Protect Your Children
The internet can be a good source of education and entertainment for children. There are literally thousands of websites that cater for children of all ages and abilities. However, there are also many risks to children whilst they are surfing online. But with good parenting and a common sense approach you can reduce the risks to your children by implementing the following three-point plan.
1. Understand the risks
Your child can be exposed to paedophiles, pornography, online bullying or even fraudsters. While these are very difficult issues to discuss, they are unfortunately very real and need to be understood. Discuss these issues with your children, in an age-appropriate way. They need to understand the risks in their own way so that they can develop their own judgement.
Learn more about the issues yourself. While it may be true that children are generally more technically savvy than their parents, don’t let this stop you from understanding the risks to your children.
2. Setting boundaries
Much the same way you would do in the real world, give your children some guidelines and set them some boundaries for using the internet. The following are some suggestions to get you started:
• They must seek your permission before meeting any online friends in person for the first time. You should know where and who they are meeting. Better still, accompany them to the meeting place.
• Be clear about the types of websites they are allowed to visit. Clearly anything pornography related should be out of bounds but think about other site categories like gambling, violence or terrorism, dating or un-moderated chat rooms as well.
• Encourage them to share with you any problems that they may have encountered online. Problems like bullying, threatening behaviour or messages, inappropriate pop-ups, etc.
• They must be extremely careful when entering any sensitive information online. Information like their address details, phone number, email address and photos should only be entered with your knowledge and permission.
• They absolutely must never share any bank or credit card information online. In fact it’s probably safer to only allow them to spend money online under your supervision. This way you can vet the security features of the website in question.
Of course many of the above points will apply differently to your family depending on the age of your children and therefore will change and need to be reconsidered as your children grow up.
3. Monitor usage
Understanding the risks and setting some boundaries are fine, but for a complete approach some monitoring will likely be required to ensure your children stay safe whilst surfing. The kind and amount of monitoring will depend on individual circumstances. The following, however, are some suggestions to get you started:
• Keep the computer or laptop placed in a communal room like the lounge or kitchen rather than in your child’s bedroom. You don’t necessarily need to sit with them and directly supervise what they are surfing. But because they are in your line of sight you can keep an eye on them whilst getting on with something else, whislt at the same time giving them a sense of independance.
• Try and make surfing the internet a family activity rather than an individual one. Discuss the websites your children visit and try to foster an open attitude. The discussions could follow a similar line to your conversations about their experiences at school.
• Set your browser’s homepage to a more age-appropriate one. At home, we use the CBBC website as our homepage and have found that the children will rarely venture off the site as they have everything they need right there.
• If you are using Internet Explorer then switch-on the Content Advisor. Go to the Tools menu, click Internet Options, select the Contents tab and click Enable under Content Advisor. This is a useful feature that allows you to limit access to inappropriate websites. Do a search in Google for ‘Internet Explorer Content Advisor’ for more information and how to use the tool.
• For Firefox users there is a neat little tool called Glubble (www.glubble.com), which basically allows you to create ‘bubbles’ of websites that you trust for your children to surf online. They are basically restricted to that bubble and cannot venture out of it.
• Most modern browsers come with built-in security features like pop-up blockers and phishing filters. Ensure these are switched on to maximise protection.
I hope we’ve shown that you don’t have to be a technical master to implement measures to reduce the risks posed by the internet. With a common sense approach and good parenting we can make the internet an enjoyable and secure place for our children to learn and play.