Children in the over-5 age bracket would generally be regarded as the most vulnerable group of young people, when it comes to potentially harmful situations on the internet. It is from the age of 5 that their engagement with digital technology, on an individual basis, tends to rapidly increase.
However, it is important to recognise that children under the age of 5 are also being exposed to the internet and digital technology in a number of different ways. This cannot be perceived as a wholly negative aspect of new technology because with the right supervision and support this kind of interactive engagement can have long lasting beneficial effects for children.
Dr John Siraj-Blatchford, honorary professor at the University of Swansea Centre for Child Research, has explained
There is very little on the internet that is suitable for a four-year-old child to operate on their own, so the crucial point is that there should be an adult sat next to the child while he or she is online. Using the internet can be a rich interaction if there is an adult sitting next to the child – it can be as valuable as a reading session.
An American study found that for young children, using a computer was associated with better outcomes later on. However, when the study factored in children using the computer in the presence of an adult, it was associated with a strong improvement in outcomes.
While it is clear that devices such as iPads and other tablets, which run programmes specifically targeted at preschoolers, should never replace crucial experiences in a young child’s life, like valuable outdoor time, they can still be used in a constructive and interactive way.
Internet Safety Tips
The following tips aim to support the positive interaction of preschool children with technology.
1. Be informed and ‘net-savvy’
The best safeguard against online dangers is being informed and familiar with the internet. A good place to learn the basics is the website LearnTheNet.com.
Often children know more about new technology than adults so it’s important you know your way around the internet and then you can help children protect themselves from various internet dangers. A good place to stay current with the latest in online technology is mashable.com.
Keep the computer in a busy part of the house or early year’s service, where the screen can always be seen. Let the children know that their activities on the computer will be supervised.
Use the internet with your child. Let them lead but stay with them until you are sure they using it appropriately. You can also check your internet browser history to make sure they have been accessing suitable sites.
3. Keep an open dialogue
Keep the communication lines open and cultivate an interest in children’s online activities—their favourite Web sites, online games and interests, and discuss what they are doing. Talk to your children about the benefits and dangers of the Internet and don’t be afraid to ask who they are talking to online and what they are talking about.
4. Agree on a game plan / rules of use
Discuss computer guidelines and rules for using the internet with the children. Post a print out of these rules near the computer as a reminder.
Possible issues to include in these guidelines are:
Duration of use – time allowed on the computer
Sites allowed to access
Always tell an adult if they have received scary, inappropriate or threatening messages
Never share personal informationon the Internet such as your name, address, telephone number, school name etc without your parents/carer’s permission.Never send pictures of your family, friends or yourself to anyone online without permission either.
Be aware of the potential dangers online – adults pretending to be children; business companies wanting mobile information to take money off your phone; dangerous people; spam emails that can spread a virus in your computer and access personal and banking information for example
Do not open emails from people you don’t know
Never agree to meet people that you have met online and inform parents/ guardians if people ask to meet you in person
InternetSafety is one website that has an example of a Family Game Plan that you can use.
5. Protect your computer
Take advantage of the software that exists to help parents manage their children’s computer experience. In only a few minutes, parental control software such as Magic Desktop or Safe Eyes can block inappropriate websites, restrict the amount of time that your kids use the Internet, and monitor their Instant Messenger chats to protect against predators.
6. Mobile phones
Mobile phones can also access the internet these days and the above rules/gameplan need to be applied if your child has access to the internet through their phone. If your child is sent inappropriate material, pictures or texts on their phone they need to let a parent/ supervising adult know.Again it is vital that the lines of communication are kept open so that you know what messages your child is sending and receiving.