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The internet is becoming a more common playground for youngsters, with pre-school children learning how to log onto websites to play games, before they can even write their own names.
But while this is an enticing virtual playpark, they are blind to the dangers of what might be lurking there.
Many games are now being highlighted for allowing players to message each other – opening up opportunities for cyberbullying, or for predators to pose as young people to groom unsuspecting children.
Internet safety is constantly hitting the headlines, with recent reports of a disturbing Blue Whale game targeting vulnerable teens.
Which is why online safety is something you should take as seriously as teaching your children to cross the road. Their online “friends” are faceless and may not be who they claim to be.
Having said that, there is no reason children can’t enjoy this big and varied world – with you by their side to offer support and guidance.
Here are a few steps we recommend:
Show them the wonders of the internet, and all the fun and educational things they can do. But do it with them.
Install parental controls on your broadband. Most devices allow you to manage what content your child can see and whether they can interact with others online.
Set passwords on all of your internet-enabled devices and don’t share them. When your child wants to go online, they’ll have to ask. This also means you can keep track of their internet time and keep it to an acceptable level.
Make sure your children are using devices in a communal area, where you can keep an eye on their activities online – and keep sharing the experience with them, whenever possible.
Make searching safe
There are safe search engines for youngsters such as Swiggle or Kid’s Search, which you could add to your favourites. But Google and YouTube also allow you to activate safe search settings.
Set your child up with their own computer login and make their homepage something age appropriate. Use settings to limit the sites they are allowed to access. And set some rules about how long they can spend online each day.
Use airplane mode
This setting isn’t just handy when you’re on a flight. Airplane mode means children can’t make unapproved purchases or interact with anyone without your knowledge. So feel free to use it.
Enlist sibling help
Talk to older siblings about how they behave online, how to set a good example for younger brothers and sisters, and play their part to help keep the family safe.
The age ratings which come with games, apps, films and social media are to give you a guide of what’s suitable. The excuse that “all of their friends” are on social media is not good enough. Use these guidelines, and your own knowledge of your child, to make an informed decision on usage.
Discuss issues openly
As your child heads towards their teens, don’t be afraid to discuss the pitfalls of the internet. They’ll be learning about it at school, so encourage them to come to you with any questions or worries. Let them know that anything they post online could stay around forever – so they need to be responsible.
When they are old enough for a social profile, help them to put privacy settings in place, and make sure they know how to block or ignore people who may bother them.
Don’t be embarrassed
Once they are old enough for sex education, speak to your youngsters about sexting, online grooming, their digital footprint and types of internet bullying. Peer pressure online can be strong, and pointing them towards some useful apps which combat sexting, like Childline’s Zipit, might prove useful. Let them know you will never judge them – and urge them to come to you if they experience any of these issues.