How can you teach your children to use the internet safely? It’s a question I’ve been thinking about a lot, as the father of five and seven year-old sons who are already adept with parental tablets and laptops alike.
They know the internet is a magical entity capable of answering obscure questions; providing printable templates of pretty much any animal to colour in; and serving up endlessly-repeatable videos of startled cats,
What they don’t know is anything about viruses, online privacy, phishing, social networking etiquette, and any other internet safety and/or security issue you can think of.
Teaching them about this now and in the future is my job, and the challenge of getting it right is intimidating – even for someone who writes about a lot of these issues for a living.
However, there’s a whole industry of internet safety and security experts, many of whom have children of their own, and have to face the same task of rearing safe, responsible internet citizens.
Start discussing online safety at an early age
One of the key things is to start the process of discussing online safety with your children at an early age, when they start to do anything that involves the Internet.
They might still be using the computer with you, rather than independently and this offers an opportunity to highlight the fact that the online world parallels the real world and that there are both safe and unsafe things out there. It also enables you to discuss the things that are there to protect us, e.g. Internet security protection, passwords, etc.
As they get older and begin to do things independently, widen the circle. For example, if you let them start an account with Club Penguin or Moshi Monsters, help them create a sensible password and explain why they should use different passwords for each account and the possible consequences of not doing so.”
If you wouldn’t do it face to face – Don’t do it online
The advice is encapsulated in: “If you wouldn’t do it face to face – Don’t do it online” For example, would you go up to a complete stranger and start a conversation? Would you be abusive to friends or strangers in a pub or bar?
Just because you feel protected by the apparent distance a screen gives between you and the person you’re talking to, you must remember that online is still the real world.
Mid to late teens need to remember that everything they do over the web is captured forever and could come back to haunt them. Many employers and university admissions offices look at social media profiles when researching candidates.
Teach them to beware of strangers bearing gifts
As parents you need to teach them to beware of strangers bearing gifts much like they should in the physical world. For example, I don’t allow my children to open a mail package if they don’t KNOW who sent it (or got my permission to do so) – much the same way, I don’t allow them to open unsolicited email attachments.
Could they fall prey to someone who took over their friend’s account and sent out malware? Yes, but so would most adults. Could they fall prey to a targeted attack on our family? They probably will – like almost all adults.”
Once you’ve written something you can’t delete it
“The Internet is a fantastic place, but you have to be careful what you do and say when you are there. Don’t say things which you wouldn’t talk about in conversations with your family, think about what you do and say, you may well regret what you do by hurting someone or being hurt yourself.
Remember once you’ve written something you can’t delete it, despite what Google are doing in Europe, the right to be forgotten doesn’t apply everywhere! If what you do or say is controversial it will be copied many times and will always come back and bite you, even in later life when you apply to go to college, university or even a job.
Never, under any circumstances, browse unaccompanied
The first and most fundamental principle is that children must never, under any circumstances, browse unaccompanied. They both have iPad Mini devices at which they are more adept than most adults. But both devices are set to forget the wifi access code so that they cannot get online without either their mother of father present.
Ditto the computers in the house and the main screen for the computers to which they have access is in your living space (not bedrooms) so that any activity is plain to see.
Talk to the children about the risks because the time will come that they have access outside the safety of your home.
Try and be vigilant and monitor what you can
Set up all the devices that they can or could access the internet with and ensure that it has a passcode that only you know and each device has blocks on sites that you consider risky.
You also have to set up monitoring on their credit reports (yes they are only three and five but kids credit thievery happens all the time) and ensure you are with them when they are using the internet.
Educate early and often
Educate early and often – Warn them about the dangers of the internet as soon as the start browsing, and remind them of safe online behaviour regularly – don’t accept friendship requests from people you don’t know, verify requests if they look to be coming from someone you do know, never agree to a private chat with a stranger, never post your mobile phone number or home address online for all to see.
Not just to tell them the rules but also to spend the time
When it comes to passwords tell them to use long sentences; easy for them to remember and hard for others to crack. Teach them how to check that the virus protection is updated and how to answer requests. The bottom line we’ve agreed is that if they are unsure they should ask me.
Become friends and contacts in your child’s social media
Make sure YOU as a parent, become friends and contacts within your child’s social media circles and ensure you monitor posts. Your children may resist but tell them that is one of the conditions for you to allow them access.
Ask to see their child mobile devices periodically. Some children, especially the older they get, will not want Mom and Dad looking at their messages to their friends and that’s OK if the parent doesn’t want to do that.
Anything that is put online should assumed to be permanent
Further, it’s important for them to understand that anything that is put online should assumed to be permanent and they must be careful what they expose and that their identity and all that goes with it is precious.
In the case of certain environments, considering the use of a Pseudonym, not disclosing one’s age or gender, and limiting identifying information for some of their interactions online is important.”
Get them involved when installing patches
Regularly remind them that websites can redirect to other websites without them being aware and get them involved when installing patches, so that they know the importance of ensuring systems are up-to-date. As a result, my youngest can already run a network scan on the home network and understands the difference between an Operating System and applications. He can even help identify vulnerabilities.