We all want to encourage our children to keep safe on the internet, but it’s much more difficult to communicate the dangers of the online world to toddlers and young children who are not old enough to fully understand.
At this age, many of the strategies for keeping children safe online that are discussed in older children’s e-safety training courses are not totally relevant to toddlers. Very young children don’t use social media, for example, but most toddlers will have access to their parents’ or older siblings’ tablets, computers and smartphones, which may have social media apps installed. It takes only a few seconds for little hands to switch from a child-friendly game to an adult’s Facebook news feed if nobody is paying attention.
With good preventative measures set in place to protect under 5’s from online harm, you can worry less about the risks your toddler is exposed to when they are online, and concentrate more on the fun and learning they are getting from the experience. We’ve collected some helpful advice for you to keep the children in your care as safe from online harm as possible.
What can I do to keep my child safe from online harm?
Before you allow a child access to a computer, tablet, or mobile device with an internet connection, you should follow some simple steps to ensure that the risk is reduced from the beginning. The first thing you should do if you are using a mobile device or tablet is to visit the ‘Settings’ option on your device and ensure that your location services are disabled. This will prevent websites and apps (and everybody using them) from seeing your exact location—which is especially important if you have any apps installed that support livestreaming features.
While you are in your device settings, pay a visit to the ‘Privacy’ option and review each section on the list that appears. There are a variety of settings you can change to keep yourself and your children safe while using your device.
If your child is going to have access to a laptop or computer, you should make sure that you have enabled the parental controls/parental filters feature and have reviewed these settings fully to prevent your child from seeing any inappropriate content. Most internet providers will have a parental controls feature, or you can download specific software to carry out the task. If parental controls/parental filters are activated, web pages that display potentially harmful content will not display or will be password protected until you remove the filters.
Leading on from this, you should ensure that you have activated the ‘Safe Search’ feature on Google or other search engines. This is particularly important if you have a search engine set as a default, or if you have a search engine as your home page. Activating the ‘Safe Search’ or equivalent feature will adjust all searches carried out to remove any potentially harmful links, block inappropriate images from loading, and will include many more handy features to protect your child from age-inappropriate content. You should also make sure you have set up ‘Safety Mode’ on YouTube to stop your child from viewing videos that are not suitable.
Still bear in mind that, while these features are very effective, they do not always catch everything—so you should remain vigilant and supervise your child as much as possible when they are using a device with internet connection.
When it comes to monitoring how much time your child spends on the internet, we suggest that you put time limits in place as soon as your child is old enough to start using the internet. The earlier the better, and make sure your child understands from the beginning that these time restrictions are not up for negotiation to avoid tantrums and disagreements at a later date. Limiting the amount of time your child spends online will encourage a healthy relationship with the internet, and especially in the case of very young children, could have positive effects on other elements of their lifestyle.
Make online safety a regular conversation, not a one-off lecture…
We recommend that you make e-safety an important, recurring topic of discussion in your household. No matter the age of your child, instil the belief that online safety is important at the earliest possible stage. You should have regular conversations with your child, in an age-appropriate and calm tone, and make the act of online safety seem like a joint project, not a chore.
Remember that the more included and respected your child feels when it comes to talking about e-safety, the more open they will be to your suggestions. Explain to your child that you have set up parental controls to guard them from harm, and that it is not because you don’t trust them, but because there are many very bad people who use the internet just to bring harm to others. Talk openly and often about your child’s internet safety, rather than lecturing them only when something goes wrong.