All parents worry about their children. We worry about if we can trust them and who they are spending their time with. Ten years ago this was only a problem for teenagers and young adults, now, with the ever changing face of communication this can be a worry for parents of children as young as 4 or 5.
Research shows that by 2 years old more than 90% of American children have an online history and, at 5, more than 50% regularly interact with a computer or tablet device. It is more important than ever to consider the relationship between the internet and our children. The internet can influence and change childhood, emotional growth, social development, educational prospects and we need to understand the risks.
The uptake of social networking in young children has increased rapidly over recent years and, with the development of sites such as Club Penguin and Webkinz, social networking is now being directly targeted at younger children. The worry is often of the dangers that can come with internet use and there is a tendency to want to stop children using the internet all together.
With adequate privacy settings, and an understanding of what your children are using the internet for, we can regulate the use of the internet. By taking an interest in what they are doing, just as you would for sport or homework, they will take it more seriously and try to meet your internet expectations. Teach them from an early age about privacy and their identity; that they need to protect their identity and not give out personal information, and also make sure they understand passwords and who to interact with online.
Research shows that there are risks but that we need to understand their severity. As parents we worry about the internet because of the unknowns and because, often, neither children or parents fully understand all of the risks out there in the online world. The basic fact is that the risks that are in the offline world exist in an intensified and often more accessible form online. Research shows that it is everyday factors making children more vulnerable and that those children with offline vulnerabilities – such as no support from parents, poor relations with friends, or those who are simply lonely – are extending this to an online vulnerability. It is the job then of healthcare professionals, social workers, teachers and parents to see this problem offline and extend their concerns to children’s online behaviour.
Considering that children as young as 5 or 6 are as familiar with the internet and computers as they are with toy cars or dolls it is now necessary to regulate the use of the internet in a reasonable way for your children. Some advice is to keep the computer in a family room and not allow computers in a bedroom. If the computer is kept in a family room then time spent on the computer will be seen as a family activity and you can keep an eye on it.
Social media etiquette and appropriate behaviour is now a part of something we need to teach our children. Teaching your children the correct etiquette for social networking, the appropriate behaviour when posting information about themselves, and what they are uploading is important. Research is showing that young people are regretting what they have posted about themselves by high school and a rise in cyberbulling relates to the information that is being posted about them.
Media and technology impact on children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development is only beginning to be studied. There is some indication that our over exposure to the internet might be linked to a limited attention span in children, a lower comprehension, poor focus, and lack of basic literacy skills. This is affecting children’s work habits, thought processes and how they feel so, as parents, we need to be taking better steps to improve our families internet safety.
Jane writes about internet safety for kids based on raising awareness to resources such as the Vodafone Parents’ Guide.