As well as being pancake day, Tuesday 9th February 2016 is also Safer Internet Day. An event co-ordinated in the UK by the UK Safer Internet Centre, this day is all about promoting the safe, responsible and positive use of digital technology for children and young people. The day offers the opportunity to highlight positive uses of technology and to explore the role we all play in helping to create a better and safer online community. It calls upon young people, parents, carers, teachers, social workers, law enforcement, companies, policymakers, and wider, to join together in helping to create a better internet. The organisations behind the UK Safer Internet Centre – Childnet, the South West Grid for Learning and the Internet Watch Foundation – want us to get involved to play our part.
So what do this mean for us as parents? Well, the guidance from the UK Safer Internet Centre is as follows:
Parents and carers can help to create a better internet by maintaining an open and honest dialogue with their children about their online lives, by supporting them with their personal development online and helping them to deal with any concerns or issues, seeking out positive opportunities to engage with their children online, and helping their children to find and use good quality digital resources. They can help to respond to the negative by staying engaged with their child’s online activity (as appropriate to their age), by modelling positive online behaviours themselves, and by also reporting any inappropriate or illegal content they find.
Talk to your child
The most important thing we can do as parents to help our children use the Internet safely is to talk to them about it. In my opinion kids are never too young for conversations about the Internet, in age appropriate terms of course. If you have a smartphone or other Internet connected device of your own, they’ll be watching you using it, and that is always a good way to spark a conversation. We frequently find that conversations with our kids lead to Internet searching to find the answers to questions they ask. At the age of 8 the geekdaughter already understands that the Internet is a great resource where she can find out pretty much anything, but what she sees is not always real, and people are not always who they say they are. A conversation we’ll carry on with the 5-year-old geekson as he grows and realises that there is more to the Internet than just YouTube Kids! If you’re not sure how to start those conversations with your child, there are some great tips and guides over on the Safer Internet Day website.
Protect your child
Alongside the ongoing conversations with your child, there are steps you can take to protect them from stumbling accidentally on some of the worst things you can find on the Internet. Most of the larger UK Internet providers provide internet filtering that can be switched on for your Internet connection, and again the Safer Internet Day website has guides on how to do this with each of the 4 largest UK ISPs. As an alternative, if you don’t use one of those ISPs, or don’t want your whole household Internet connection filtered, I recommend the free OpenDNS Family Shield service which allows you to set up filtering on a device-by-device basis.
There are also safety and age settings available on many different websites or social media channels that your children might use, and again there are helpful guides on the Safer Internet Day site to help you configure these.
Many of the devices your children use will also offer parental controls, which you should always set appropriately for the age of your child. Recently the geekdaddy and I have been really impressed with the family setup available in Windows 10 – we can monitor and manage the geekdaughter’s online time really easily. The Parent’s Guide to Technology section of the Safer Internet Day website contains loads of information about setting up smartphones, gaming devices and tablets for kids.
Another way to protect your child is to make sure Internet connected devices stay in family areas of the home, and aren’t in the bedroom. I know this is not always easy or possible, but the best way of keeping an eye on what your children are doing online is to be able to observe them, rather than allowing them to shut themselves away out of sight.
Go online with your child
You wouldn’t just put your child in a car at the age of 17 and say “go on then, off you go”, and you shouldn’t just put them in front of an Internet connected device and let them get on with it. Just like teaching them to drive, as parents we need to teach them about the Internet, and just like learning to drive the best way of doing that is to sit with them whilst they’re doing it. Don’t just sit and watch; talk to them about what they’re doing, what they enjoy, what they think about the things they are reading or watching. If you create an environment where you talk about these things now, they’ll feel able to talk to you about it in the future as their usage expands. Don’t worry if you don’t understand it all, your child will probably quite enjoy explaining things to you and feeling like they can teach you stuff!
If this all still sounds rather scary, rest assured there are loads of really good online resources that can help you with this stuff. As I’ve already mentioned once or twice the UK Safer Internet Centre website is packed full of resources, not just for parents but also for young people and teachers. Another great resource is the Internet Matters website which is chock-full of helpful, easy to understand advice for keeping children safe online.
If you have any other advice or useful resources for parents wanting to keep their kids safe online, please add a comment below to let me know.
And enjoy your pancakes! 🙂