The internet has become something of a central fixture in our lives. Pretty much everyone has a PC with internet access in their home, and everyone expects you to have at least an e-mail address and frequent access to it. Many people even have personal websites. Subsequently, children are getting access to the internet themselves almost from the moment they can use a computer safely, and with that comes a major concern for parents. After all, you can access just about any kind of information online, even things of very questionable nature. Further, once your child has an online presence, other people can access their information too.
The sheer openness and lack of central control or authority on the internet, arguably one of its greatest strengths, poses a massive challenge to parents. How do you protect your child as they make their way down the information highway? How can you prevent them from seeing things they should not be seeing, and how do you prevent them getting tangled up in the many troubles and difficulties that comes with being a digital native?
Internet Safety 101
You do not want to stop your child using the internet, that is for sure. For one thing, the internet is a fantastic resource for information that can massively improve your child’s general knowledge and performance in school. Additionally, it is a great way to have fun, socialise and make friends not just across the country, but around the world. Furthermore, the internet is just too central to our way of life now. Full denial of access would just hamper your children.
Parental ControlsFortunately, you plenty of help for keeping your kids safe. The first source of assistance comes from the internet browsers and providers themselves, as well as your virus security programmes. All of these will have Parental Control functions. Such functions can allow you to control what your child can see and has access to while on the internet, and is similar to the sorts of controls children have when using the internet at school. They will allow you to:
- Filter/block certain websites and e-mail addresses.
- Limit downloads
- Place time limits on internet use.
- Prevents your child from searching for certain words or key areas, such as pornography, violence, or the like.
Some websites and programs will also allow you to monitor your children’s computer access yourself. They do this by creating a log of search items or websites visited, or by allowing you a live feed into what the children can see on their screen. This means that if your child is on a website that they should not be, you will know about it. However, as your child gets older, they may find such measures intrusive and in violation of their privacy. Imagine how you would feel if someone was spying on you all the time, after all. So use this with caution.
If ever you download programs, files and apps, such as TV shows, video games or streaming software (such as Netflix), be sure only to use ones that have age-appropriate ratings. Streaming websites and software usually have Kids sections and parental controls themselves.
Include Your Child
As you start making plans for your child’s safety while on the internet, be certain that you talk through it all with your child first. Just sit them down and explain to them that, while the internet is most certainly fun, it can also be dangerous. Give a set of rules regarding its use, such as never setting up accounts to websites without your permission, never downloading things from websites without your permission, never accepting “friend” requests from or giving their contact details to strangers, and forbidden searches.
Encourage your child to be active with their internet safety as well. For example, if they ever encounter a website they should not be on, then teach them to tell you about it. This way you can delete it from your internet history folder and add the website to your filter list. Getting them to tell you about unknown contact requests or suspicious downloads is also immensely invaluable. Your child should also be aware that receiving rude or threatening messages online – known as “cyber-bullying” – is unacceptable, and they should tell you the moment they receive any messages that upset them. This will allow you to block those people and prevent them from sending any further messages. If necessary, block their IP number as well, which will block messages from any device using their internet connection.
Make sure your child takes breaks from the internet every half-hour as well, simply in the interests of their health. Find some activity or chore for them to do to keep them distracted from it, whether it is getting a drink or snack, or helping Mommy or Daddy put something away.
It might be an idea to sit with your child as they make their first forays onto the internet as well if only so you can talk them through it and teach them how certain things work. Doing so will allow you to ease them more gently into internet use and allow you to establish boundaries early on. Once your child has grown more comfortable with it, you can leave them to themselves for extended periods. Be sure to come back irregularly (say every fifteen to twenty minutes) to check up on them discretely.
Be sure to share any rules you have regarding the internet with any responsible for looking after your children on your behalf as well, such as babysitters or grandparents. This means they know what to do should you ever be out.
As Your Child Gets Older
The moment your child becomes familiar with the internet, keeping them safe becomes less of a challenge. Largely, this is because your child will learn and become used to common rules and norms of internet usage that are shared across websites (such as spamming or harassment). Will also be because your child will find their internet niches in which they are most comfortable, such as favorite websites or a fixed list of internet contacts. Chances are, being born to the internet as opposed to introduced to it, your child will come to have an even greater understanding of the internet than you do.
Even so, make sure you keep on top of your child’s internet safety. As your child grows older, they may decide, for example, to meet up with people they meet online in person, a natural consequence of the rather faceless nature of internet contact. Further, as they grow more established online, they may resent direct parental control and observation, and ask for you to let them do their own thing.
Ultimately you will have to start to trust your child on this sooner or later, as an obvious reluctance to do so will send a very negative message. Being obstinate about it may also just encourage your child to try and do what they want to do behind your back and without your knowing, which can be very dangerous in itself. Their best safeguard is having you remain aware of what they are doing.
In such cases, try to reach a compromise: you may decide to ease off on things like direct observation while insisting on more central ones website and search phrase blocks. You should also emphasise that your child must let you know if anything happens that upsets or unsettles them, or if they want to do anything online that requires your knowledge or consent such as downloads or arranging meet ups with online friends. If necessary, offer a revised rules list as well in which they’ve been allowed some input, but remember that the final say always comes from you. If you do not want your child to do something online that they insist on, tell them as such and why.
The writer of this article, Christian Mills, is himself a proud parent who writes on the side to help support his family. He knows the importance of maintaining a child's mental health through proper supervision of internet use, as well as their physical health through regular checkups and recommends finding a local pediatric care facility like Night Lite Pediatrics. If you wish to learn more about christian you can visit his profile on Google+.