In a previous article, I explored the activities children can engage in on the internet, as well as the associated risks. I would now like to share five concrete and actionable ways in which you can protect your children in that digital environment and secure their well-being, both online and offline. Of course, these tips should be applied on a case-by-case basis, according to your children’s age and their level of maturity.
The first steps towards protecting your children in an online environment and having them adopt responsible behavior when accessing the internet, are taken at home. Proper education in this regard and effective monitoring of your children's activities online should be sufficient to achieve these goals.
Below I have outlined the first steps you, as a parent, can take to ensure that your children have an online experience that is appropriate for their age and maturity level, and that they are not exposing themselves to undue risks. However, for increased protection, I recommend you supplement these basic and mostly non-technical measures with technical protection measures, implemented directly on the device used by the child, such as parental control programmes and changing the confidentiality settings.
To help your children cope with the dangers of digital life, you must, first and foremost, be sufficiently well-informed yourself. Educate yourself on how the online world works, from social networks to video games. Educate yourself on online threats in general, but especially those aimed at children. And educate yourself on the necessary skills both you and your children need to avoid dangers online.
In order to efficiently protect your children online, you will also need a set of technical skills. Technology is evolving rapidly, as are the digital skills of children. That's why it is important for you to keep up with them and be equipped to navigate their digital world.
An open dialogue with your children is essential in understanding the dangers and consequences of their internet activities. You initiate communication and open dialogue on topics related to online life and difficulties encountered. Be sure to pass on the necessary advice to your children, and also monitor if they follow and act on it. Here are ten examples of such advice:
- I don't respond to friend requests and messages from strangers.
- I don't meet people "known through the Internet".
- I do not give out my personal data or my family's data unless my parents give their consent.
- I do not share photos/videos of me, family, friends, home or belongings.
- I do not send sexual or nude pictures to anyone.
- I choose strong passwords.
- I don't share my password with anyone, and I change it frequently.
- I do not use shared computers.
- I do not engage in defaming anyone on the Internet.
- I limit public access to my profiles and accounts.
- Device placement, plus rules and limits
Place the computer/tablet/mobile phone in a visible place in the house where you can effectively monitor your children’s online activity. Temptations in the online environment are numerous and, in some instances, even dangerous.
Adopt rules for using the computer and other devices, by taking into account your children’s age, their level of maturity and development, and their needs. If you have several children using the same computer or sharing the same devices, the adopted rules must be customised for each child. You should keep in mind that some children are not responsible enough and should not use these devices by themselves at all. In that case, make sure that they do not have access to them and that they only use them when strictly necessary and under adult supervision.
As we have already stated, computer addiction is a real problem, and it can start at a very young age. Set clear computer time limits that allow your children to spend time with family, real-life friends, and take school responsibilities seriously. These boundaries are essential for a balanced childhood and adolescence. In setting and monitoring these limits you can also use parental control programmes that offer this functionality. It is also important to be flexible in constantly adjusting these rules as your children mature and become more responsible. Make sure these rules are followed by constantly monitoring your children's online activity.
- Use technology to get closer to your children
By sending texts or messages on Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram to your children, you can open a dialogue that would not otherwise occur. Today's children prefer to communicate using technological means. "Become friends" with your children on Facebook and "follow" them on Instagram. This way you will be able to monitor what they post, their friends lists, the comments they receive from others, etc. Show that you're a parent who understands how these tools work and use them to get closer to your children. However, keep in mind that nothing can replace face-to-face interaction. Spend time with your children and gain their trust, so they will open up and not hesitate to tell you the concerns or problems they are facing in the virtual world, knowing that you will listen, understand and help.
For increased effectiveness, I recommend using these measures together with more technical ones, which are implemented directly on the device used by the child. The first step you can take right away is to change the settings of the operating systems (Windows, Android, iOS), search engines (Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge), social networks and video games that your children access. Secondly, you can contact your internet provider to check if there are parental control programmes they offer for free. Thirdly, you can consider purchasing parental control software. This provides complete protection and a safe online experience for your children, giving you full control over their activities on the Internet.
The world is how we shape it. This also applies to the online environment and to the online experience our children have. Without proper guidance and supervision, the internet might pose their safety and well-being at risk. This is why we need to take active steps towards building a safer online world for our children to explore.
On March 16, for the fourth consecutive year, employees of Sopra Steria Benelux, trained by Child Focus, will be participating in an “Internet Safe & Fun” workshop. This volunteer initiative is aimed at raising awareness among primary school children about the importance of safer and better use of the internet and social networks. Read all about last year’s edition.