The internet is a powerful tool, but children must be protected from its dark side.
The internet has become an integral part of our children’s lives. They have the world at their fingertips: access to endless games and videos, an ability to contact people across the world, and much more.
According to Ofcom, 86% of 3–4-year-olds have access to a tablet. After a brief chat about online safety, we might think they’re safe. But a recent study found most children act unsafely: 40% chat with strangers online; 53% publicly reveal their phone number; 15% try to meet a stranger, and 6% reveal their address.
Few know about viruses, online safety and privacy, internet safety, or basic online etiquette. They might unknowingly expose you to internet threats, put themselves in danger, or (as one child did) spend £3000 playing a game.
But digital tech can help their development. It gives them access to a wealth of information, and research indicates it can improve their: hand-to-eye coordination; language, and problem-solving skills. So, you don’t want to withhold it, but you need to take steps to protect them.
The Laws on Internet Safety
By law, high-risk websites must work to protect your child. In the USA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act protects those under 13. It prevents a website from using features without a parent agreeing.
Club Penguin, for example, requires a parent’s email address for users under 13. The main “chat” is disabled until approval is made. COPPA also protects them in other ways. It requires consent before they can legally collect personal information and restricts what they can ask.
You should utilize this law by making sure your child’s accounts are associated with your information.
Educate Them on How to Stay Safe
You can’t always manage their accounts. On a lot of websites, they just ask for a parent’s email address on sign up. There’s nothing stopping your child from using their own.
Because of that, you need to educate them. David Emm (senior internet researcher, Kaspersky Lab,) believes the first step is discussing online safety. The best opportunity to do so is at a young age, when they’re using the computer with you.
Emm encourages us to draw comparisons to the real world. The consequences are the same, so we shouldn’t do things unless we would in real life.
- Taking to strangers. We tell them to avoid strangers in real life. The rules still apply, people can lie about their age and they should never reveal their information.
- Warn them about the consequences of “risky behavior.” All children are prone to it, but those with learning difficulties are most at risk: in an attempt to assert independence, they follow dangerous curiosities. Talk about chat rooms, and don’t shy away from “sexy selfies,” online flirting, and drug use. Predators are looking for children who don’t know the dangers.
- Make them share aware. What they put out is permanently available for the world to see. Outline the consequences of sharing information online and encourage them to be cautious.
These steps will prepare them for when they inevitably face the online world alone.
Manage and Monitor Their Behavior
The previous tips are good for educating. But it’s still good to check in and make sure they’re following what you talked about.
Unfortunately, the risks of the internet are twofold. They could encounter dangerous material online. But overusing the positive aspects can be detrimental too. WebMD indicates doing so drastically increases the risk of depression and anxiety in teenagers.
As such, you need to: continue to protect them from online dangers; and track their usage to prevent serious mental health problems. Unfortunately, this can be met with a lot of resistance. 44% of parents struggle to control their child’s screen time.
To manage their behavior, you could:
- Keep devices in a common area of the house (like the dining room table). Make them ask to use them. Doing so will: help you keep tabs on why they’re using it; and discourage any risky behavior. According to the Hawthorne Effect, we act more cautiously when we know we’re being watched.
- Avoid having your card details saved and make them ask before paying for things. Online marketers target children in games and videos. Don’t give them purchasing power or they might rack up debt.
- Keep track of their usage and take away devices. Along with the mental health risks, a study (University of Cambridge) has shown spending too long online causes a fall in school results by up to two grades. They recommend spending no more than 2 hours online per day.
- Become friends with your child’s contacts. According to Identity Specialist Tracy Hulver, children often enter a “popularity contest.” To grow their friend list, they add strangers. You can prevent this by adding their contacts to ensure they are only accepting from those they know.
- Finally, monitor your child’s browser history. For Lead Threat Intelligent Agent Chase Cunningham, we can find a healthy balance between respecting their privacy and keeping them safe. For example, you could look at who they’ve been messaging but not read them.
Use FocusMe as Blocker Software
You can educate and monitor your children, but that might not be enough. Pornography, violent videos, and other adult sites are just a click away. What’s worse is pop-up adverts are exposing children to adult content they don’t want to see. Up to 34% of people have experienced unwanted exposure to pornography through misdirected links.
In addition, tracking their usage can be difficult. Especially if they’re using it while you’re at work. To regain control, we recommend using FocusMe as an online safety tool. Features include:
- Monitoring the time they spend on apps and websites. Presented in a visual graph, this will tell you if their behavior is healthy or you need to step in.
- An automated scheduler. Rather than having to manage daily, this controls how long they can spend on certain apps and websites. After a certain time, things chosen by you can be blocked.
- Blocking things you don’t want them to see. It’s impossible to bypass this and protects them from the unsafe parts of the internet.
FocusMe is controllable from a central device. Even if you’re not with them, you can monitor their behavior. It will only track those selected by you and is adaptable to your needs. Overall, our blocker software eliminates any worry or doubt. When it’s running, it’s impossible to access the websites you’ve chosen.