Encouraging Safe Internet Exploration

See also: Cyberbullying

The potential the internet has brought to homes and schools means future generations have greater possibilities than ever before. In terms of creativity, access to information and the ability to carve out new career paths for themselves, anything is possible.

However, it also means that there is now greater access to the less pleasant aspects of life, and it is crucial we teach our children how to protect themselves from it.

Many schools take part in the annual Safer Internet Day initiative, with the fundamental rules of how to stay safe online being taught from an early age. It is vital that you reinforce these lessons at home, too.

Here are some ideas for how to do this.

Keep talking

The most important way to help your child develop a healthy relationship with the internet is to keep your lines of communication open.

Talking to them about the behaviour they may come into contact with (such as cyberbullying, identity theft and sexting) will help them be more prepared to deal with it if it happens.

Being aware of their online activity will help you pre-empt many problems before they arise, so get them in the habit of consulting you before they visit a website for the first time or sign up to a new social network.

Let them know you are always there to listen and support them, no matter what they encounter.

Keep screens where they can be seen

All devices with web connectivity should stay in communal areas of the house, so you are able to see what they are being used for.

Enforce this rule from the beginning: letting your child shut themselves away in their bedroom makes it much easier for them to let their safety standards slip.

Staying smart on social media

Social media is a fun way for your child to connect with their friends, but they must understand the potential dangers before they sign up. They should only accept friend requests, or use private messaging, with people they actually know in real life. It can be worth occasionally going through their friend list with them to make sure this is still the case.

Explain that if people they don’t know can see their comments and pictures, they have much less control over their content and leave themselves open to inappropriate behaviour by others. Help them to set strong privacy settings on Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and TikTok.

It can be hard for young people to fully comprehend the long-term consequences of things they post on the internet, but they should be aware of the risks that come with sharing too much. Remind them photos and videos can be copied, and then resurface anywhere, at any time, without their permission.

Future employers are likely to use social media pages as part of their research on job candidates, so any controversial posts, no matter how long ago they were put up, could easily count against them.

Keep it impersonal

Anybody who has done a bit of light-hearted ‘cyber-stalking’ of someone they went to school with knows how simple it is to discover a whole host of facts from what they post, comment on or share.

Remind your child even innocuous posts can reveal a lot: it’s incredibly easy to unwittingly give away useful information for thieves or identity stealers.

A tweet about looking forward to a holiday can give away when their house will be empty. An Instagram picture of them in uniform makes it obvious where they go to school. A Facebook Live of them playing with their dog might inadvertently get somebody one step closer to accessing bank details (a common security question is ‘what is your pet’s name?’).

Protect their passwords

Passwords should be completely random (so no birthdates or middle names, etc.), and contain a mixture of numbers, upper and lower case, and special symbols. Every password should be different (not just variations of the same word) as this prevents hackers using one to gain access to multiple accounts. Your child can use install a password manager on their device if keeping track of them all gets tricky.

They should log in to accounts on devices that only they and the family use. It’s easy to forget to logout on a public computer, leaving your personal info there for the next user to find, and there’s also no way of telling if it has had malware that copies keystrokes installed.

Take control

It’s not going to be convenient to spend every moment watching what your child is doing on online, so let technology lend a hand.

Filter out harm

To stop your child seeing inappropriate content you can use your ISP’s broadband filter. It is applied at the network level, so it covers all internet-connected devices in your household.

The filter automatically blocks pages using certain keywords and can blacklist sites that include specific themes, such as drugs, self-harm, terrorism, child abuse etc. The catch-all categories mean the filter sometimes unintentionally restricts access to legitimate sites, but there are customisation options in the settings you can alter to your own preferences.

Child safety software

On top of ISP filters or other services that block dubious websites, installing parental control software allows you to keep track of what your child does online. There are a few to choose from, but Qustodio has a comprehensive range of features. It’s not free, but it allows you to filter content, follow their usage in real-time, set time limits, monitor their YouTube activity, and covers Macs, Windows, Android, iOS and Kindle.

Get involved

Setting clear boundaries for your child’s time online will help them to enjoy the educational and entertaining side of the internet, while safely negotiating those parts that are not so pleasant.

Communication is key: the web is an ever-changing entity and your child’s inquisitiveness will only expand as they explore. Be open and don’t deflect difficult or embarrassing topics: they should feel that they can discuss anything they’re worried about with you.

About the Author

Rosalind Brookman writes for Caterham & District Independent, is a contributor at broadband comparison website, Broadband Genie, and runs her own business for freelance work and writing workshops.