Children and the internet

How to minimize the risks our children face when they are online


So close to Christmas when some children will receive computers, tablets or mobiles as presents, I think it’s good to remind about our childrens’ e-safety.

Adults use the net mostly for emails, web research and social networks, whilst young people use it for interactive chat, Music, Games, Blogs etc. There is a big gap between children’s real experience online and adult awareness of these experiences.

Schools should have a legal duty of care to try to protect pupils, not just from chatroom predators, but also from other online risks such as cyber-bullying, fraud and pornography. But what happens at home? Do we guarantee the same protection to our children at home? How often our children are left alone, even for a few minutes, at the computer, ipad, iphone etc.? Are we sure they’re safe? – The risk is not the technology itself, but the people who find ways of misusing it.

Young people are very attracted by networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Piczo etc.). Initially they will use the Social Network Space used by their peers, but as they get older, their tastes begin to develop and some will migrate to another provider. If your child uses one of them, the best way to understand why and how, is to have a go yourself!

What are the risks our children face when they’re online?

1) Commercial risks

We often sign up for things online. And by doing so, we enter personal details. We are supposed to always read the privacy policy, but many people don’t read them as they are long and dry documents. Generally, if you sign up for something online and then get targeted by lots of spam/junk mail, it is a result of your information being passed on. Our children need to know that they shouldn’t enter any personal details without our permission. At least, if they are under 18.

Many websites popular with young people are targeted by adult advertising (gambling, dating), making it very easy for children to accidentally view an adult page. To protect your child from these avertisings, you can install software to protect your computer’s security. If more members of the family use the same computer, be careful which sites the rest of the family visit.

2) Content risks

Informations on the net are not always accurate. You can find medical advice for free, but how can the writer be verified as having proper training? Children need to be taught how to be discerning readers in order to distinguish between fact and opinion.

Children can easily end up on adult sites by accident, having unknowingly clicked on an advertisement (this can also happen on free apps…). You can make the contents your children have access too safer by getting to know the safety features available on browsers, games, search engines and teach your children how to use them or let them show you how they keep themselves safe in these different environments. Set up a white list on every browser your child has access to.  – But the most important thing is to talk to your children about what to do if they come across something unpleasant and teach them to be critical.

Remind your children that personal information and inappropriate images can attract unwanted attention from peers or others. When your children use social networks, they have to be told that everything they reveal, will be there, in the net. And not only their friends will be able to see and read it. But the friends of the friends of the friends too… Young people are attracted by chatrooms, but unfortunately predators can lurk in these open environments and nobody really has any way of verifying who they are speaking to. One easy tip about this is: “Think before you send; whatever you send can be made public very quickly and could stay online forever”.

3) Contact risks

This is associated with the internet. Sex offenders do use the internet as a way of contacting young people. In addition, some people are choosing to abuse others using the internet and mobile technologies: this is commonly known as cyberbullying (I’ll write about cyberbullying in another post).

What can you do to keep your children safe about their contacts online?

Young children find it hard to distinguish between general information and personal information. Use the SMART rules and encourage them to think about safe general things they want to discuss with their friends online. Childnet’s advice is that the best online friends are friends we know in real life.

Related to all this is also the concern about our children not to get addicted: encourage your children to use the technologies to explore and experience the topics in the real world (drama, sports, music etc.). Set safe internet rules in your family for every member: Children like it when their parents have to follow the same rules as them.

The main tip is to get involved: find out more about the technology. Be an informed parent and keep open channels of communication with your child.

If you have a problem, face it! Don’t facebook it!….

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