The internet is a wonderful way for our children to learn and play. But as every parent knows, it can be a dangerous place too. Even if you lock your security settings as tightly as possible, you can still download viruses and be targeted by spammers and scams.
There’s an even riskier human element to the web as well. People target families to steal identities and money, and predators often pretend to be children and teenagers to target kids in chat rooms, games and social networks.
The best way to protect children from this is to supervise them whenever they’re online. But with so many devices now able to access the internet, it’s impossible to monitor children all the time. Even children as young as 3-5 years-old are now going online independently by using the family laptop or tablet.
So what can you do to teach your child how to be safe online? What should they do to protect themselves? Here are seven steps which should help…
1. Thinking about the internet as a place
A great tip to help teach your child about the dangers of the internet is to imagine the web as a physical place. You don’t have to go into specifics, but try to make them realise that there are bad neighbourhoods online the same as there are in ‘real’ life. What are bad neighbourhoods? You’ll often recognise them by the ads for gambling sites, drugs and even pornography. Make sure they’re aware that it’s bad to end up on these sites, and they shouldn’t wander off there on their own online if they do end up unsupervised.
2. Giving out personal details
Teach your children that they shouldn’t hand out personal information when they’re playing games or chatting to other kids online. It might feel natural for them to post instant messages explaining where they live or what their phone number is, but explain that this is dangerous. Even if the person they’re communicating with is genuine, these personal details may not stay in the right hands.
3. Accepting online communications
If your child starts using a social gaming site and begins striking up friendships, they may start sending instant messages, emails, texts and photos to each other. Children need to be very careful about this. An innocent-looking message could contain bullying messages, or messages from adults pretending to be a child. And both kids and their parents need to careful about downloading and opening attachments containing viruses that will harm your computer – downloading the latest virus protection software will help protect against this.
4. Meeting up with strangers
It might feel normal for children to arrange a meeting when they’re been playing games together or chatting online. But make it clear that your kids should meet up with people they’ve only talked to on the internet. It’s vital that your children understand that online friends are still ‘strangers’ if they haven’t met them in real life.
5. Deciding if something is reliable
Young children are incredibly trusting and honest. While this is an admirable trait that many adults wish they’d held onto better, it means that kids aren’t equipped to judge whether people or information they encounter online is reliable or not. Teach your kids how to check out whether things are real or lies by reading other websites, in books or by asking someone who knows.
6. Telling adults about online concerns
It’s important for kids to tell adults if someone is being bullied or feeling worried in the physical world, and the same principles apply on the internet. It’s even easier for bullies to target victims online, as they can harass other children anonymously and from a distance. And sometimes other children or profiles will talk to kids in a way that seems suspicious or makes them feel uncomfortable. Again, it’s vital in this situation that children know to tell parents, teachers or other responsible grown-ups that they’re worried.
7. Talking about the online experience
The internet doesn’t go away just because you power down the laptop, and children’s experience of being online can stay with them long after a session has ended. Sometimes kids might be upset about something that has happened online and not let on, so it’s a good idea to talk with your children regarding how they felt about their time online. You don’t need a blow-by-blow account, but this is a good way to get a handle on whether anything is concerning them online – or whether they’ve been doing anything risky.
These steps are in many ways just the tip of the iceberg. There are many in-depth guides to help you keep your children safe online, but this advice should help give you a foundation to start building safe internet behaviour. To read more about internet safety for kids go to Childnet.com.
This is a featured guest post. Although this content of this post is one that I have received compensation for my time in editing and posting, the content is a very real issue that our children face on a daily basis. We’d do well to consider the content and remind ourselves of the obligations we have to our children and keeping them as safe as we possibly can.