The internet offers incredible benefits to families and increasingly people are making use of the internet at a younger age. From the moment a child starts using technology parents should take an active interest in what their child is doing online and create a relationship of trust. Here are a few suggestions for parents to help kids stay safe online.
If possible keep the computer in an open area, not in a child’s room. Remember children can access the using smartphones, tablets and gaming devices so these also need to be monitored and have their own set of rules.
Set clear expectations for your child based on their age and maturity. Create a list of websites they should stick to when online. When setting the rules things to think about are:
- Is your child allowed to use a search engine to find appropriate sites?
- Is your child allowed to visit social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? Remember the minimum age for Facebook and Instagram accounts is 13.
- What sites is your child allowed to visit just for fun?
- Your child's teacher should be able to advise you on which sites are appropriate for schoolwork and educational fun.
Write down your rules and place them next to the computer.
Explain to your child that staying safe online is just as important as staying safe in the real world and that’s why they need to follow the rules. If they want to add an approved site to the list they should talk to you about it first.
If you are concerned about your child being directed to inappropriate websites there are various filtering software and parental controls that you can use. These are designed to help parents limit the websites children can access. Some programs have monitoring features that can tell you what sites your child visits and can even send you a message letting you know your child is online.
Remember to tell your child if you use tracking software and explain it's for their protection.
Online bullying is a growing concern and should be approached in the same way as bullying at school. Ask your child specific questions about whether they are being bullied, emphasising that they should always talk about things that upset them. Talk to your child about why it is not OK to bully other children, online or in person and what can count as online bullying.
Tell your child that people who introduce themselves on the internet may not be who they say they are. Don't assume your child knows everything about the internet or false identities. Children are naturally trusting.
Instruct your child to never give out personal information online, including their full name, gender, age, school, address, or details of clubs they attend. Teach your child to be generic and anonymous on the internet.
Passwords should be secure and kept private. Depending on your child’s age you should be involved in setting up passwords.
Children need to understand what they post online, stays online. Comments, pictures and videos can all stay online indefinitely. You don’t want to unnecessarily worry your child about using the internet, but make them aware that anything they put online could remain there and inappropriate things can have consequences, now and in the future.
Make it clear that if anything upsets them online they can always come to you or another trusted adult.
The most important message to give a child is they should never, under any circumstances, agree to meet anyone they have met online. If they want to meet someone they must speak to a parent first. If a parent is happy for a meeting to take place then they, or another trusted adult, should always be present.
For more information about internet safety:
Childnet - www.kidsmart.org.uk - gives general safety advice for young people
Think you Know (CEOP) - www.thinkuknow.co.uk - internet safety advice for children
Childline - www.childline.org.uk - for children to talk in confidence via email or phone
Safer Internet - http://www.saferinternet.org.uk/ - safety advice and resources for parents