Whilst we marvel at how easily our children take to technology and how comfortable they are at using it, there is no denying that it comes with its own set of issues that can’t be ignored. Whether or not we approve, we have to admit that the Internet has replaced the other more traditional means of entertainment as it has become a plaything which amuses, entertains and delights children across all ages – from toddlers to young children and teens. This makes online safety a top priority for parents as they need to ensure that children are accessing online content that is stimulating yet inoffensive and age appropriate.
Understanding what children do online
Before discussing how to help our children stay safe while on the Internet, we need to know what they do online. Here are the main reasons they use the Internet: –
- Play games and watch videos/movies
- Connect with friends on social networking sites
- Share images and engage in online conversations
- Search for information on search engines
What are the risks they may be exposed to?
Based on what they use the Internet for, we can identify the potential dangers that our children may be exposed to:
- Improper content
- Sharing of personal information
- Communicating with strangers
- Sexual abuse or cyberbullying
- Gambling and or becoming a victim of fraudulent financial transactions
How you can promote safe Internet practices within your home
Here are a few simple but effective tips that can inculcate healthy online practices among young children and encourage them to be discerning and disciplined users of the Internet.
- Converse and communicate
It’s never too early to explain the importance of discretion while using the Internet. Therefore, conversations on the topic go a long way to making an impact on impressionable minds. The first discussions should begin with the child’s first associations with technology as that lays the foundation for safe Internet practices, which will stand them in good stead through the years ahead.
- Browse online together
Ask your children what they like watching online and show an active interest in their Internet activities just like you would with their homework. This gives you a good idea of what they do and a chance to encourage them to practice good Internet etiquette.
- Check who they communicate with online
Keep track of who they add as friends on their social networking sites and stress the importance of steering clear of strangers, even in the virtual world. Make sure that you become your child’s “friend” on social media so you get a glimpse of what they post and comment about online. This may not be possible with older children as they may not want to add you on their friend list. In that case, agree on one trusted adult that your child likes and would accept as a friend.
- Set ground rules that they must abide by
Stipulate the time they are allowed to spend online, the websites they may visit, the activities they can engage in and what they can or cannot share (images, photos and videos). Emphasise the need to maintain discretion and keep personal information private at all costs.
- Use parental controls to filter content
Parental controls are features provided free of charge by most Internet service providers that help parents regulate their children’s access to online content. They are available on most Internet enabled devices which include not only computers but tablets, smart phones and other gaming devices too. By setting up parental controls, parents can decide what their children can and can’t view – thereby minimising the possibility of them stumbling upon inappropriate content, even accidentally.
- Track privacy settings
Ensure that your child has the highest level of security for privacy settings on their accounts on social networking sites and keep stressing the importance of being cautious and vigilant at all times.
- Keep up to date with technology
Most children today are smarter and faster at grasping new trends in technology and may even find a way to dodge all the measures that you have tried to enforce. It may begin with innocent curiosity and successfully progress to the ability to outwit parental controls. Stay informed and well-read to stay ahead of this.
The Internet is a two-sided coin and much depends on how it is used. All it takes is a little prudence and proactive participation in your child’s online activities as this will go a long way in promoting a culture of healthy Internet practices within your home.