Editor’s note: Leonie Smith is social media advisor, cybersecurity advocate, educator and mom to four kids. In the 15 years she’s been participating in online communities, gaming, and social media to connect with other parents and grow her businesses, she has become an expert in social platforms. We asked Leonie to share her wisdom with the OpenDNS users who want improved security at home and the parents who want to better understand online risks like cyber bullying.
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OpenDNS: What do you think are some of the most pressing threats to kids’ online safety?
LS: One of the biggest threats I see is that kids run across unsavory or adult content without really trying. Beyond that, kids can unknowingly interact with adults and cyber bullies through chat rooms, social media and online gaming social media. Many parents don’t know the extent of communication that’s available online today, and this lack of understanding makes their families more vulnerable. The most important thing to realize, is that there are simple steps parents can take to educate themselves and improve the odds of keeping their kids safe online.

OpenDNS: What can parents do to better understand the threats their kids are facing?
LS: The first parents can take is to get involved early. I’ve met lots of parents that think their kids are too young or don’t use computers. But, I’ve seen plenty of toddlers playing with an iPhone or iPad to keep them entertained at a cafe or on an airplane. Parents should change they way they think about “computers” and start thinking about protecting all Internet-connected devices. The next step is to find out what their kids love about computers share the online experience with their kids. They can play games or do research on interesting topics online together. It’ll help parents understand what they don’t know about the Internet, so they can do their homework. It’s also completely okay to acknowledge that the Internet is complex and even home IT security may require the help of an expert.

OpenDNS: If you could only give parents one piece of advice for protecting their kids online, what would you tell them?
LS: Start talking to your kids while they’re young so that you have an open dialogue happening about the Internet before your kids are teens. It’s important that they know they can come to you if they’re being bullied online, if they download a virus, or if someone is making them uncomfortable online so you can stop it before something bad happens. Help them understand that you’re there to help.

OpenDNS: On your website families can find information on how to deal with cyber bullying. How serious has cyber bullying become and what can parents do?
LS: Teachers and school administrators I talk to tell me it’s the number one problem they face on a daily basis, and unfortunately, cyber bullying is much worse than even statistics reveal. That’s because so many kids don’t report it out of fear that their Internet/phone/computer will be taken away or that their parent will go to the school or the bully’s parents and make the situation worse. Parents need to ensure their children feel safe to tell them about any cyber bullying they experience. Parents can get started by carefully explaining to kids what Cyber Bullying is, and that it is not the fault of their child. It’s also very tough to say this to parents, but it’s important that they keep an eye on their kids to ensure they are not bullying others.

OpenDNS: Why do you suggest OpenDNS Parental Controls and OpenDNS Family Shield to families and parents over other available options?
LS: I suggest OpenDNS to families because its the only way I know to protect your Internet from unsavory and suspect sites on all devices that are accessing the Internet from your home Wi-Fi. You  can certainly put parental controls on all devices at home to restrict children from accidentally or purposely accessing inappropriate sites, but that will fall down as soon as a guest comes into your home with a device like a laptop or iPod or tablet that doesn’t use your preferred settings. OpenDNS protects your phones, your iPad, your iPod, and all your computers from accidentally accessing Adult or unsavoury sites. You can set the filter according to your needs, and allow certain sites through if you wish. I recommend OpenDNS in conjunction with open dialogue, education, awareness and supervision.

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