Monday, 25 January 2010

Protecting and Supervising Young Teens on the Internet

Protecting our children goes with the territory of being a parent. We warn and train them from a young age about the dangers of the fireplace, crossing the road and encountering strangers. When it comes to the internet these principles still apply, even if sometimes we feel that we are not qualified to do so.

It is perhaps too easy for us to install a "net nanny" program on our home PC and assume that that we have fulfilled our parenting responsibilities in this area. If we are to ensure that our children using the Internet wisely and safely, we ourselves need to know our way around the Internet. It is important that we share and talk about their online experiences with our children. Just as with crossing the road, we cannot be there all the time, but it is worthwhile spending sometime going through the basics together with them.

Young people often come across as being highly competent on computers, but my experience is that they have a blindspot when it comes to protecting their privacy on the Internet, so don’t be afraid to ask the awkward questions.

Research has found that the more often "significant adults" talk to young people about their experiences online (and occasionally monitor what they are doing), the less likely a young person is to engage in risky behaviour (defined as disclosing personal information, meeting up offline with someone they met online, or sharing photos with strangers). The young people who did not have the adult intervention were four times more likely to agree to meet up with someone they met online.

As parents, we may have some control over the other people our children encounter in "real space", but we cannot regulate whom our children meet in digital space. However, we can help them to make better decisions about their own safety when online.

Some tips on supervising young teenagers:
  • Keep the computer in a public place, preferably with the screen facing into the room, so that it can be seen when wandering by.
  • Laptops combined with WIFI mean that it is almost impossible for parents to have any handle on what their child is doing on the Internet. Many parents consider that laptops are most suited to the older teenager.
  • Beware that mobile phones with Internet capability are likely to provide unfiltered access to the Internet.
  • Set clear rules for Internet use.
  • Insist that your children do not share personal information such as their full name, address, phone numbers, full date of birth or passwords with people they meet online.
  • Don’t just rely on the “net-nanny”.
  • As any School Network Manager will tell you, young people are expert at evading “net-nanny” programs and pass information between themselves on how to do this. [This usually entails going to a site which is listed as safe, which then redirects the user to the desired, banned site].
  • The browsing history of a computer keeps a record of the sites that have been visited by a particular user.
  • A deleted browsing history is likely to tell you as much as an undeleted one.
  • Be aware that most Internet browsers, now allow for “Private Browsing” sessions where no browsing history is recorded.
  • If your daughter types ‘POS’ when on a social-networking site or on MSN, it means ‘Parent Over Shoulder’. Draw your own conclusions!

Supervision of Social-networking sites:
  • Teenagers are unlikely to want you as a “friend” on a social-networking site, but some parents make it a condition of being on Facebook when their children are starting out. It will give you the opportunity to keep an eye on who your child is friends with.
  • Parents who have a social networking site profile are much better placed to help their daughter protect her privacy. Parents need to keep up to date with how the privacy settings work and to talk these through with their child.
For more on internet safety: see Microsoft's which outlines "10 things you can teach kids to improve their Web safety" and also has some excellent age-related tips:
The EU Insafe Website also has some useful information on a range of Internet Safety issues.

This blogpost was based on an article written for the GSA MyDaughter website

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