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6 STEPS TO TAKE TO CREATE A SAFER ONLINE EXPERIENCE FOR KIDS
By Dr. Saadia Asif

The internet has been around for 25 years. In that time, it has gone from a luxury that a few people have access to, to a fundamental part of our daily lives. This is especially true for children. For most youngsters under 10 years old, the internet is a core part of their day to day lives. They learn to move through YouTube videos before they can read, play games on their parent’s phones before they can hold a pencil and so much more.

But the power of the internet has to be managed, especially for the most vulnerable. Children may not think they need guidance, but they do. So here are six key things that you as parents can do to protect and support your child on the internet.

1. KEEP THE COMPUTER IN THE OPEN
Keeping the computer in the common area, like the living room is critical. It enables you to keep an eye on what your child is doing on the internet without making it obvious that you are doing so. It also gives them the comfort of knowing, you are around if they see something that makes them nervous or uncomfortable.

2. LEARN HOW THE INTERNET WORKS YOURSELF
Kids today seem to be born with the awareness and ability to operate technology, leaving parents marveling at their ability and at some point, giving up on trying to keep up. While tempting, this is can be a problem. How can you guide your child if you don’t know what they are up to? Making sure that you are internet savvy will help you keep your child safe online. Invest the time in learning how it works – in fact why not ask your child to teach you – it will give you a chance to bond.

3. READ THE MESSAGES, ALERTS AND PERMISSIONS
The first point of internet access for most children in 2018 is the Smart Phone and its many apps. Kids pick up the ability to download and install apps very quickly and your phone will soon seem to have hundreds of strange icons floating around. When they come to you for your Email ID or Thumbprint to download, take a minute to see what the site is about, read the terms and conditions (it’s boring but important) and most importantly, understand what aspects of your personal information will be shared. For example, will it track your location (Snapchat), who will it share it with (Facebook) etc.

Note: If your child has their own phone, then make sure that you download the same apps as them, giving you greater insight into what can and cannot be done online and understand how you can protect them.

4. HAVE AN HONEST CONVERSATION
The internet is amazing…but it can also be dangerous if used improperly. Just as you would speak to your child about the dangers of smoking or drugs, you need to talk to them about the dangers of being careless online.
• Let them know that they can talk to you without fear, especially if they see something online that makes them uncomfortable.
• Talk to them about fact and fiction – explain how while interesting, not everything they read and see on the internet is real.
• Make sure that you know their passwords for social media and/or gaming sites – not because you are spying on them, but because you are interested in their well-being. These are often the places where online predators lurk.

5. SET LIMITS
The pervasiveness of the internet makes it easy for kids to be “always on”. But, balance is critical. That is why we strongly recommend setting limits, especially for very young children, on the amount of time they can spend on online. Discuss an appropriate time frame with your child and then make sure that you and they stick to it. Balance is critical and the earlier the process starts the better. And remember, you are the one who sets the example

6. SEARCH TOGETHER
Search Engines are amazing, and endlessly useful. Simply type in a few words and the world lies at your feet. But Search Engines lack the ability to distinguish between an adult and a child and one wrong word or phrase entered into the Search Box can lead to extremely inappropriate results. Make it a point to be present when you child is conducting their searches. You don’t have to be looking over their shoulder but being accessible to answer any questions will help manage their experience.

These are just a few of the elements we believe will help you protect your child from the scarier side of the internet. Openness and honestly are critical as is understanding, answer their questions honestly, share your fears and understand theirs to create a safe and comfortable internet usage environment.