As parents, we generally do everything we can to keep our children safe and well, but what are you doing to protect them from bullies, predators and inappropriate content online? It’s time, if you haven’t already. Here’s ten tips to get you started.
1. Talk openly with your child about their online activity.
As soon as your child starts accessing the internet, talk to them about what they are reading, watching and who they are communicating with online – and keep the conversation going as they grow older. Listen to your child and reach an agreement about what is right for your family. They must always remember that the internet isn’t private.
2. Keep screens and devices where you can see them.
Always monitor your child’s time online, particularly younger children. Keep the computer in a central spot in the home where it’s easy to keep an eye on what your child is doing and viewing online. For mobile devices, you can set them to forget Wi- Fi passcodes so your children cannot go online without you knowing. You can also try to make an agreement that there are no tablets, laptops or gaming in bedrooms. For younger children, you might also consider checking browser histories after your child has been online to see what sites they are visiting.
3. Know your parental controls.
Innocent searches online can lead to not-so- innocent results, so it’s wise to know how to use the parental controls/search restrictions offered by web browsers, internet service provider and devices. For example, the SafeSearch Filters feature on Google will block sites with explicit sexual material. To turn it on, go to Settings/ SafeSearch filters and check the box next to “filter explicit results”. Although not 100 per cent accurate, parental controls can help prevent your child from seeing and accessing most violent or sexual material. See https://www.internetmatters. org/parental-controls/.
4. Know who your children’s online friends are.
As adults, we know that some people online aren’t who they say they are, but children and young Internet Safety people can be alarming naïve about who they are chatting with if they are not taught to be cyber wise from an early age. Make sure you become friends and contacts within your child’s social media circles and ensure you monitor posts. Your children may resist but tell them that is one of the conditions for you to allow them access
5. Be ‘share aware’ to protect your privacy.
If your child is a regular user of social networks, they must be aware of the risk of personal information or images being made public once they post it. Encourage your children to ask themselves before posting anything if the information (i.e. name, phone number, home address, email, name of school) or photo is something they would give a stranger. If the answer is no, don’t post it. If your child is sharing photos or posts online ask your child to let you see what they are sharing or ask an older sibling to check any photos before they’re shared.
6. Keep control of your family’s digital footprint.
Every picture and personal detail that is posted and shared on social media and the internet contributes to someone’s digital footprint. The big risk with this is that once information is shared publicly, it can be used in ways you may not expect and cannot control. Teach your child to stay in control of their digital footprint, by only sharing with people who they know and trust.
7. Teach your children to keep their location private.
Most apps, networks and devices have geotagging features which make your whereabouts public and can lead someone directly to you. These features should be turned off for obvious privacy and safety reasons. Digital photos also contain metadata (information about the time, date and GPS coordinates) which may reveal more than you want to.
8. Keep track of online time.
It’s important to monitor your child’s online time, particularly younger children, to ensure they do not develop bad habits. Get your children to agree on a period of time, say 30 minutes per session, and set a timer to go off – don’t forget to make this a non-negotiable finish time. You should also switch off the home Wi-Fi at a set time each night (ideally before bedtime) so everyone has some ‘time-out’ from the internet. You can also try making some days ‘screen-free’ in your home to encourage everyone to pursue other more active and/or less technology-driven ways to entertain themselves.
9. Be #SocialNetworkSavvy.
Educate yourself on ways to be safe on social networks so that you can give the best advice to your children. Sign up to the social networks and apps your children are using and find out how to use the privacy settings and reporting mechanisms. If your child uses social networks, be sure they know how to:
a. Report inappropriate and/or offensive posts
b. Block someone
c. Keep information private.
10. Lead by example.
Lead by example and always model the kind of positive online behavior you would like your children to use. Ultimately, you don’t want to instill fear in your child or prevent them from experiencing the many educational, entertainment, social and other benefits of the internet, but rather give them the skills and knowledge they need to know how to make the most of it and avoid the dangers.1
1Many thanks to Laura Easterbrook, Clinical Nurse, Child Protection and Forensic Medicine, Brisbane, Australia for generous portions of this article.