Safe Internet Practices for Children

Worried about keeping your child secure in the online space? Here are some things you can do to ensure that the experience remains a safe one for her

By Sanjit Chatterjee

Safe Internet Practices for Children

The internet is an amazing platform that offers exciting possibilities. Children play online games and learn and connect with friends on social media, as this online world opens numerous nurturing avenues. But we can’t deny that a darker digital world exists. Today, with incidents of cyber bullying coming to light, we wonder how safe it is for children to venture into this world. How do we ensure that our children are safe online? The answer is: by teaching them safe internet practices.

Parents, with their long working hours and hectic schedules, often find it difficult to interact closely with their children. This results in a lack of bonding and a communication gap. In such a scenario, children hesitate to share the problems they face of online abuse. And, often, parents are the last ones to know their children are using the internet to exchange abusive messages or pornography and indulge in life-threatening activities such as drug addiction and terrorism.

Again, most children are unaware of the risks associated with having conversations on the internet. They don’t think twice about divulging their real names, where they live or other identifying information. This makes it all the more important for parents to proactively participate in their children’s lives and ensure that they maintain healthy communication, as the safety of the little ones is of paramount importance.

Restrict easy access

Nowadays, children from ages 5 to 18 are online. With easy access to the Internet through computers, smartphones or tablets, they visit chat rooms or gaming platforms. They can search, chat and interact with unknown faces and friends through social media platforms. As a parent, your role is to check whether your child — given his age — should even be on these sites. For instance, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube require that users be at least 13 years old. WhatsApp requires its users to be 16; Vine allows users who are 17 and older. As a parent therefore, you need to become tech-savvy.

Follow your child online. Don’t send her out into the virtual world unmonitored. Create accounts on any social network your child uses and supervise her activity on those forums.

Be alert about online games

Many children are nowadays addicted to online gaming. This keeps them away from physical games and may lower their performance in school. Although all games are not harmful, some can be inappropriate for the child’s age. Recently, games like Blue Whale created havoc and proved life threatening for many children. As a parent, you must actively help your child not to access such games. You can educate him about their ill effects or use parental control tools to monitor the URL of the gaming websites your child is browsing. You shouldn’t prohibit your child from playing online games but you should ensure that the online conversations in those games — whether voice or text chats — stick to the topic on hand. If the talk extends to real-world information, teach your child to say, “game over.”

Keep a watch on video content

Video content is consumed more than text-based content because it is easily available on video sharing channels and also on social networking sites. Every day, thousands of videos are posted on these platforms and many of them are not suitable for children. So, keep a strict eye on your child’s online activities. However, it could be difficult for you to get to know exactly what type of videos your child is accessing. So you have to advise her on the type of content unsuitable for her age.

Develop ‘eavesdropping’ skills

Find out who your child is connecting with on the social network, his friends and their friends. It is responsible parenting to get to know what your child is talking about online and offline. Follow the accounts that follow your child’s. Watch out for people posting inappropriate content and ask your child to block them. Set limits by being open and telling your child when online content is not appropriate. Clearly tell your child which sites he can and cannot visit.

It’s impossible to keep track of every app or site your child visits. But your Internet Service Provider may have parental tools and filtering software designed to keep predators and inappropriate adult content from reaching your child by blocking the content. There are options for parental control over web content and internet access, virus defence, spam blocking, privacy preservation and firewall fortification. Once you set restrictions,

Google will block sites with explicit sexual material (Preferences/Safe Search Filtering). AltaVista makes several types of offensive content off-limits with its Family Filter (Settings/Family Filter setup).

Lay some ground rules

To make the Internet safe, put some rules in place. Tell your child not to interact or chat with strangers or give out personal information like name, email address or residential address, phone number and school name or credit card information and photos. Tell her not to open e-mails from people she doesn’t know or respond to dirty or hurtful messages, and to avoid strangers. Teach her to surf smartly and take precautions. This will help her develop a lifetime of good habits.

The author is Chief Executive Officer of Reve Antivirus.