Have you ever noticed that kids these days seem to take to the internet like a duck to water? Now, we’re not advocating that you use the internet as a babysitter for your offspring (tempting though it may be!) but you can’t deny that it’s become a great resource for them to learn, play, grow and have a lot of fun with. Unfortunately, there are also a number of risks and an ever-present danger that they may stumble across people or sites that are less than innocent. As a parent or teacher, you’ll want to keep as informed as possible regarding online dangers and what you can do to protect those under your care.

First of all – the dangers.

Dodgy Websites. Whether it’s pornography, violent games or music videos which promote drug use, please be aware there are an endless number of websites that you wouldn’t necessarily want your children viewing.

Social Networks. While social networks such as Facebook can be great for sharing photos and keeping in touch with family or friends who don’t live nearby, they can also leave your children vulnerable to the approaches or voyeurism of unsavoury strangers.

Online Games. As above, online games can be a fun platform to help connect kids to others with similar interests. However they have also been reported to be a favoured ground of paedophiles looking to ‘groom’ children by establishing trust and then luring them to real-word meetings.

Bullying. Finally, it’s a sad truth these days that it’s become all too easy for kids to bully their classmates and acquaintances online through social media, instant messages or rumour campaigns. It’s also very easy for parents and teachers to be oblivious to this because there are no physical signs or aggression and as most cyber bullying can go un-witnessed.

So what can you do? The good news is that with a little effort, you can do a lot to mitigate the threats discussed above.

Communicate. Maintain an open dialogue with your kids and make them aware of possible online dangers. Additionally, ask them to promise to tell you if they notice something suspicious or receive unsolicited emails and be clear that you will be monitoring their browser history, email and social media accounts regularly.

Limit Internet Access. This is one of the most effective strategies to keep your kids safe. Allowing them to only use the family computer in the lounge or for 20-minute time slots while you are in the same room will discourage most inappropriate activities.

Set Ground Rules. Let your kids know what constitutes acceptable internet use. This will vary from family to family but could include rules such as not downloading files without parental permission or not signing up for any sort of account without checking with you first.

‘Net Nanny’ Software Programmes. You’ve probably noticed that exercising some flexibility with the internet use of tweens and teenagers can go a long way to family harmony! However, parental control software can provide added piece-of-mind that your younger children are not accessing sites that you deem inappropriate. There is a host of software packages out there to choose from, so you’ll need to do quite a bit of research before choosing the right one for you. This parental software review is a good place to start; it summarises the pros and cons of some of the best choices out there.

In sum, as long as you exercise reasonable precautions, the internet can be a wonderful, family-friendly tool. Be sensible, but have fun and relish the privilege of introducing your kids to a lifelong love of learning!

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