In the past parents only really had to worry about their child’s safety outside of the home but with the digital revolution, safety in the home is just as important. The Internet is a great leveler - we can all find any information we could possibly want through it but that doesn’t make it a safe utopia, in fact in many ways it is almost the complete opposite. Personal information can be stolen, hackers can spy on your home through web cameras and most disturbing of all is the way children are all too often targeted. Not all parents are tech savvy computer wizzes but there are several ways the average parent can ensure their child remains safe online.
In order to keep your child safe online, you need to understand the multitude of risks that they face each time they logon. The first real risk is them seeing inappropriate content and ignoring age restrictions. It goes without saying that most age restricted websites make for extremely unsuitable viewing for those under age.
Many online media formats including some games and apps have embedded purchase options- if your child is unaware of the financial ramifications of things like in game order, it could leave them (and you) facing a very large bill.
Other key risks include the threat of oversharing and communicating with strangers. Both of these scenarios can leave your child very vulnerable not just online but in their real daily lives at home and at school. Personal details could easily be overshared and there is also the more serious threat of a child being the victim of grooming without even realizing it.
The final major risk comes from online bullying which can have a detrimental effect on mental health and self-worth.
As a parent your first responsibility is to communicate with your child and ensure they are aware of the danger. Simply talking through this list with them is the simplest way to get your child thinking about the risks. You might want to use this as an opportunity to highlight which sites they are permitted to use and those they should be avoiding.
A casual conversation is a good place to start – ask your kids what they do online, who they speak to and which sites they like best. This should be an open and ongoing talk, so that there is consistent supervision and structure. Only by speaking to them will you know the kinds of conversations they are having and who they are having them with. Talking will also reassure you that your child understands how to use certain features such as their ability to block people on social media sites, reporting content and avoiding inappropriate sites.
Filters can be easily added to almost any internet connection and browser. Most security packages have parental controls built in and some internet service providers give customers filters for free. Filters block out any inappropriate content and some will allow you to manually define what you believe to be unsuitable content. Keep in mind though, that most internet browsing doesn’t actually require a computer so these filters may not be enough on their own. If you have a smartphone or tablet with an internet connection it is worth talking to your mobile supplier about including parental controls on those devices too.
Just because you ask your child to talk about their experiences on the internet, it doesn’t mean they actually will. Checking through the browsing history on any devices they use will show you exactly what they are looking at. It may feel sneaky but it is the simplest way to ensure what they are viewing is completely age appropriate. If you set guidelines on what they can view this is an easy way of checking they are doing what they agreed to and using the Internet responsibly.
Your child will be aware of what personal details are (birthdays, email addresses, phone numbers, home address, names, passwords etc.) but they may not release the implications of giving them out. Some information such as a birthday or email address can seem inconsequential so be clear about what information can and can’t be revealed online. These details are not just required for social networking sites as you may think, they can be required fields when registering to play an online game or entering competitions and giveaways. The best way to ensure these details aren’t stolen is to ask your child to tell you or fetch you whenever these kind of details need to be inputted. This approach means you’ll always be sure sensitive personal details are only given to trusted websites.
Cyberbullying can have truly devastating effects on children. It is one of the things parents need to be most vigilant about but is also one of the hardest things to monitor. Most instances of cyberbullying tend to involve someone known to your child from school, which makes it harder to stop. Being in the know about how to block other users, maintain privacy settings and report inappropriate content on platforms like Facebook can nip cases of abuse in the bud before they become more serious.
Many games have add-ons that will charge a fee for things like booster packs, character upgrades and extra life lines. As we all know, the internet is stuffed with the offer of something for free when in fact you need to provide card details or pay for full access. These could leave your child liable for an extremely large bill. Have very firm ground rules about online payments. An easy way to ensure that no unpleasant surprises land on the doormat with the Visa bill is to change your browser settings so card details are not remembered. Turning off auto-complete will mean you have to type everything out each time, but that’s an easy way to ensure your payment info isn’t entered by default if your child shares your computer. With most devices you can also make it impossible for payments to be taken without the correct password.
Tags: Safety, Internet Safety, Children Online, Protection.