Internet exposure amongst the young is at its peak. Now, it is almost impossible to keep children offline thanks to the ease of access by phones, computers, tablets, games consoles, TVs and even watches. Unless children are separated from their peers and denied these devices, the internet is within arm’s reach.
The lesson for adults here is not to keep children away from the internet, which will likely cause them to rebel, but instead teach internet safety to ensure they are in a safe space online. This is the duty not only of parents, but of all adults that are responsible for children at some point, teachers, grandparents and so on.
Here are seven internet safety lessons that are vital for children to know.
An important lesson in life and online, stranger danger. Face-to-face strangers are an easier danger to convey - if a child doesn’t recognise a person they know to avoid them and get help. Online, however, there is the added dimension of anonymity. Anyone can be anyone on the internet. As it is impossible to avoid every stranger online, it is imperative that children are instead taught what stranger behaviour to be wary of.
Children are most likely to come across strangers on social media sites, messaging apps, chat rooms, email, internet-connected games. Parents can keep an eye on these channels and get their children to explain how they know each person they are in contact with online. Any red flags should be investigated and, if necessary, reported.
Make sure they are also aware that who they are speaking to online may not be who they say they are. Celebrity or child impersonators is not unheard of and is an easy way for someone dangerous to get in contact with children; gaining trust and possibly, an open door to groom a child. Children should be taught that if anyone online asks for a picture or to meet offline, they should alert an adult immediately.
This is something some adults are still guilty of, opening unknown links. This isn’t necessarily referring to pop up ad links or spam emails (although these should be avoided too) but links from friends on social media platforms that may also be unsafe. Accounts can be hacked and viruses can cause links to be sent from an apparent known source, giving children a false sense of security when confronted with them. Once they have been clicked it can either give a hacker access to their account/ computer or send a virus to the user’s device, both of which are risks to private information.
If a child isn’t expecting to be sent something from a friend, the link has no accompanying text or the text seems out of context, make sure they ask the sender what the link leads to and if they meant to send it; otherwise it is best to avoid clicking on it.
Links from unknown sources should always be avoided.
The internet is host to the good, the bad and the worst. Most of the time users can get where they need to go without stumbling upon unpleasant content in the corners of the web. New users may however not be as privvy and could end up seeing something that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. In these instances, it is best to encourage children to be honest about finding this content and tell a responsible adult.
When teaching this to a child it is essential that a tone of support is used, rather than one of judgment. If a child believes they are going to be in trouble for seeing this content they are less likely to report it and in turn, keep other negative online experiences a secret.
Although it seems like an obvious point, it must be stressed to children that private information should remain private. This includes passwords, any financial details, their address, their phone number, their school and even their birthday. Anything that can be used to either access accounts or give strangers leverage to make a connection with a child should be kept out of conversations online.
Not creatures that live under a bridge, but anonymous online users who make it their mission to cause upset and spread negativity, often through commenting. Trolls cannot be avoided on public platforms or even on social media platforms, leaving messages of disdain with intent to anger as many people as possible. Children must be taught to ignore their comments and get an adult to report the poster.
Experiences with trolls can be upsetting, particularly for young children who may not understand there is no reason behind their actions. Encourage children to speak to a trusted adult when they come across a troll, discuss the comment and their feelings, reassuring them that these comments are not real.
As children, the adults of today only had to fear bullies on the playground, whereas children nowadays have the added fear of being confronted by bullies in the comfort of their own home via the internet.
Cyberbullying has become an international issue and is partially to blame for the rise in mental health issues in the younger generation. This is why it is the job of responsible adults at school and at home to teach the dangers of cyberbullying.
There is no need to sugar coat the truth on this matter as it is necessary for the children to understand the impact of things said online, and the reach of these comments/ photos/ videos.
Children who are being bullied online should be persuaded to report these incidences as soon as possible and be made aware that they have a safe space to talk about these issues.
Long gone are the days of passing notes around a classroom. Nowadays the first instinct is to put everything online. What you are eating for breakfast, photos of your dog, where you are at the time of posting and so on, are all shared to the masses. However, it is a common misconception that when a post or video is deleted, it is gone forever. There is no telling how many times it appears online, who saved a copy or shared it around.
Children should be aware of the dangers web content possesses, particularly if it is something that may upset someone else. If in doubt, don’t post it.
There are a number of kid-safe search engines that can help parents and teachers out with safer browsing. Kiddle, developed by Google, will automatically block obscene and mature content from young users. It also has an image search, a kid’s version of Wikipedia, video search and a new feature.
There are a number of child friendly search engines like Kiddle, such as Wacky Safe and KidRex.
Airplane mode will stop children accidently making purchases from mobile devices. This way they can use them and have fun, without the danger to the bank balance.
An obvious one but parental controls are a must. Make sure there are pins and passwords for everything you do not want children having free reign on. Individual websites will also allow you to switch on safe search, giving extra protection against inappropriate content.
Being plugged in 24/7 isn’t healthy for anyone, particularly children. Set online boundaries for children, for example, hours they are allowed to be online and hours they need to be offline. This will minimise their risk exposure.
Author Bio: Debbie Irvine is a mother herself and a digital specialist working for Teach.