TECHNOLOGY: At what age would you think your child will start using the internet? Twelve? Ten? You might be surprised, but the average child in Ireland begins using the internet at the age of nine (in the UK and Scandinavian countries, it’s between the ages of seven and eight), and some are even online by the age of two (admittedly, this is as a result of their parents putting something on for them, ie a video, but you get the idea). Children of this generation are more exposed to the internet than generations before, and their lives are set to be very different from our own, no matter what we try to do to change that.
And it’s not all negative – let’s face it, the internet is a useful tool, as important as it may be scary at times. So don’t think of this as simply another obstacle – only a tool that needs to be taught to be used carefully and responsibly.
Even in the first couple years of school, children begin to learn how to use computers, and in first class are given the odd assignment to search for a fact on the internet.
“Children are more exposed to the internet, and their lives are set to be very different from our own, no matter what we try to do to change that”
So, as children begin to watch YouTube videos, play games, conduct research or even – at some stage – begin to use social networking or chat devices, how can you be sure to protect them from a) bullies, b) predators, or c) adult content?
The first step is to talk to your children. Clear and open communication between parents and their children is important – no matter what the issue, ensuring your children always know they can talk to their parents about whatever bothers them, or ask questions that concern them. When it comes to the internet, its usefulness and its pitfalls, helping them to understand this advanced device is key, and helping them to understand how to use it responsibly is essential in preparing them for whatever they face in future.
“Clear and open communication between parents and their children is important – no matter what the issue”
Now, the safety measures: You want to allow your child to watch a cartoon on YouTube. However, another suggested video pops up on the right you feel is inappropriate. To stop this happening, you simply sign into YouTube (if you don’t have an account, it’s easy to create one). Go to settings, then click “safety” at the bottom, and you can then click “on” to block inappropriate content. It’s not foolproof, but it helps (and really, you should supervise your child’s online use). The only thing is, you must do this for every search engine on every browser – so while you may have set your YouTube safety settings on Chrome, if you also have Firefox and/or Safari on your machine, you’ll need to do this for YouTube on each of these; same for Google, Yahoo or any other search engine your children are likely to use. A pain, but worth doing nonetheless.
As they grow, things like social networking, chats, emails and other social internet usage will become a regular occurrence. Again, communication is key. In addition, parents, while they need to trust their children, need to be a little savvy. Ever heard of POS? (That stands for ‘parent over shoulder’, a code your child uses when “chatting”. Yep, they have codes for when you’re checking on them, and these change all the time to keep you on your toes!) So, you need to prepare them for the pitfalls or run-ins that can occur and that if and when these things happen (ie they’re faced with online bullies, or someone they don’t know is trying to talk to them online), they need to know they can and should tell you about it. That you will listen to them and are there to help.
When the time comes when they’re ready – and old enough – to join Facebook, they must be willing to accept your friendship. (That said, it’s common for children to have fake Facebook sites and “real” ones for their friends. One way to watch out for this? If they’re always on Facebook, and you see no status updates, chances are, you’re friends with the fake one.) Remember, it’s not just bullying and/or predators you need to protect your children from – you must also remember you’re there to protect them from themselves – ie pictures or behaviour that paint them in a bad light can come back to haunt them in later life, and children and teens can be rather naive to this fact. So, teach them about how they need to behave and act responsibly, and about not revealing personal information online. They’ll thank you for it when they’ve grown and are looking for a job!
“It’s not just bullying and predators you need to protect your children from – you’re there to protect them from themselves”
For further information
These Irish websites offer helpful advice and resources to help you parent your child’s online use: