and monitoring content. Be sure to install any system or app updates, and make sure automatic updates are enabled as well.

While parental controls can help to control unwanted content, they’re not a guarantee. And internet scams and predators can sneak through just about any protections. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your kids about internet safety. If your child is old enough to use a digital device, they’re old enough to learn age-appropriate basics.

For very young children, I recommend simply teaching them the habit of letting a parent know if their computer or tablet does something unexpected. This sets the foundation for good internet safety habits later on. As they get older, you can begin to incorporate more details, like reminding them not to reveal their name, age or school online.

For older children, try an internet safety pledge. Safety pledges include basic rules like not giving out passwords, and checking with parents before installing apps, as well as reiterating the rules about not giving out personal information.

Tweens and teens should know the same basic internet safety rules as adults, including how to protect a computer with proper antivirus, how to make sure updates are installed, and how to create and safeguard passwords. They should understand the dangers of talking online with people they don’t know, and especially the risks of trying to meet unknown people in person. They also should be aware of the steps they can take if they experience cyberbullying.

Fortunately, there are excellent online resources that can help. has internet pledges plus internet safety guides by age. Safewise also has internet safety guides. For cyberbullying, check out the What Is Cyberbullying section on the site.

• Triona Guidry is a freelance writer and consumer technology specialist offering advice and help for home computer users. For weekly tips and news by email, subscribe to her Simple Tech Tips blog at