February 5th is Safer Internet Day, and the purpose of this annual worldwide event is to encourage people to use the internet responsibly. With children spending more time online than ever before, the major concern for parents is online safety.
To put the issue in perspective, 97 percent of homes in Australia with children under 15 years now have internet access. It’s estimated that kids aged between six to 13 years spend 12 hours a week online, while teenagers are spending up to 1200 hours a year on social media alone.
Being able to access information and create and share content online has many benefits, but the risks include privacy breaches, identity theft, cyberbullying and exposure to adult content.
While the dangers are real, these five steps will help you keep your kids safe online:
This is the number one strategy for protecting kids online because young people need to know what to look out for and how to react if they find themselves in a risky situation. You can discuss what to do when strangers contact them, or how to handle it if their friends want to look at adult content. Talk about the reasons they should always use privacy settings and never disclose personal information, and the fact that anything posted online is potentially there forever.
Even when they’re aware of online dangers, children are still prone to risky behaviours, which is why parents are wise to monitor and control internet usage. You can limit what your kids have access to by choosing an ISP that provides parental controls or by using kid-safe browsers, search engines and filtering software such as Net Nanny. There are also apps available, including ScreenTime for Android and Apple devices, that allow you to remotely check your child’s browsing history and set time limits. More sophisticated applications let you track their location and read emails. These should always be used with children’s knowledge as it’s important to maintain trust.
To have a healthy relationship with technology, kids need to know they can live without it. It’s a good idea to set limits on how long all family members spend on devices each day, and to ensure kids have outside interests and hobbies. There are strong links between excessive internet usage and teen depression, and the best way to avoid this is to establish good habits at a young age. Those who have a happy, full life in the real world are less vulnerable to cyberbullying and internet addiction
Talking to children about privacy and online safety is important, but the impact will be limited if they see you posting personal information and photos to a wide network of acquaintances and strangers. To set a good example be discerning about who you accept as a friend online and the information you share with them, particularly when it comes to your children
Technology is evolving rapidly, and parents need to make the effort to keep up. If your children know more than you, they have the skills to hide their online lives, which may lead to risky behaviour. Take the time to research the social media platforms, apps and games they use so you can stay one step ahead.
These tips will help ensure your children are safe and happy online.