Internet safety: restrict or educate children?

child on laptop.jpg
Written by littlegoode

There’s been a lot of recent coverage in the news and on independent documentaries about protecting children on the Internet and on smart phones.

There’s been a lot of recent coverage in the news and on independent documentaries about protecting children on the Internet and on smart phones. The general feeling seems to be that children, particularly ages 10-16, are too vulnerable online because of all the gadgets they own and use.

But does a parent’s responsibility extend only to restricting their use of Internet devices, or should parents be more readily educating their children about Internet safety anyway?

A segment on The One Show this week documented the growing concern of many parents that their children are more vulnerable to seeing vulgar images and meeting unsavoury people online, because so many of them are using smart phones and tablets.

Several parents interviewed said their children had seen pornographic images, images of dead or mutilated animals, and had ended up talking to strangers online. They all said they wished electronic devices came with clearer instructions on how to restrict sites like these, and limit the amount of time that children can spend surfing the web.

So what clearly is the root?

Interestingly, not one of the parents acknowledged their own part in educating their children about being safe online, and only wanted a solution with the device itself.

We all know that the Internet can be a dangerous place, and that there are plenty of nasty and disturbing things to see and read, but surely the web itself can’t be blamed for what children are searching.

While it’s relatively easy to come across a pop up advert about gambling, or even porn, these don’t equal the fact that many 10-16 year olds are actively searching out vile images or adding strangers to their Facebook pages. Surely it’s as much about raising our children to know the simple boundaries of what you do and don’t do, rather than just limiting the time they can spend using their smart phones?

One example given on The One Show last night was about a 13 year old girl who’s mother discovered she was talking to men she didn’t know on a chat room, and was using her phone to send images of herself to these men. The mother was outraged, and instantly demanded that smart phones are changed to have the capacity to block the camera, so children can’t take revealing images of themselves, but will this honestly help?

Clearly, the issue here is more about education, and the way children are being raised in a society full of technology. Regardless of whether a child has a phone, a tablet and a laptop, what they deem acceptable and unacceptable comes down to the way they’re raised, and the education they receive about these matters.

Even if it is easy to access chat rooms online, I find it difficult to comprehend how any teenager being raised in an age of Internet safety, still thinks it’s okay to speak to strangers that they don’t know. Ultimately, that’s not a problem that comes from smart phones being in existence, but the apparent fact that many children these days don’t know the basis of right and wrong.

Education starts with a click

The One Show also questioned parents about their ability to control their children’s devices, and the overwhelming response was that they felt unable to amend the settings on phones and tablets, and blamed the manufacturers for not making it easy enough.

Again, this is simply about education. As a parent, why buy your child something that you yourself don’t know how to use? Granted, we are in an age where younger generations are able to more quickly and adequately pick up an electronic device and suss it out, and perhaps more can be done to educate parents.

But even so, it comes down to a parent’s choice, and if you choose to buy something for your child that you in no way understand, you can’t be surprised when they start using it in a way you didn’t expect.

It is impossible to deny that there’s a lot of content on the Internet that we may not want children to see, but it’s also vital that 10-16 year olds are able to control their own online habits.

At the beginning, this has to come with support from parents who know what their children are doing, and aren’t afraid to berate them or tell them honestly what they should and should not be doing.

Instantly blaming manufacturers of smart phones and computers will not fix the solution. There are ways to restrict Internet activity if you read the manuals and handbooks, but the easiest and simplest way will be simply talking to children and clearly telling them what not to do.

What do you think is the best solution to children and the internet? Have your say in the comments section below.