The Internet has become a part of everyday life, and it’s hard for the younger generation to imagine a day without it. As well as playing games, children rely on the Internet for their education and for keeping in touch with friends. Parents may wish to limit the amount of time younger members of the family spend online, but it’s unfair to exclude them from the connected world altogether.
If used for the right reasons, having access to the Internet has many benefits for children. However, there are risks parents must be aware of. As well as the threat of malware and computer viruses, children are vulnerable to cyberbullying and grooming. The following tips will help to ensure younger members of the family develop good Internet habits and stay safe online.
1) Discuss the risks and dangers.
If children are old enough to use technology and the Internet, they are old enough for a conversation about the dangers. You don’t need to scare children or be too explicit, but they should understand the risks of cybercrime and online grooming. Communicating openly about the Internet means all members of the family develop a healthy attitude to its use.
2) Set boundaries.
Setting some rules about use of the Internet and technology has a number of benefits for children and families. At a very young age, the boundaries could include restrictions on use of any social media and communicating with friends. As children get older they should be given more freedom, but it’s a good idea to limit the amount of time they can spend online and the sites they can access. Age restrictions on games should be imposed. A ban on use of smartphones, tablets and other technology during mealtimes can encourage family interaction.
3) Install parental controls.
The digital age has expanded the world for children, but there are some things they should not be allowed to see. Parental controls can be set on broadband and mobile networks, on individual devices or on search engines. They can be used to prevent children accessing age-inappropriate content, purchasing apps and changing passwords and privacy settings. Recent studies indicate that high numbers of children have seen online porn and other adult content by the age of twelve, and parental controls are an effective tool to prevent this.
4) Explore the online world together.
The Internet is a fantastic resource for education, and children should be encouraged to use it for research. Educational games and apps can make learning fun. Spending time on the Internet with your children means they can explore its potential in a safe and controlled way. Younger members of the family will develop basic IT skills if they observe how you use computers and other devices to access browsers and email accounts.
5) Raise awareness of cyberbullying.
Social media and the Internet have changed the way children experience bullying, but it can still be devastating. Cyberbullying can happen via email, gaming platforms, text and on social networks. It takes many forms, including harassment, threats and intimidation and publicly posting personal information about another person. Have open conversations with children about cyberbullying, and encourage them to talk to you if they become a victim. Sharing too much personal information online can lead to personal attacks and manipulation.
6) Highlight the risks of making friends online.
In their innocence, children take it for granted that people they meet online are who they say they are. Forums and chatrooms can be dangerous places, and research indicates they are a hunting ground for pedophiles and those wanting to harm children. In extreme cases, children can be groomed online by people who then arrange to meet them in secret. It’s fine for youngsters to communicate with school friends over the Internet, but warn them of the potential dangers of building friendships with strangers in the virtual world.
Developments in technology mean that children must get used to living in a connected world. If parents teach them how to use the Internet safely, there’s no need deny access to it.