Keeping Your Child Safe Online
Many of us now find our computers, mobile phones and broadband multi-channel TVs wonderful tools that enhance our life experience. We have learnt a new language in modern communication.
But for our children this is no second language, but their native one. These gadgets are not enhancements but essential tools that have been part of their world all their lives. Learning to use them wisely and safely is, therefore, a critical part of bringing up children. And keeping them safe and ensuring their learning is age appropriate is a vital part of parenting today.
In their Digital Parenting magazine Vodafone include a useful age-based advice checklist to help you and your family manage the online world:
Some children start to use the computer even at this early age: start setting boundaries about online access using time limits for how long a child may use a computer. Mothers’ Union’s parent facilitators always recommend that parents keep the computer and TV in a family room, rather than in a bedroom or separate room, so that parents can be on hand to monitor and assist their children. Keep unrestricted devices such as mobile phones and tablets out of reach and well protected with a pin number.
Ages 5 – 9
As your child becomes more computer aware agree with them which websites they can and can’t use, and talk to your child about why you have these rules. Continue to set time limits and always ensure your computer parental controls are set to fully protect your child. Vodafone recommend setting up a user account for your child on your computer, and setting appropriate parental controls for that user. Ensure sites accessed by older siblings on the computer or on mobile devices are not shared with their younger brothers and sisters.
Ages 9– 11
If you have not given your child much access to a computer at home, you may now find that they begin to need access for homework information. Some computer parental controls let you set limits on which sites can be accessed, and which not, during homework time – check with your broadband supplier. Continue to review your parental controls.At this age you may feel it is appropriate for your child to have their first mobile phone. Most phones will offer at least some internet access, and restricting access to adult content is much more difficult on mobile devices. Check what options are available on the device you buy for your child. Mobile phones can also prove financially costly – downloads with hidden costs, or exceeding a tariff on calls, texts or internet access can leave parents with a nightmare bill! Consider having a tariff cap or just having pay as you go until your child has learnt to use their first phone responsibly. High value phones can also make your child a target of thieves when they are out and about, so make sure they know to keep their device well hidden in public.
Ages 11 – 13
Starting high school, or reaching the upper years of middle school, your child may come under increasing pressure to join social networking sites. These sites are restricted to age 13 or over – often the sites contain inappropriate language, imagery or advertising. Talk through the options with your child and consider discussing with them your ability to monitor their accounts in a way which does not feel to them as if you are intruding upon their life, such as having a note of passwords and login names. Also bear in mind that it is at this age when questions may be asked about their changing bodies and emotions. There are lots of websites which you may feel awkward about them accessing, but equally some may help your child during what can be difficult years. It is important to keep talking to your pre-teen and to listen to what they are asking permission for and why. Boys especially may also now come under pressure to play games on their consoles which you may feel are too violent. Ensure you check out the games and be firm about what you will and won’t allow. This age may seem very young for some of the things you need to discuss with your child, but sexting – where teenagers share provocative or naked images online or by mobile phone, usually of their peers – can often begin during these years. It is important your child knows never to allow anyone to take images of them of this nature and that they could be available online forever. Also that they know taking images of another person in this way, who is underage, is illegal and they could be prosecuted for sending images of a person under 18. For more information on sexting and how to protect your children use this helpful downloadable resource.
Adjust the settings on your computer parental controls in line with your son or daughter’s age and maturity. It is important to teach safe use of the internet at this age rather than to cocoon your child and risk them failing to learn vital skills in content judgement for themselves.Continue to talk to them about how they might be exploring issues such as body image and relationships online, and that you want to continue to protect them from some sites that could harm their well-being. For example ‘pro ana’ sites which promote anorexia or bulimia to young girls, or online games or music sites which have content that is misogynistic, violent or sexually inappropriate for this age.Your teenager will also be using the online environment quite extensively for homework and schoolwork at this stage. It is important to ensure that your child understands about plagiarism and copyright issues on images, music and writing.
If you need help in starting a conversation about staying safe online with children or young people, there are some helpful conversation starters provided by the UK Safer Internet Centre.
The ‘parent factsheet’ from internet safety charity Childnet International offers links to various support and resources including advice on how to set up parental controls and filters, social networking and how to make a report.
Digital Parenting magazine from Vodafone is another excellent source of information for parents on keeping their child safe online. Click on the links below for issues 1 and 2:
Based on an original article from Vodafone’s Digital Parenting magazine issue 2 (2012). Used with kind permission. Mothers’ Union gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Digital Parenting magazine.