Introducing Children to the Internet

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*This is a guest editorial post from Gecko Monitor.

Parents of younger children will probably have noticed the keen interest and curiosity that they show towards computer use. Being able to press a button or move a mouse and have an instant reaction on screen inhabits the same pleasure that kids get from toys that perform an action when interacted with. Of course, this adds fuel to their curiosity, and sooner or later they’ll have to be introduced to the digital world of computers and the Internet.

An introduction to computers is a fairly simple one; there are plenty of educational games and applications for children of all ages. But opening the gates to the Internet is a far more dangerous consideration that may not have crossed the minds of many parents. Granted, the Internet is a fairly new phenomenon that probably isn’t at the top of the list of challenging parenting tasks. But we all know what lurks a few clicks away, through unwanted banner ads or pop ups. The Internet is a dangerous place for young eyes.

This doesn’t mean we should put off the task of a digital education. Along with the dangers of the Internet, we all know its benefits and its importance in the modern age. In fact it could be argued that a child should be taught to be computer literate at the appropriate age to take their skills into the classroom. A computer illiterate child in a classroom full of their computer literate classmates could be at an academic disadvantage. That being said, there is no right age to introduce kids to the Internet, that’s an altogether different subject and a subjective one at that. I’ll leave that one up to you.

What I would like to share with you is how to introduce kids to the Internet. I’ve always believed in a three step system that, when combined with educating your child of the dos and don’ts of the world wide web, can take the majority of the worry out of your life. Those three steps are filter, monitor and trust.

The first step is “filter”. Filtering and blocking is perfect for children of a younger age and is a great way of taking the worry out of that introductory stage. Filtering and blocking means you can literally filter and block questionable websites depending on what content is deemed suitable for a certain age group. Parental Monitoring Software (as it’s known) lets you do this while requiring no technical skills. You can simply install the software and let your child surf worry-free. Software of this type works by scanning a web page before it loads for adult material, profanity and a whole range of subjects including alcohol, gambling and hate speech. If any unsuitable material is found, the page will be blocked.

Parental Monitoring Software goes hand in hand with child friendly websites like Yoursphere. You can leave your child to play and learn, without the worry of them straying to something that they shouldn’t see. Of course at some point, as your child outgrows parental filtering, they’re going to want a little bit more freedom.

This can be a difficult decision to make for any parent. How do you give your child more freedom online, while simultaneously protecting them? It’s the age-old, real-world problem, mirrored in the digital age. This is where the second step of “monitoring” comes in. Monitoring computer activity can be a relevant solution for a wide range of age groups. Firstly, younger kids, who have outgrown parental filtering can be monitored to protect them, and secondly, older teenagers, who you suspect of viewing inappropriate material online, can be monitored to make sure they’re behaving responsibly.

Computer Monitoring Software works in a different way to Parental control software, in that the Internet is uncensored and unfiltered (although both types of software can be used in conjunction) but everything that happens on the computer is monitored to be reported back to you at a later time. You can also let your child know that they are being monitored, or monitor them stealthily, as the software works silently in the background. With applications like Gecko Monitor every activity that is undertaken is logged, including all websites visited, all applications used, everything typed and all document activity. Periodic screenshots are also taken so you see exactly what was on screen. You can then either log back in to the application to see the reports, or have them emailed to you to view elsewhere.

A combination of both types of software is a powerful tool when teaching kids how to use the Internet. And when they do start to surf the web you should also be teaching them things like the importance of strong passwords, protecting personal information and being careful what they share with others and who they talk to. Of course there is one more step in the three step system and it’s the one that’s hardest for the parent; trust. As we all know, at some point we have to let go of the super-protective parent in us and step back a bit. When that time is only you can decide.

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