If you read the title of my blog presuming this was going to be discussing contraception, then you’re wrong. If you have children, they you’re WAY past that point.
The words ‘internet security’ ignite a variety of responses among us parents. What should we even be doing to protect our children online and furthermore, how on earth do we actually do it?
As parents, we have a very natural and powerful urge to protect our children*. However, we need to be able to balance this out with our child’s desire to learn and their natural curiosity. The internet is often referred to as an ‘online playground’ and it is vital for us to understand what we need to guard against and where the line is drawn for the children to explore. Great in theory….but what on earth does this actually mean? As a mother of 2 gorgeous girls, aged 9 an 12, I’d like to share a few lessons I’ve learned along with a few useful tips on how to help keep our children safe online, while saving our sanity.
Children today have a vast knowledge of computers, with this varying depending on their age. Younger children understand basic computing, and as they grow, both their understanding and confidence grows, and they can ultimately out shine us parents with their IT knowledge, something I find very daunting indeed.
For me, as a mother of 2 inquisitive, ‘Apple’** loving girls, the vast array of mediums for my children increases their access to the internet. Stick an ‘Apple’ logo on any item and it instantly rushes to the top of their ‘essential items’ list, ***
Before tablets and smart phones, monitoring the girls access to computers was easy, nowadays, children can access the internet from virtually anywhere. Now for homework and similar situations, this has admittedly, proved invaluable, for me as much as them. Last minute homework research is far easier to do at 9pm on the iPad when their is a homework ‘situation’ i.e. needing to be completed by tomorrow morning. So, for many many reasons (not just eBay), I am a huge fan of the internet, but it does become increasingly difficult to keep track of exactly what they’re up to.
As an amazing place for exploring and learning, children take to the internet naturally and easily, but as parents, we worry we may not be able to monitor and guide them through the dangers of the online world. The problem as I see it, is that there is no definitive answer or guide to protecting our children online. For me, it can often feel very hit and miss, a combination of intuition and instinct.
**Stay Safe Together**
The good news is that a large percentage of parents do accept that it is their responsibility to protect their children online and most of us do take a proactive position by speaking to their children about potential dangers.
The number one parental concern is that their children may end up engaging with complete strangers online who are not who they claim to be. For me, this was by far my biggest fear when my eldest joined social media and she still reminds me of the 43 million chats I have had and continue to have with my girls. To children, online friends are real friends. Online life seems real, there is very little distinction.
Talking to my children regularly and actually being a part of their online world helped to set and develop boundaries in our house. This continually enables me to identify risks before they become issues. It takes ‘stranger danger’ to a whole new level. Chatting to your children about and understanding their online world is vital to protecting them.
Working together with your children means both of you accepting responsibility for staying safe. Explore the online world together, ensuring they understand the risks involved with what they are doing online and knowing how to stay safe and where to go if they are ever worried. Technology itself can actually be used here to our advantage via
- *parental controls on the home Wi-Fi
- *devices and search engines can filter and block content
- *privacy settings on websites and apps restrict information that can be shared
- *time control settings on how long and when children can access the internet
It’s worth remembering that other adults in the family like grandparents, uncles and aunts also need to be included in these conversations about staying safe online. The more conversations the better. Stay safe together.
**Understanding their world**
It can genuinely be really hard to keep track of what your children are seeing online, our lives are so busy how can we possibly make sure they don’t see anything distressing or not age appropriate?
It could be violence, racial hatred, dangerous advice encouraging things like eating disorders or self-harm, gambling or pornographic sites. Children may come across these sites by mistake or even out of genuine curiosity. We all know how much children question everything and how curious they are. As parents, we need to decide how best to protect them from accessing this type of content online.
Sheltering them from the online world won’t help in the long run, they need a chance to learn how to behave online and find out what’s out there.
Striking a balance here is crucial, so for my 2 daughters, I give them very different levels of freedom with life in general, my eldest walks to secondary school with friends (mum is just embarrassing), whereas I walk hand in hand to and from primary school every day with my 9 year old. Their ages mean they have different day to day needs and this is reflected in their online world as well.
For me personally, this is then reflected by BullGuard Internet Security. For piece of mind and when my life is super busy, the ‘Parental Control’ is a powerful and easy-to-use tool that helps protect my girls online, it’s my added security. In the Windows app, you can block access to suspicious websites, put search filters in place, limit your kids’ time online (this one always makes me popular!), monitor their activity and even block certain applications. It helps to keep children safe from cyber bullying and stops them being exposed to inappropriate content. When it comes to your kids’ activity on their Android devices, it puts YOU in control allowing call and application monitoring, location tracking and antitheft.
What works for me, is that the content monitoring, filtering and blocking is based on age group profiles 3-7, 8-12 and 13-17. These check and block certain types of online content including adult and intolerance web sites, illegal drugs and software, bad taste, violence and weapons. Facebook protection is also provided, enabling you to discreetly monitor activity such as strangers trying to ‘friend’ your child as well as identifying abusive and bullying behaviour.
**What to do if your child is worried**
Talking to your children and keeping those lines of communication open is vital, so that if they do see something which worries or upsets them they know that they can come to you without getting into trouble.
If they do see or even do something which worries them, they will be looking for love and support. Try not to overreact, believe me I know this is hard, but take a breathe and listen. It may have taken every bit of courage they have to speak to you, so in return, greet them with understanding and stay calm.
- Emphasise that they have made a good decision by sharing their concerns
- Allow them to express their worries by initially listening rather than hounding them with questions
- Offer emotional support and let them know you will help and support them
- Let them know the next steps you’ll be taking, such as reporting the concern to a necessary authority, accessing help and support or simply being there as a trusted parent
Parenting is a mine field and with the added pressures of today combined with online security we can often feel overwhelmed, I know I regularly do! I hope this blog can help any parent or carer to better understand a child’s life online along with ideas on how to keep them safe. It is all from my personal experience as a mum and genuine products which I use in my home and work well for my family. ,
Other websites which I have found really useful for online parenting advice are;
NSPCC Net Aware net-aware.org.uk (info on the commonly used apps)
UK Safer Internet Centre saferinternet.org (guidance for young people and parents about staying safe online)
NSPCC Share Aware nspcc.org.uk/shareaware (a great site for ideas on conversation starters)
nspcc.org.uk/onlinesafety (for advice and support on setting up parental controls and much more)
*or at times strangle them
** I am in no way sponsored by Apple (but wish I was and am open to offers)
*** note to my bank manager; thanks for the overdraft.