Within the last 20 years, our social and working worlds have been enveloped by the internet. And never more so than during the pandemic. Zoom lessons, online birthday parties and video games are more our way of life than ever before. It is a great way for children to stay in touch with their friends and keep on top of their education without having to leave the walls of their own home, especially during lockdown.
Children’s consumption of the internet has shot up dramatically within the last six years. Over 54% of 3-4 year olds own a tablet or phone and teenagers have increased their usage from 17.2 hours to 20.5 hours a week. With this increase of internet exposure, comes a heightened risk of danger. The internet has a dark side and it is more important than ever to have an open and frank conversation with your child about internet safety, as well as putting some safe guards in place. So, what can you do to make the internet safe for your child?
Upon allowing your child to access the internet, switch on the parental controls on the device and with your internet provider. Parental controls will allow you to set a screen limit, restrict inappropriate content and block your child from purchasing apps and racking up a small fortune!
Take the time to show your child the apps and games that they can use and ensure they are not left to explore alone so that you can monitor their use. For older children encourage them to share what they are doing online and take an interest in any games or content that they are enjoying. It is also important to talk to your children about topics such as cyber bullying and grooming and to encourage them to confide in you if anything upsets them.
Discuss the dangers of giving out any personal information such as email addresses, phone numbers and school names. Extend upon this conversation to older children. There has been a lot of news exposure in recent years about the increase of “revenge porn”, which is where private explicit material has been shared across the internet without the owner’s consent. Have a very honest conversation with older children about sending any explicit content by showing news reports and, emphasise that this can have an everlasting impact on their future.
Encourage the use of child friendly search sites such as Swiggle. These are a great way of exploring the internet not only safely but reliably. Older children may come across fake news on social media so ensure that they know how to find out the facts for themselves without taking an article at face value.
Make it fun
With younger children, create a poster together highlighting the dos and don’ts of the internet. Make it bright and bold and pin it up for the family to see. There are some great online games made specifically for children which teach them about internet safety in a fun and educational way.
As children get older it can be difficult to maintain these safety barriers, especially if they have a mobile phone and join social media websites. It can be a very tricky time as you balance their need for freedom with their safety. Keep the communication open and regularly check friend lists on games and watch out for changes in your child’s behaviour. Although the Internet is an incredible source of information and gaming, it is a fast, everchanging environment and can leave your child vulnerable. By laying down some guidelines, and having an awareness of what they are doing online will help you to keep your child safe.
by Karen Olney