As our society becomes more immersed in technology, children and toddlers are growing up tech-savvy, with access to the internet a part of the norm. But how can we protect them from harmful information?
A virtual playground
In today’s society, we are immersed in technology. We can’t escape it. Digital technology is everywhere and has become an integral part of our everyday lives. As adults, we use it to help us in the workplace so that we can become better, faster and more efficient. Socially, all ages use the internet to connect with friends and family all over the world via social media.
For children and toddlers, the internet provides a virtual playground for them to learn, connect, play and create. For the first time ever, children are being brought up around technology and are becoming more digitally advanced than their parents and grandparents.
However, the internet is huge, and growing at a speed we would have never previously imagined. Every second, we are creating more information and content that is easily accessible to any user. Naturally, not all of this is content that we’d want young children to be exposed to, and it’s easier than ever for them to stumble upon highly inappropriate and sometimes dangerous content.
So, how can you ensure that our children and toddlers are protected from accessing harmful or indecent content?
1. Set-up parental controls
One of the first steps to ensuring your child is safe online is to set up parental controls so that upsetting or harmful content is blocked from view. Parents will be able to easily control in-app purchases and manage how long their child spends online, as well as block specific sites, types of sites, and certain search results.
It’s important to remember that the words and terms your child or toddler may search will often be done innocently. However, even the most innocent searchers can render explicit results. Parental controls are one of the best ways to prevent this by allowing you to plan the time of day your young one goes online and how long for, stop them from downloading inappropriate apps, and manage the content different members of the family can see.
Most technology providers now have extensive controls for parents to use. Smartphones and tablets can be easily set up for children to use safely, and there’s a wealth of software available for desktop computers and laptops.
2. Talk to your child about staying safe online
Another important element of keeping your child protected when using the internet, is to speak to them regularly and openly about the potential dangers of using it. Some families will find it helpful to have an open discussion about this and agree on what is appropriate. Alternatively, if parental controls have flagged something that may be of concern, you may need a more specific conversation about the particular website or app that your child wants access to.
It’s important that this is a two-way conversation, and it can be useful for parents to ask their children what they think is and isn’t appropriate, so that they have insight into their thought process. Children can often understand more than we give them credit for, so it’s important to explain why certain things on the internet are out of bounds.
3. Encourage them to ask questions
Coming across inappropriate content is often the result of nothing more than natural curiosity. But instead of feeling as though the internet is the only way to find the answer to any questions, children should feel as though they can approach their parents to gain a better understanding of things they might not know about, or words they might have heard.
Parents can encourage this in a safe environment by sitting down with their children regularly and asking them if they have any questions, or telling them to come to them if they are unsure of a word or term, rather than going straight to the internet. Naturally, a balance must be achieved, as children should be free to do their own learning where appropriate.
In addition to this, parents can ask children if there is anything they have seen online that has made them feel uncomfortable or confused. You can also teach your child how to report or block information on the sites and apps they use, encouraging them to do so if they see anything upsetting.
4. Discuss sharing personal information
Sharing personal information on the internet could be harmful, as location and birth dates could help strangers identify where your child is at a specific time. This is why it is crucial for parents to talk to their children about personal information such as their email address, their full names, phone number, address and school name. Children often don’t realise the danger of sharing personal information online, so it’s important they understand when it is and is not OK.
Use of images should also be discussed, so that your child understands that some photographs could give people the wrong impression. If a website or someone online requests information from your child, you should encourage them to speak to you first rather than simply giving the information or images away.