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Growing Up Online

Guest post by Simon Ellson

These days, children often seem to know their way around the internet better than their parents and although this is great news for their development, freedom on the web also exposes children to a wealth of threats; ranging from cyber grooming, bullying, accessing inappropriate content to exposing their or the household PC and other devices to viruses, and hacking. In fact, research conducted by the UK Council for Child Internet Safety in 2011 demonstrated that 18 per cent of children have come across harmful or inappropriate content online and a third of children claimed that their parents were unaware of their online activities.

This statement is backed-up by findings from the Norton Online Family Report which shows that 17 per cent of children think their parents have no idea what they do online. (...and a shameless plug coming up – the next wave of the Norton Cybercrime Report is due out soon and I for one will be very interested to see how things have changed since last year). Taking into account the above and bearing in mind we are heading towards school summer holidays and the holiday camp season, I compiled a list of top tips for my own family’s online safety and wanted to share them here:

1. Familiarise yourself with the dangers associated with the sites your children visit. By being aware of the risks involved with your children’s preferred websites, you can keep your eyes peeled for any early signs of danger. The recent grooming scandal on social networking sites illustrates how, even, those sites specifically designed for children can become infiltrated by predatory users.

2. Monitor your children’s activities on the internet. Just because they are quiet doesn’t mean they aren’t causing trouble! Set specific times when they can access the computer and keep your PC in a family area, that way you can ensure that you are nearby should they access any inappropriate content.

3. Understand which devices connect to the internet. Many children now own their own smartphones, and now even certain TVs can connect to the internet. It’s a good idea to be aware of when and how your children are connecting to the internet and what they could be exposed to.

4. Install parental controls on devices that connect to the internet. Parental controls will enable you to filter the content your child is accessing, be it videos, music or websites. Norton Online Family is a free web service that enables you to use parental controls to initiate smartphone monitoring, web filtering, social network and search monitoring and weekly email reports.

5. Create online boundaries just as you would in reality. It can be difficult to reinforce rules online, but it is always constructive to highlight to your children that the same standards of behaviour apply online that you would expect at home. I was a child once, although my kids don't believe that, and I know that for them, sometimes temptation proves irresistible. Just a quick peek from them at one inappropriate website can cause untold harm to them or their computer. In my household I guide and advise without cramping my children’s style (or I endeavour to) and I hope that the tips here help other parents and guardians likewise.