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Parents' and guardians' guide to online safety

The internet can be a valuable information resource and fun place for your children to be entertained and learn.

However there are safety and security risks to be aware of and which you can help in protecting yourselves and your children from. The following information has been put together so you can learn more about what you can do to help improve your family's safety and security online.

  1. Things to talk about with your children
  2. Practical steps to take
  3. Create a family contract to help protect your kids online

Things to talk about with your children

The internet can be dangerous for kids and it is recommended that every parent or guardian establishes ground rules for children when browsing the internet and that they ensure the child understands the implications before they are allowed to use the internet unsupervised.  However this should not let this put you off allowing your child to use the internet as this is now seen as an essential life tool and use will help them to learn.

If you're not sure where to start, here are some ideas on what to discuss with your kids to teach them about using the Internet more safely.

  1. Just like you would teach your children about not to talk to or go with strangers you should teach your children about the similar dangers online. Explain to them that there are bad people online, who may pretend to be their age or their friends, but they may not be who they say they are and although they seem friendly they might be very dangerous. Explain the photo they use may not really be them or that they may not really be who they say they are or the age they claim to be, encourage them to ask for your help.
  2. Insist that your kids never give out their full name, your address, phone number, or any other personal information including where they go to school or where they like to play, where or when they are going on school trips etc. If they want to subscribe to any services online, make up a family email address to receive the mail. 
  3. Tell your kids that they should never meet online friends in person but instead tell you if they want to arrange to meet.  Explain that online friends may not be who they say they are.  Ensure if you do agree to this you accompany them and meet the person in a public place.
  4. Teach your kids that not everything they read or see online is true. Encourage them to ask you if they're not sure.
  5. Teach your kids to trust their instincts. Encourage them to tell you immediately about anything they find that is suggestive, obscene, or threatening; or that makes them feel nervous or uncomfortable.
  6. Show your kids how to respect others online. Make sure they know that rules for good behavior don't change just because they are using a computer.
  7. Teach your kids that the difference between right and wrong is the same online as it is in real life.
  8. Tell them to beware of what photos they put online as others could take copies of them.
  9. Tell your children never to pretend to be someone else or to be older than they are.
  10. Tell them to beware of people (and to tell you about it immediately as these could be people wanting to harm them) who are:
    • asking very personal questions or a lot of questions
    • asking them to turn on webcams
    • asking to meet them
  11. Teach them that bullying is not acceptable online anymore than in person.
  12. If your kids visit chat rooms, use instant messaging (IM) programs, online video games, or other activities on the Internet that require a login name to identify themselves, help them choose that name and make sure it doesn't reveal any personal information about them. It is best to use a nickname rather than their real name.
  13. Insist that your kids respect the property of others online. Explain that making illegal copies of other people's work, music, video games, and other programs; it is just like stealing it from a store.
  14. Children love to chat, but make sure they only use moderated chat rooms and encourage them to introduce you to their online friends. 
  15. Bear in mind computer kit is expensive so bear in mind that a child with a laptop may be very vulnerable if carrying it to and from school. 
  16. The internet can be a great reference tool for homework, but advise them to use more than one site in research to get broad, balanced information and to ensure it is true and not just an individual's opinion. Explain to them about plagiarism and why they should not copy information word for word and why they should always reference their research sources.
  17. Be very careful to keep track of social networking websites or chat sites your child may use and consider if this is really appropriate for their age.  Ask them to show you their sites on a regular basis so you can check if it is appropriate. Learn how the site works yourself and ensure your child's privacy settings on sites such as facebook are locked down appropriately.

Practical steps to take

  • Set up individual logins so each member of the family has their own login, this will make monitoring easier.
  • Control your children's online activity with parental controls which assist you to filter out harmful content, monitor the sites your child visits, and find out what they do online. Many of these software packages can be customised by the child's age to give you flexibility with multiple children and some Internet providers also provide these controls so it's worth enquiring.
  • Invest in:
    • security software for your PC protecting you against viruses, spyware, and a firewall to protect your PC from attack etc. There are many security suites that will provide you with all of these things, some internet providers will provide you with this so do ask.
    • Internet filtering software such as Net Nanny, surf control or your internet service providers controls to provide safer internet use for children.  However you will need to learn how to configure and use it so you can ensure it works properly.  It can be used to block inappropriate sites and produce reports on use which you can monitor.
  • Encourage your kids to share with you their online sessions, ask them what they have been looking at or who they have been talking too. Enjoy the Internet along with your children.
  • Explain to your children that you will be keeping a check on what they look at online, this will help to discourage them from trying to access unsuitable web sites.
  • Explain to your children what types of sites you consider inappropriate and make sure they understand why.
  • Learn to use the internet yourself and make yourself aware of the dangers, that way you will be better equipped to deal with any potential problems and to make sure you have adequately trained your family in safe use.
  • Keep the computer in a communal area of the house, where it's easier to monitor what your children are viewing and try to make usage a family activity.
  • Stay calm and don't over react or immediately blame the child if they receive or access something obscene - this may have been an accident. Commend them on making you aware.
  • Try not to use the computer or the Internet as a babysitter.
  • Set your own family acceptable usage rules and consider creating a family online agreement and discuss this as a family explaining each rule and why it is needed.

Remember that what's acceptable for a teenager isn't necessarily OK for a primary school-aged child, so get their input and consider agreements based on age. 

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Create a family contract to help protect your kids online

Before your children start exploring the new frontiers of the Internet, it's a good idea to make sure everyone understands what they should and shouldn't be doing online.

One idea is to sit down together and draw up a family online agreement for all to agree on. You can create one agreement or you could create a different agreement for each child in your family with usage rules set a by age.  

The idea is that the family discuss what is appropriate and the parents/guardians can explain to the children why the rules are necessary and advise children of potential dangers. By asking family members to sign the agreement it enforces to the individual family members the importance.

Example of a family contract: 

This family has agreed that the following types of website are inappropriate and should not be accessed on our family computer

  • Racist sites or sites that could be offensive to others
  • Adult / pornographic or rude
  • Hatred or nasty hurtful sites
  • Anything against the law.

Kid's pledge:

I (insert name) will:

  1. Talk with my parents to learn the rules for using the Internet, including where I can go, what I can do, when I can go online, and how long I can be online (insert amount of minutes or hours each day).
  2. Never attempt to access sites my family has agreed is inappropriate or that could be illegal.
  3. Never give out personal information such as my home address, telephone number, my parents' work address or telephone number, credit card numbers, or the name and location of my school or school trips without my parents' permission.
  4. Always tell my parents immediately if I see or receive anything on the Internet that makes me feel uncomfortable or threatened, including e-mail messages, Web sites, or even anything in the regular mail from Internet friends.
  5. Remember that dangerous people can pretend to be children or friends online and that people are not always who they claim to be.
  6. Never agree to meet anyone in person that I have met online, without my parent's permission.  I understand they could be dangerous or want to harm me. If my parents agree I will meet them in a public place with my parent or guardian present.
  7. Never send pictures of myself or other family members to other people through the Internet or post without first checking with my parents.
  8. Never put pictures on the internet of me or my family or set up my own web page with out my parents/guardian knowing and agreeing.
  9. Not respond to any messages that make me feel uncomfortable and understand it is not my fault if I get a message like that, if I do I will tell my parent or guardian immediately.
  10. Never give out my Internet passwords to anyone (even my best friends) other than my parents.
  11. Be good while online and not do anything that could hurt or anger other people or that is against the law.
  12. Never pretend to be someone else, pretend to be older.
  13. Never download, install, or copy anything from disks or the Internet without parent's permission as this could damage our computer.
  14. Never do anything on the Internet that costs money without first asking permission from my parents.
  15. Help my parents to understand and learn how to use the internet and have fun online and show them the sites I like to visit and tell them about any people I chat to online.
  16. Let my parents know my Internet logon and chat names (insert list)

I understand:

  1. That my parents/guardians will check my use of the internet and will be able to see what I have been doing. I understand they do this to protect me.
  2. That when something is deleted from a computer it is never really deleted and could be seen by experts if checked, therefore I must not try to access inappropriate web sites.

Signed and dated by child.

Parent's pledge:

I will:

  1. Learn more about computers and the Internet.
  2. Talk to my child about how they use the internet and ask them to show me which sites they visit.
  3. Set reasonable rules and parental controls and will discuss these with my child and put the rules next to the computer.
  4. I will monitor my child's online usage.
  5. Ensure I understand the dangers online so I can teach my children and help them to understand.
  6. Get to know any online friends my children have.
  7. Make the internet a family activity and spend time with my child online and involve them in planning family events using the internet.
  8. Listen to my child and not overreact if my child tells me about a problem or concern they have online.  We will work together to solve the problem and help them to understand.
  9. Not use the PC as an electronic babysitter.

Signed by parent or guardian. 

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