How to protect young children from the dangers of the Internet
I'm sure I'm not alone in letting my 5 year old use a tablet to play games or watch YouTube videos - allowing her to watch My Little Pony videos is the only way we manage to get to sleep past 05:30!
We all know how to teach teenagers to be safe online (be careful in chat rooms, don't put personal details on Facebook, don't send naked photos to your boyfriend) but a lot of parents don't realize that we also need to be vigilant with much younger children. You might think your kids are safe because they don't know about chat rooms or social networks yet, but it's worth thinking about these points...
It seems that most young children are a bit addicted to YouTube these days. Whether it's watching people unbox toys, do make-up tutorials or watching episodes of Peppa Pig, our kids can find plenty of videos to interest them. The worry with YouTube is that you can click through to recommended videos and end up watching something of a completely different nature to what you started on.
Little H was watching My Little Pony cartoons one minute and the next she was watching some fan made My Little Pony horror video. If your child is a little YouTube addict it might be worth replacing the app with YouTube Kids. It's an official app that's much more child friendly both in it's use and the content. There's also parental controls that allow you to set time limits or restricted searching.
The natural progression from watching YouTube videos is wanting to make and upload videos to be the next Zoella or Stampy. Little H is always pretending that she's talking to a video camera while she's unwrapping a Kinder Egg and has begged me to film her and add the video to YouTube. She hasn't quite worked out how to shoot a video on the tablet yet, but I'm sure it won't be long. I'm not really comfortable with this, I don't like to mention her name on my blog or post loads of photos of her as I don't think it's a good idea for too much information about her to be public.
If you're allowing your child to put video content online, there's a few things you should be aware of...
Don't allow kids to mention personal details like their name, hometown or school
Make sure they don't film videos where the front of the house or the street name is visible
Recording a video in their bedroom or while wearing a school uniform could attract attention from the wrong people
Any video could receive negative comments - how would your child cope with being trolled?
Are they likely to be teased if school friends see the video? For example if they've filmed themselves playing with toys
If they do get embarrassed by the video at a later date, it may be difficult to remove all traces of it from the internet as you have no control of where it has been shared
Little H is a master at finding new games and installing them onto the tablet, I didn't ever show her how to do it she just worked it out like I'm sure many kids do. At the moment she's only really interested in Disney games or Princess nail salon type apps, but once they know how to find and download games they could find all sorts. It's definitely a good idea to keep an eye on what your child is downloading, and ensure that there's no apps that have public access to any videos or photos they might take.
You can set up parental controls on your broadband, directly on a smart phone or tablet, and within many apps and games to make sure that your child can't access any adult content. Some tablets even have settings to turn off the WiFi after a certain amount of time so that you can restrict use.
I am so glad that online bullying wasn't a thing when I was growing up - dealing with it at school is bad enough, but nowadays kids can be contacted wherever they are. While hopefully not something that young children will have to deal with, it's worth parents being aware of the dangers as it may be something to watch out for as our children grow up. Cyberbullying could include text messages, emails or messages on social networking sites, and can be anonymous. If you notice that your child seems upset after being online they could be a victim of cyberbullying.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sarah is the mum of Little H, aged 5, and a blogger over at Digital Motherhood. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She works in Digital Marketing & Social Media Management, and blogs about parenting, family, kids, days out, travel, product reviews, social media and much more.