Children start using computers and handheld devices almost from birth it seems. They expect every screen to be interactive and, to begin with, have no idea of the dangers that lurk within. There’s no question that the net can be a great way for them to socialise, explore and have fun, but that opens them up to risks of cyberbullying and seeing inappropriate content. You don’t want to scare them, but it’s good to make them safety conscious from an early age.
What this means in practice is that it’s important to talk to them. Have the conversation about staying safe online early and often. For real youngsters, too young to grasp what you may be saying, it’s worth installing a good quality antivirus software that has parental controls.
The NSPCC have some sensible tips on the subject on their website. These include:
*Explore online together – ask your child to show you their favourite places and what they like to do online.
*Know who your child is talking to – children don’t think of people they’ve met online as strangers, just online friends. Make them aware that it’s easy for people to lie about themselves online.
*Set rules and agree boundaries – the amount of time they spend online, when they go online. If they play online games check the age rating before they play.
*As a general rule, check that the content they are browsing is age appropriate. Don’t let them pressure you into signing them up for sites for which they are too young.
Most internet service providers offer filters to enable you to filter content – make use of these. Laptops, phones, tablets and gaming devices that connect to the internet all have parental controls that you can activate.
Make sure that your kids know how to use privacy controls so they can keep personal information private. Talk to them about what to do if they are contacted by someone who upsets or worries them. Make sure they know how to report abuse.
In essence, treat the online world the same way as you would treat the real world. You wouldn’t let your child go out of the house unless you knew where they were going, so apply the same principle online. Ask your child what they’re doing. You don’t have make it a special conversation, keep it everyday the way you would do with any other subject.