As parents, we all feel justifiably anxious when our children go online, to face all the hidden dangers on internet activity on their own. As parents, we feel obliged to help and to provide guidance and protection, but how can a balance be achieved between allowing children to freedom to explore and also ensuring their safety? A good starting point is to understand the risks that are out there and evaluate whether they apply to your child. Every child is different and as parents, it is our job to tailor a program of internet access that is suitable for our children and to be proactive in managing the risks they face online.
What can I do to protect my child online?
One of the first steps to protect a child while online is to become familiar with the specific risks that children face online. Research that canvassed children found high levels of exposure to race hatred, self-harm, and pro anorexia content and these are just some of the risks that children face while they are online.
Obvious risks and what can be done about these
The obvious risk are child abuse, exposure to pornography or violence not appropriate for the age of the child, however there are many others including cyber bullying and over use of the internet which can lead to eyesight problems or obesity.
Keeping track of a child’s internet use, ensuring access is only to websites that are appropriate for their age group is crucially important both for the child’s safety and their development. We recommend Quib,ly’s child safe website list as a great resource for parents to get ideas on the most beneficial places for their kids to be surfing. Supervising your child’s access and talking to them about the risks they may face online will all help to avoid these more obvious risks of children’s activity on the internet.
It is also a good idea to stay in touch with any adults who may interact with your child outside of the home, for example in clubs or schools, as these people may be trained to note certain behaviour patterns you may not notice, or there may be issues you are not aware of at home.
Hidden and developing risks: digital footprints
Researchers have only recently started to research the links between childhood behaviour on the web and later impacts of this behaviour, for example when a child enters the job market as a young adult, or applies to education courses.
Increasingly, what is said and done online is tracked, recorded and evaluated by both government agencies, private individuals, agencies who ‘sell’ data to organisations and by individual employers compiling ‘organic’ data. As such a hidden risk appears to be developing, and that is the risk that your child’s behaviour online will come back to haunt them in later life, for example when they are employed as young adults or when they apply for or attend educational courses as students.
What may seem like harmless fun as a 16 year old may have serious consequences done the line and as such it is even more important for any parent to monitor and supervise every child’s internet usage. Even teenagers need to be given guidance and advice about what is ok and what is not ok to do online, and many parents neglect teenagers when they think they are old enough to manage the risks themselves.
Researchers term this niche of children ‘net children’, which is a term coined to describe children who have grown up surrounded by a myriad of digital communication streams, which leave permanent digital footprints which may be accessed by third parties (in some cases perfectly legitimately).
Cleaning up digital footprints
Parents following the news in the area of privacy rights will welcome the moves within the EU to ensure that data can be removed from search engines like Google.
The right to delete information has just been created and has started to be used, but parents need to be proactive and know how to prevent the dissemination of potentially harmful material before it is created. Speaking to your teenager about the importance of internet awareness and safety is just as important these days as paying attention to their grades and whether they do their homework!
What do you think?
If you have any comments on the subject of internet safety and children, why not post a comment and join the debate? People learn much from other people’s experiences so if you have a useful experience to share, why not post a comment?
Catherine Smith has written within the areas of teaching, special educational needs and primary education for more than ten years. She has worked as a primary school teacher and has vast experience within the UK education system.
This is a guest post