So what’s the problem?
The problem is that fortunately not everyone on the internet has good intentions and that the internet carries materials that can upset or even harm children.
The dangers of the internet are many and varied and include;
- Inappropriate content: pornography, racism, hate and violent material or content that is simply aimed at a grown up audience.
- Computer Viruses; they can destroy information on your computer.
- Spam emails: These are like junk mail. You did not ask to receive them and they are not from a person you know. Opening them, especially if they carry attachments, can introduce viruses or inappropriate content to your computer.
- Social networking sites; chat rooms and instant messaging.
These are programs that allow people to send messages to each other, like in a conversation. Sometimes adults use them to try and make contact with children, often by pretending to be children themselves.
Some facts and Figures!!!
97.8% children aged between 9-16 years surveyed in Ireland have used a PC or computer1.
Barnardos 2007 Childhood Poll found that 59% of children surveyed used the internet on a weekly basis. 53% of them go into social networking sites at least once a week.
Over 50% surveyed in the webwise survey 2006 said that their parents spoke with them very rarely or not at all about what they did on the internet.
27% met someone new on the internet who asked for information like their photo, home number, street address, or the school you attend. This is an increase from 19% in 20032.
There was a small increase in the number of children that have visited hateful websites, 22% in 2003 to 26% in 2006. Boys were three times more likely than girls to have visited hate sites a lot.
35% of children had visited pornographic websites3.
One third of 9-19 year-olds in a UK study who go online at least once a week report having received unwanted sexual (31%) or nasty comments (33%) via email, chat, instant message or text message4.
46% of 9-19 year olds who go online at least once a week say that they have given out some personal information on the internet but only 5% of parents think their child has given out such information5.
In Ireland, one in ten children (aged 9 to 16 years) who arranged to meet someone they first met on the internet experienced physical threats and abuse and in all these cases the person who had introduced themselves online as a child turned out to be an adult.
So as a parent what should we do?
As a parent, switching off the computer may seem the simplest solution especially when your child knows more about it than you do but there are ways in making your child’s internet usage safer and your child will at some stage whether at school; at a friend’s house etc get access to the internet.
Get Internet Savvy
The best thing that you as a parent can do is get to know the internet, become familiar with it and understand it. Log unto the social networking sites. If you don’t know how to do this ask a friend!
Supervision is key; have the computer in the kitchen or sitting room or in a busy part of the house. The level of supervision depends on the age of the child.
Educate your child
Use the internet with your child and explain the guidelines –
- Educate your child not to reply to rude messages and to avoid sex talk online. Teach them not to open any attachment or link they receive while chatting with others because it might contain harmful content.
- Prevent your children from sharing personally identifiable information. Explain that children should only post up information that you – and they – are comfortable with other people seeing.
- Explain to your child that photographs can reveal a lot of personal information. Children should not be allowed to use webcams or to upload any content without the approval of an adult, guardian or parent. Encourage your children not to post photographs of themselves of their friends. Warn your children about expressing emotions to strangers;
- Children should not communicate with strangers directly online.
- Ensure your children do not use full names; have them use a nickname – nicknames should be selected carefully so that they do not attract inappropriate attention.
- Install firewall and antivirus software to prevent your computer from receiving viruses
Age Appropriate rules
As soon as your child starts using the internet on their own draw up a list of age appropriate rules for your child, e.g. the internet can only be on when there is an adult supervising, time limits on the internet, but always keep communication open between you and the child – talk to your child about what they are doing on the Internet and listen to what they tell you.
Children can access the internet through their mobile phones so set rules regarding this also.
Let your child know that from time to time you will be monitoring the internet usage and what sites were accessed and their account history. If your child has a social networking site –
CHECK IT REGULARLY!!!!!!
There are various filtering programmes available which control access to information on the internet. ( GET WITH IT; A parents guide to filtering technology – understanding the benefits of filtering to help protect your child online is a good guide to understanding filtering. www.webwise.ie)
Just in case!
Keep your credit card under lock and key.
At what age should I introduce my child to the internet?
There is no lower age limit for a child using a computer. As a parent you will know when it is best and most age appropriate for your child to use the internet. Of course when your child starts to use the internet it should always be supervised.
Some sites have age guidelines or minimum age limits for example Club penguin is designed for 6 – 14 year olds but is available for all ages. Many social networking and interactive services have set 13 years as the minimum age at which a young person can register as a user of the service e.g. BEBO, MYSPACE etc… Some services also use a range of technical tools to try and prevent users under the age of 13 years from registering and accessing their service.
At what age should children use email?
A more important age threshold is when children are allowed to communicate with others on the Internet (via email, chat rooms or the social networking sites). Young children should only be allowed to have an email account when they have a reason for one (e.g. a friend or family member to communicate with) and aremature enough to use one responsibly. This is a personal judgement for families, but the recommended limit is 12 years old.
Most social networking sites such as BEBO have an age limit of 13 years old.
Further information can be received from the following;
Internet Advisory Board www.iab.ie
Tips on internet safety; www.webwise.ie
A national awareness campaign to raise digital safety www.makeitsecure.ie
Advice on managing children’s profiles on social networking websites; www.watchyourspace.ie
National Centre for technology in Education www.ncte.ie
Child support Charity www.barnardos.ie
To report content you suspect to be illegal, particularly instances to child pornography www.hotline.ie
1 Webwise Survey of Children’s Use of the Internet 2006
2 Webwise Survey of Children’s Use of the Internet 2006
3 Webwise Survey of Children’s Use of the Internet 2006
4 Webwise Survey of Children’s Use of the Internet 2006