Children today have a distinct advantage over the generations before. They benefit from the Internet – an almost boundless resource of education, entertainment, knowledge and connectivity. Want your children to listen to nursery rhymes ? Or perhaps its letters you want them to brush up on. No problem – because there are hundreds of hours of lessons online.
But the online world has a dark side too. Cyber bullying, violent content, extremist rhetoric and trolling are the flip side of this world of opportunity. So as parents, how can you make sure your kids benefit from the vast potential of the Internet, without falling prey to its many pitfalls? Xpress Money has assembled some handy tips to keep your kids safe online.
This isn’t a technological solution but an interpersonal one. Children are more susceptible to online threats without adult guidance. It’s a good idea to explore the online world together. The first step is to physically monitor internet usage without necessarily being a helicopter parent.
Join your children’s social media networks so you can keep an eye on whom they are interacting with, and how. This will enable you to flag potential threats. It’s also a good idea to have a frank conversation about Internet etiquette – such as never sending out compromising material despite peer pressure. Parenting in the online world isn’t very different from the offline world. The trick is to establish boundaries, and monitor them.
Some countries, particularly those in the GCC, have firewalls that automatically block undesirable content. But for geographies that offer unfettered access to young people, parents might want to invest in their own content controls. Dedicated software is available to block access to specific sites and programs. Mobile phones, tablets and gaming consoles all come equipped with built-in parental controls that can be accessed in the settings1.
Monitor behaviour online
Content blocks are just the first step. Apps and programmes are available to help parents monitor their children’s online activity – from keeping detailed history records of sites visited to actually recording keystrokes. But again, technological controls aren’t a universal solution by themselves. Spying on children without their consent can lead to trust issues that trigger children to rebel. The approach needs to be socio-technical – where parents and children talk about acceptable levels of monitoring, and why parents are tracking them online. Transparency is key.
We all make mistakes growing up. The difference between today and a few years back is that mistakes can now become viral stories that are shared far and wide. They stay on the record, are publicly available, and can stay with a person through their lives. It’s important for parents to first become aware of how much information we all share about our personal lives on social networks, and then teach children about the importance of setting boundaries. That harmless disagreement with a friend or argument with a teacher can turn into a big Internet moment, so it’s important to cap what we share2.
Watch out for online bullying
Talk to most parents about Internet safety, and the first threat they flag is inappropriate content. But online bullying is also a key hazard to well-being, and is a pervasive concern. Research shows that cyber bullying and trolling is made easier by anonymity – which means the bully doesn’t fear consequences. And in the online world, bullies often can’t see the victim’s reaction, making it easier for them to engage in meanness3. The Cyberbullying Research Centre has reported that 35% of students aged 11-14 experience cyberbullying in their lifetimes, with hurtful comments and rumours being the most common ways of bullying. 40.1% of adolescent girls experience cyberbullying in their lifetimes compared to 29.3% of adolescent boys – showing that a gender discrepancy might be in play here4.
In conclusion, technology can help parents watch their children in the online world. But technology by itself isn’t the answer. Whether online or in the real world, keeping children safe requires trust, communication, setting clear boundaries, and ensuring they’re adhered to. If children are taught to flag up threats and inappropriate behaviour, it becomes far easier for parents to keep them safe online.