The internet is a great educational tool, providing information for homework and learning as well as advice – but it comes with hidden dangers. If you don't keep your eye on them, children may be exposed to inappropriate material, or lured into chatting with strangers. You can protect them from many influences, but your child will need to take responsibility for their own safety as they grow and become more independent .This guide gives you some brief pointers.
Research shows that, on average, children spend over 6 hours a day on computers, smartphones, watching TV or playing video games. Another report showed that, even in 2013, 57% of 3-17 year olds used the internet at home, compared with only 11% in 1997. With the upsurge in mobile and wearable devices, we are increasingly connected.
New government measures set in 2015 ensure that all schools use effective safety filters, and that children are educated about online threats.
As parents, you will also want to protect your child, so here are some useful tips for online safety.
It is wise to limit your child’s access to internet content, and to restrict their time spent online.Supervision
Supervise young children’s internet time, partly to learn subjects together but also to learn about the internet – good and bad. Make browsing a positive experience but offer warnings too, and encourage them to talk to you about what they are doing. Always set clear boundaries.
Ideally, the PC or laptop should be used in an open family area where you can keep an eye on what your child is doing. That way you’ll be on hand to help them with homework, and there is less chance of them connecting to unsavoury sites.
Many children prefer to study in silence though, so being surrounded by family may not help their learning. And phones and tablets mean internet access is available almost everywhere.Parental controls
Most internet providers have parental controls, so that children can be blocked from:
Older children may complain that these restrictions stop them from accessing sites they need for homework and from talking to their friends. If you’re open to wider access, create a ‘Safe List’ of specific websites you will allow them to access – but teach them safety guidelines first.
Encourage them to tell you if a website appears onscreen accidentally. If unsuitable, add it to the filter list.
Some internet providers have ‘Broadband Shields’, enabling you to block websites based on daytime/evening access (see Safer Internet). You can set a security rating that matches the level of protection you want – PG, 13 or 18, for example.Restrict the amount of time
Establish some ‘Internet and Phone-free’ times, not only to connect as a family but also to make sure that children don’t get headaches, eyesight problems or repetitive strain injuries from too much mouse or keyboard action!
In 2015, 65% of 8-11 year olds reportedly owned a smartphone – with Internet access 24/7. For younger children especially, take away mobile phones and tablets overnight so that they can sleep!Smartphones
Contact your mobile network to ensure that appropriate filters are in place and to restrict mobile data. That way you won’t be surprised by expensive phone bills.
When you’re out, look for ‘Friendly Wi-Fi’ where inappropriate material is already blocked. Apps can also be downloaded to block certain content on smartphones.Anti-virus software
Always keep up to date. Spammers or inappropriate emails can easily be added to a ‘blocked’ list.
Educate children from an early age of the possible dangers on the internet. Make sure they know what action to take if they feel threatened, scared or violated by anything online.
The National Crime Agency runs a helpful website, ThinkUKnow, for parents exploring the risks of Internet usage. It has things you can discuss with your children and advice on some concerns you may have.
As children get older they will want more independence, more freedom to use the internet and more privacy to chat with friends on social media. Before you can let them have it they’ll need to understand internet safety for themselves.
Here are some general tips:
The internet is a fantastic educational tool. It gives children the opportunity to develop research skills and independent learning. But do set rules and boundaries to avoid its dangers and encourage your children to speak openly with you. Educating your child about internet safety is one of the most valuable things you can do for them. Most importantly, make sure they know that you are there to support and protect them if anything on the internet worries them.