‘Mummeeee… Can I please go online? I need to find out something for my history homework…’ lines I’m beginning to dread more and more as my son grows older. With the onslaught of the world wide web, suddenly, I am no longer in control of what information is seen, received, and even sent out by my child. What is even more worrisome is that it isn’t long before he goes on social networking sites and I’m not really sure if he’s ready for that. I definitely am not.
But, I have resigned myself to the fact that this is one of those necessary evils one has to accept and the best way to protect my baby is to ensure he – and more importantly I am made aware of the perils of the internet.
Having researched the net (where else?) and hunted down leads, here’s what I’ve found:
- There are plenty of government organisations and Quasi- government organisations and NGOs happy to give us information about using the internet safely.
- Hardly any of them are from India.
This despite India having the world’s third largest internet-using population. The ones that do exist often have information that is confusing, hardly easy to read, let alone understand and implement. There are, of course a few brilliant ones, like McAfee Cybermum India, but these are proving more the exception than the rule.
How, then, do you keep your child safe from the big, bad world of internet-abusing strangers? Well, like in the real world, I suppose with a bit of common sense along with a lot of awareness. But before we go further, ensure that your child knows to come to you if something does go wrong when they are online. They need to come to you if they are worried or even curious about something they’ve seen or heard online. That’s something that can’t be stressed enough. You don’t want a child who is hiding bigger problems from you for fear of being punished or chided.
Internet safety for children (these are wonderfully practical tips I found on www.getsafeonline.org )
Advice if your child is under 5 years old
- I’d start by setting limits for the amount of time they can spend on the computer/ tablet
- Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. Set up passwords/ PINs for machines or programmes you don’t want your child to have access to.
- On machines they do have access to, please set parental controls that ensure that your child can view only appropriate content. There are many software programmes available at various prices that work in different ways. If there’s a family computer in use, ensure that the homepage is set to a safe and trusted website.
- When buying or downloading apps or games for your child, check if the age ratings are appropriate for your child. Please ensure that the grandparents/ baby sitters or other primary carers for your child are given a list of what programmes/ games your child is permitted to watch or play in your absence.
- When using public Wi-Fi at a café or the airport or a hotel, remember that they do not include parental controls. I’d be a bit wary about handing over your mobile or tablet (still connected to the internet) to your little ones, it may result in them watching/ accessing inappropriate content.
If your child is aged 6 to 9 years old
- All the rules that are mentioned above would pretty much apply to this age group as well. In addition, sit with your child and agree upon a list of websites your child is allowed to visit.
- Ensure that they do not reveal personal information about themselves and the family online, such as your home address, school, etc.
- Keep all devices that connect to the internet (computers/ gaming consoles) in a family space, so if your child stumbles across something inappropriate, you are immediately aware of it.
- You’ll need to have a chat with your older children on what they should or should not be sharing with/ showing their younger brothers or sisters on the internet and in the games.
- You might need to have a chat with other parents in your child’s school and circle of friends as to what age they’re buys devices for the children that connect to the internet, but form your own opinion. Don’t succumb to ‘But ABC’s mother allows him/her…’ if you think your child isn’t quite ready yet.
Advice if your child is aged 10 to 12
- At this age, most children get their first connected device, so it’s best to lay down the rules for usage and put in the age-appropriate settings before they have it. The internet does not guarantee anonymity. The best advice would be to tell them to not do or say anything they wouldn’t be comfortable say or doing face-to-face.
- However much your child is tempted to show off his latest gadget, make them aware of the risk of theft/ loss and attracting unwanted attention in public places. Phones and other gadgets should be well hidden when they’re not at home.
- Have a chat with your child about online etiquette. Discuss what is safe and appropriate to post or share online. Make them aware that once it’s out there, it’s out there for everyone to see forever. No matter what the security and privacy settings are. Even if they go back and delete it later.
- This is the time when there’s a burgeoning interest in their own changing bodies and those of the opposite sex. They may want to look it up on the internet. You might need to check the content your browser throws up if and when they do want to do these searches. They also need to understand the importance of not sending other – whoever they might be- inappropriate pictures of themselves and/ or of themselves (or anyone else) in the nude.
- Most social networking sites have a minimum age of 13. However these are easy enough to circumvent with the right know-how. It’s important for your child to understand why these age limits exist and that he or she abides by them.
Things to discuss with your child:
- Do you really know everybody on your ‘friends’ list?
- Do you know how to use and set privacy and security settings? Can you show me how?
- Do you ever get messages from strangers? If so, how do you handle them?
- Do you know anyone who has made plans to meet someone offline that they’ve only ever spoken to online?
- Are people in your group of friends ever mean to each other, or to other people, online or on phones? If so, what do they say?
- Has anyone ever been mean to you? Would you tell me about it if they were?
- Has anyone at your school, or anyone else you know, taken naked or inappropriate photos and sent them to other people, or received photos like that?
Advice if your child is aged 13 or over
- Ah, the wonderful teens. Your child may think he/ she is adult enough and may not want to listen to everything you have to say, but ensure that they know their boundaries. Reinforce the lessons. Even if you think it’s falling on head-phoned ears.
- Now would be a great time to keep yourself updated with technology that you child uses, maybe ask them to teach you, give you a few pointers. Not only would this be a great platform to discuss your concerns with your child, but it also keeps you up to speed with what programmes/ apps are currently being used by your child.
- Your child may now be old enough to disable/ circumvent the security settings you’ve put in place, so you might be better off having a frank discussion about their body image/ sexuality of themselves and others online. Often the information available online is misleading and sometimes downright dangerous. Discuss and agree with your child in advance what is acceptable online behaviour.
- I may be saying this too often, but there’s no such thing as too much discussion with your child. Have open, non-judgemental discussions about posting harmful, hurtful, untrue comments, online bullying, sexting and webcam usage.
- If you have a budget of how much a child can spend online/ on gadgets/ apps/ music/ gaming/ talk-time, let them have control of the budget, but access to your credit cards and your financial details should still be a while away. Also ensure your child knows about what is legal to download and what isn’t (pirated software, music, etc.)
Most of all, I’d say, use your common sense. If something doesn’t feel right, err on the side of caution. I’d rather be the overprotective, over reacting mother that my child hates than the ‘cool mum’ who ignored the warning signs. Happy surfing!
Other Useful links: