What parents can do
There are several things that you can do to help counteract the dangers of the internet while allowing your children to use its benefits:
- learn more about it yourself;
- be aware of what your children are doing on the internet;
- establish guidelines about safe internet use;
- teach your children to be critical users of the internet;
- put in place reasonable boundaries;
- use blocking software or filters;
- if necessary, lodge complaints.
Learn more about it yourself
The more you know about the internet, the more support you will be able to provide your children. Many local libraries, schools and other community groups offer free courses or courses at reasonable prices. Don’t forget, your children may be the best teaching resource you have — sit with them and ask them to help you understand. You don’t have to become an expert, but some degree of comfort with the technology will help.
Be aware of what your children are doing on the internet
You can do this in a number of ways, including sitting with them while they are using the internet and chatting with them about what they are doing. You can also keep track of what is going on by:
- checking Bookmarks or Favorites (accessible via the icons on the menu bar) for sites your children like to visit often;
- checking recently visited sites (using Options, Preference or History);
- email monitoring software is also available. KidSafe is an example of email monitoring software. It allows parents to filter email for their children to block out spam, viruses and offensive email. For more information go to the KidSafe website.
Establish guidelines about safe internet use
There are several practical steps you can take to safeguard what happens in your home in respect of the internet:
- keep the computer that is connected to the internet in a family area, not behind closed doors;
- only allow your children to use chat groups or news-groups or send email messages with your permission and under your supervision;
- talk to your children’s school about their on-line policy; you may be able to put their safeguards into practice at home;
- select a reliable service provider and discuss children’s on-line safety with them.
Teach children to be critical users of the internet
One of the best ways of protecting your children is to teach them to be critical users of the internet. Teach your children:
- never to give others their name, the names of their friends, or fill in questionnaires with their personal details;
- never to send images of themselves over the net as they may be used for other purposes;
- about ‘stranger danger’ as it applies to the internet. If a child or young adult wishes to meet new on-line ‘friends’ in person, make sure you supervise the meeting;
- never to respond to messages or bulletin board items that are suggestive, obscene, or threatening. Encourage your children to report such experiences to you. If they do, discuss these matters calmly with your child and forward a copy of any such messages to your service provider, asking for assistance;
- to only use monitored chat lines designed for their own age group;
- to always be themselves when on-line;
- to be critical in respect of ‘information’ found on the internet. Information on the internet comes from many sources and not all is reliable.
Use blocking software or filters
Blocking software or filters are the names used for programs that you can install and use on your computer to control the information that is accessed by children whilst on the internet. Blocking software:
- can block or minimise the risks of harmful violent material, sexually explicit material and chat lines being displayed on your computer;
- is inexpensive and available from most computer suppliers or straight from the provider’s sites.
For more information about blocking software, see the related web topic and Fact Sheet Internet filtering software — what it is and how to use it on the Young Media Australia website.
Whilst blocking software is an excellent idea for some age groups it is not foolproof and some computer aware children can still get around these programs. Blocking software goes hand in hand with parental supervision and is no substitute for it.
Put in place reasonable boundaries
Discuss with your children what you consider to be reasonable boundaries on use of the internet. Depending on the age of your child, negotiate these boundaries with them. For example:
- Set a daily or weekly time limit. The amount of time you decide upon will depend on the age and developmental stage of your child. Remember that the internet can be addictive and that you may need to encourage your child to keep a balance with other activities, including being physically active;
- Only allow internet access in public spaces so that you can keep an eye on what they are accessing and discuss it with them if necessary.
Make it clear to them what materials are unacceptable.
Make rules about on-line shopping, downloading material, responding to unsolicited advertisements and so on.