Over the last year, the internet has provided one of the few sanctuaries for the nation’s children.
Deprived of school and sports clubs while barred from seeing friends and family members, our offspring have retreated into their shells and become increasingly dependent on web access.
The damage done by this shift to digital communications and education may never be fully quantified, but it will be profound and long-lasting.
Among the unintended consequences of forcing children to live their lives digitally, the risks of the online world have been thrown into sharp focus.
More time spent online means more risk of seeing explicit content; more risk of being approached by a predator; and more risk of being bullied, trolled, ghosted or exploited.
Formative experiences can have a significant effect on a young person’s well-being, sexuality, behaviour and even their understanding of the world.
As a result, keeping children safe online has been added to the already daunting list of modern-day parental responsibilities.
Below, we’ve listed five steps which should reduce risk levels, even while youngsters are spending greater periods of time online…
Communicate openly and honestly
From an early age, it’s important children understand the internet can be dangerous. Explain why it’s important to set boundaries, and teach them about caution in an age-appropriate way.
Being frank and honest cuts more ice (especially with teenagers) than ‘don’t you dare’ conversations. Encourage them to confide in you, and don’t be judgemental or holier-than-thou.
Restrict access to inappropriate content
It’s in children’s nature to push boundaries. Leave them on YouTube unattended, and you can’t be surprised if they end up watching conspiracy clips, or music videos with adult themes.
Stick to YouTube Kids and child accounts on streaming platforms. Don’t let children have social media platforms before the age of 13, even if their friends do.
One of the most important aspects of keeping children safe online involves financial management. Don’t let them use a device with pre-approved payments.
On devices with biometric sensors, ensure only your fingerprint can approve app installations and in-game purchases. It’s too easy for unsupervised kids to spend money that isn’t theirs.
Activate safe web browsing
Search engines have safe-search modes and content filters to prevent explicit or inappropriate material being displayed. Ensure these are activated on every computer and mobile device.
Set home broadband parental controls as a safety net, but keep settings low to ensure you’re not barred from too many sites, which might encourage you to remove the controls altogether.
Don’t feel bad about checking a child’s browsing history, or looking through their smartphone. They’re hopefully too young to appreciate stranger-danger issues like grooming.
You don’t want to spy on your kids, but equally, don’t turn a blind eye to unexpected bank charges or newly-installed apps. Intervention now could prevent greater damage at a later date.