In the age of digital technology it’s almost impossible to keep your children away from devices, let alone the internet. Helping them understand the dangers of the internet and teaching them how to use it responsibly, is vital.
Children today are exposed to digital devices from a very early age. Words like “app”, “wifi”, “surfing” and “online” have become part of our everyday vocabulary, and anyone who has children will be amazed by how fast their little fingers learn to push buttons, accessing content that is not always safe or appropriate for them to view.
Minimising the risk
Malware, pornographic content, cyber-bullying, accidental purchases… the list of things that pose a risk to you, your children and your digital devices is endless. However, there is no need to keep your little ones away from the internet simply out of fear. Despite the numerous threats out there, being proactive and protecting them is not as hard as it may seem if you follow a few simple rules – and use the right tools.
The most important step to ensuring your child is not exposed to harmful content when using the internet is putting barriers in place to create a safe online environment. By doing so you enable your child to benefit from the advantages of the digital world such as fast access to information, without putting them – or your devices – at risk.
Interactive Programs and Guides
In addition to a good firewall and up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware software, there are several websites, apps and programs that offer free tools and advice to help keep your children safe online and let them enjoy their interactions with the digital world.
If you’re a parent and want to know more about child internet safety, Netsafe is a great place to start. The website is New Zealand based and run as a non-profit online organisation. The creators provide advice, practical tools and support to help you manage your children’s experience in the digital world. You can browse articles, download a “safe button” for emergency situations or create online safety plans with your children. There is also a free hotline if you have urgent questions or concerns, available on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723).
Family Link is a Google powered App is available for Android devices and helps families set some basic ground rules regarding the use of digital devices. From implementing healthy screen times to creating a platform for communication around internet usage and the possibility to remotely lock your child’s device, this App is a great way to get you started. It also gives parents control over which apps their child can access, what they can browse and download on Google Play Store, and it sends activity reports back to parents about how children use their devices, e.g. whether they spend most of their time on social media or gaming.
Screentime is an app for smartphones and tablets that will allow you to set time limits, access to apps, block periods of time (eg; sleep time) and even require kids do chores to get time credits. I use this paid app myself (there’s a free trial) and have found it very useful. Kids can download apps but not use them until they are approved by me. I can give other a login to access to manage access and one account allows a family to connect an unlimited number of devices.
Be Internet Awesome
The motto of this website is Play Safe. Learn Safe. Stay Safe. It aims to teach children how to use the internet safely and with confidence. Parents and educators find a range of resources such as lesson plans, discussion topics and ways to implement responsible device usage. Especially valuable is Interland, a virtual game where children work towards earning their badge for being Internet Awesome. Each level presents the player with questions regarding internet security, scamming, phishing and unwanted communication.
Founded in 1995 in response to the speedy growth of the internet, Childnet aims to empower young people to use the internet smart and responsibly. The charity is based in the UK, but the resources and tools on offer are available to parents and educators worldwide. You can download family agreements to set basic rules of internet and device usage, get help if your child is the victim of cyber bullying and engage with your children in interactive games. There is a special section on internet safety for pre-schoolers, while older children can follow the adventures of the SMART crew and learn more about how to stay safe online through an animated cartoon series.
Our top tips for keeping your child safe
No matter how well you protect the devices in your home, there will come a time when your child has unsupervised and unrestricted access to the internet. When that time comes you want your child to be prepared. The best tool you can set them up with is the ability to surf the internet responsibly, have a safety awareness, follow basic netiquette and trust that they know when it’s best to shut down.
Here are our top tips how to prepare your children for a safe digital future:
The most important boundary to set for your child is the amount of daily screen time. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics infants and toddlers younger than 18 months should not be exposed to digital media at all. Between the age of 2 and 5 screen time should be limited to an hour daily – providing educational content only.
Keeping yourself safe online is just as important as keeping others free from harm. Cyber-bullying has become a growing problem especially among teenagers. A 2016 survey in Otago revealed that 87% of children aged 11 to 18 had experienced cyber-bullying. While we have the opportunity to step in when we witness bullying in the playground, the classroom or elsewhere, becoming aware of what’s going on in cyberspace is almost impossible. Talk to your child about what’s ok and what’s not, and encourage them to confide in you if they feel someone is using the internet to hurt them.
It’s important to make your child realise that not everything and everyone they see on the internet is real. Being sensible and careful about what they believe or what they share with whom will keep them safe from harm and protect their privacy. If in doubt, you’d want your child to have the courage and the strength to remove themselves from the situation, turn off the computer and inform an adult about their concerns.