Children and the internet: 8 rules for safe surfing


Tablets, smartphones, desktop and laptop computers: our homes have been invaded by devices, more and more advanced and more and more within reach of our children.

This is not ‘kids’ stuff’: often it is us parents giving a bad example. Hands up who, coming home after a long day at work, doesn’t check the various social media sites, also as a way to let off steam or stress. The result? We are always connected and we may even end up becoming internet-dependent

According to Adiconsum – but looking at our own experience should be enough to know – in the past few years internet use – at home or away – has increased exponentially. Just as the number of children and young people who are online.

Looking at this data, a question naturally pops up: is the internet child-proof?

Undoubtedly the web has given us opportunities and tools which were unimaginable until a few decades ago, but it’s also true that it can hide a lot of traps we need to defend ourselves from, especially when it comes to our children. 

The internet is a free tool by definition, but there’s no point denying it: there are risks in using it, for both young and old.

“Online security is a priority for everyone. According to a recent survey led by Gallup, there are more people who fear their account will be hacked, than those who are afraid of a break-in at home, says Simona Panseri, Director of Communications for Google Italy.

And if it is indeed true that us grownups should already be familiar with both the opportunities and the risks of the internet, try and imagine the devastating effects that the ‘dark side’ of the Web could have on children. Inappropriate content of any kind, violent and scary, is right there – just a click away.

Our role as parents is therefore essential, both in adopting control measures, but also and above all in setting the foundations for a calm dialogue within our family.

It is clear that we cannot stop children and teenagers from using this new technology in order to protect them. Therefore, we shouldn’t tell them that they cannot use the internet, rather, we need to teach them how to use it properly. With the knowledge that placing a child in front of a screen will have consequences.

Our job as parents is to be beside our little ones as they start using the web, with some simple guidelines, patience and common sense.

How do we do this?

Here are eight rules to help protect our children from the dangers of the internet:

1 – Talk to them: it is important that the whole family talks about what is possible to look for and find online.

Especially with older kids, it is important to explain to them the negative consequences of an inappropriate use. Be informed and interested, and try to understand what they are doing when they go online. The best thing is to have an open and honest dialogue about the world wide web.

2 – Set strict search filters: with younger children, use protection software to make surfing safer.

You need to be the ones who choose what your children can or cannot see: all the main browsers let you limit access to certain sites and select what content can be viewed.

Even on your smartphone, you can use parental controls to limit access to some apps, stop purchases from being made, filter search engine results, track search history and stop it from being deleted.

3 – Choose what YouTube videos to play: there isn’t a lot you can do, this is the app most loved by kids. Before searching for a video, deactivate the auto-play function, which is regulated by an algorithm: choose what videos to play yourself, maybe even by creating a playlist.   

You can even use YouTube Kids, a version of the app entirely designed for children aged 3 to 8, with content which has been especially selected for them.

Even in this case however, there should always be a parent present, especially considering that some videos definitely not suitable for children have managed to get past filters and checks, ending up being fully visible.

4 – Keep an eye on the Google Play Store account: to protect kids from apps that are not suitable for them, on Android smartphones you can set up a Play Store Family account.

This way if your child wishes to download a new app on your smartphone or on their own – if they have one already – you will get a notification asking you to authorise or decline this operation. 

5 – Read privacy notices: yes, they are long and boring – so much so that we often press ‘Agree’ without paying much attention – but taking the time to read them is important. 

Every service should clearly explain the ways in which it will process users’ personal data. If this information isn’t clear or it doesn’t convince us, move on. If you need to create a user profile, it is best to do it together with your child and be aware of the password.

6 – Place the computer in plain sightplace the desktop computer – but also tablet and smartphone – in common areas, not in your child’s bedroom. Better still, in a central room of the house such as the kitchen or the living room, so you can check on them and keep an eye on what they are doing.

7 – Write a list of rules: as the saying goes “Verba volant, scripta manent.

Share guidelines and advice about how to use the Internet safely with your children, by creating a list of rules that must be followed, and pinning it next to the computer and other devices.

8 – Careful with social media and chat rooms: if you have older children, it is advisable to explain to them the privacy settings of the various social networks, telling them to never share any personal information, send pictures of videos or agree to meet anyone they have chatted to on the internet.

Before allowing your kids to use a computer, smartphone or tablet, make sure you follow these precautionary measures.

After all, both online and offline, our kids’ safety comes before anything else.


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