Our seven going on thirteen year old came home from school this week with a new ‘home learning’ exercise for the week…apparently the formally referred to homework is now ‘home learning’; of course it is!

The exercise is to create a pop out card with a theme. Great. Easy? Um…how do you make a pop out card? “Mum, the internet, let’s look on there. We’ll be able to find some instructions on there.”

He was right. Couple of clicks and we had them. It got me to thinking about the way in which he uses the internet.

Internet safety is one of those things that we as parents sometime only pay lip service to, when in actual fact we should be very proactive and hands on where this is concerned.

So what is internet safety?

Internet Safety (or cybersafety) is all about keeping ourselves, our information and our equipment as safe and secure as possible. The idea is that we apply knowledge and risk minimising behaviours while we’re working, playing, searching online.

The key to internet safety is minimising online risks. Being able to do this means that families can gain all the benefits of the online environment (like communication, learning, fun, business opportunities, connection with others) while keeping safe.

We as parents teach our kids about keeping safe in a number of contexts all the time; water safety, road safety, safety around strangers or Internet safety. Being aware of the risks, having strategies in place to deal with the risks and keeping an open relationship so that children will turn to you when things go wrong, are all key to keeping our children safer online.

If you feel unfamiliar with the technology, or are not sure how to start to talk with your children about online safety, you can take a look at www.netsafe.org.nz or get in touch with NetSafe for more information. Even if you are not very confident with the technology there is still much you can offer your children about keeping safe.

What do I need to protect my children from?

Things change so rapidly in the online world and keeping up with the play can be difficult. As online environments change so do the risks. If your child spends time on the internet it pays for you to keep up-to-date with new trends. You can do this by regularly checking out the NetSafe website for the latest information.

Currently the risks online fall into several categories which include:

  • Exposure to anti-social, illegal and/or disturbing material (such as material promoting eating disorders, drug use, suicide, hate sites, pornography, violence, and images or text illegal to possess in New Zealand)
  • Coming into contact with people who use the technologies to facilitate anti social and/or criminal activities (cyber bullies, fraudsters, child sex offenders, etc)
  • Becoming involved in criminal activities such as, harassment, hacking, defrauding, manufacturing explosives or trading in illegal pornography.
  • Not questioning the truth of what they are seeing and hearing online (especially for younger children)
  • Spending too much time online and so neglecting other activities which are important for healthy development, such as physical exercise
  • Security risks which can lead to malware being installed on your machine. Malware is malicious software (like viruses, trojans, spyware and worms) which can put your computer, information and even your bank accounts (if you use internet banking or trade online) at risk. Peer to peer file sharing is very risky in this regard.

Scary? Sure is but there are many things you can do in an effort to protect your children.

How do I protect them?

There are things you can do to protect your kids.  Be proactive rather than reactive.  Here’s some tips:

  • Find out about Cyberspace (and all the positive and negative things it has to offer) yourself. You will find publications (like the NetGuide Guide for Parents) and websites on Internet safety (like the NetSafe website www.netsafe.org.nz ) helpful.
  • Keep home computer/s in the family living area, rather than in a private area such as a child’s bedroom. This will help you monitor home use, but don’t forget that there are many other points of access.
  • Talk with your children about their use of the Internet and the associated risks. You might like to take a look at the article‘Of Digital-Birds and Cyber-Bees: Having The ‘Cybersafety Talk’ With Your Child’ on the NetSafe website as a good starting place.
  • Negotiate a ‘Use Agreement’ with your child which applies anywhere – this could include things like how many hours of screen time (time in front of a screen including tv, computers, gaming devices, mobile phones etc) a day they have, what they are to do if they come across disturbing material, and who they are going to chat or IM (Instant Message) with online.
  • Do the ‘Net basics’ – a set of simple security measures to help keep your family, your computer and your information safer. Check out the ‘Computer Security’ section of the NetSafe website for more information.
  • Download the Hector Safety Button™ from the NetSafe website and teach younger children how to use it.
  • Discuss cybersafety issues with family contacts, especially anyone whose home your child visits. Make sure they know what agreements you and your child have in place.
  • Include cyber bullying in any discussion about bullying in general.
  • Investigate filtering and monitoring options including the parental settings available in many operating systems and software programmes.
  • Be aware that your child will be influenced by how they see adults, their brothers and sisters and peers using the Internet.
  • Above all, stay interested and alert. Take an ongoing interest and regularly talk with your child about their online activities. Make it okay for them to tell or ask you anything. An open relationship is key to ensuring that they turn to you first if anything disturbing or untoward occurs.

Does being Internet Safe have to cost me?

Internet safety doesn’t have to cost money. Mostly what is required from parents is time, a willingness to learn and a commitment to an ongoing open relationship with their child.

Security measures like the ‘Net basics’ are a very important part of keeping safe online. Up-to-date anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall applications are a necessity for all computers that access the Internet. This kind of software can be accessed for free online or purchased to install on your computer. You can find out more about which application will suit your family’s needs and how much each costs by checking out the NZ Consumer magazine or NetGuide which regularly review security software.

The internet is a fantastic tool for you and your children to use. If you are vigilant in keeping your children safe there is no reason why it shouldn’t be a tool they use and enjoy.

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Dean Stewart is the owner of WebSafety NZ and has over 27 years of experience in the IT industry. His career has taken him to Australia, UK and South Africa, before returning home after a 14 year overseas stint. Outside of work, Dean has two teenage children, is a keen tramper in the outdoors and enjoys growing his own produce.

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