At age 4 1/2 we had our first attempt at a ‘big girl´s’ bike for our daughter, and today we can finally say
The time has finally come for this family to worry about what our kids can find while doing their own searches online.
While we know the Internet is an absolutely wonderful source for children to get valuable information and entertainment, we can’t overlook that it is also a volatile and infinite space with a growing amount of nasty content. That´s why we recognized the immediate necessity for a plan that goes from prevention to contention of possible scenarios and hopefully keeps our kids on the bright side of the net.
The first thing that we realized is that it’s not just a matter of sexual or violent content, the internet is filled with garbage that no child -or maybe anyone at all- should see, just consider the amount of misogyny, discrimination, indoctrination, extremism, bullying, conspiracy theories and just plain old lies that we experience in any browsing session.
The second factor is that most kids don´t really understand the context or consequences of seeing these kinds of content, which is the main reason why we can´t just drop this responsibility on their laps, it doesn´t matter how ‘mature’ they seem for their age. The responsibility falls back on us as the parents to keep them safe.
Kids are getting full access to Internet-enabled devices earlier and earlier in life and we all know it. The sooner we take steps to ensure a safe experience, the better.
In our case, after careful research and consideration, we have defined our objectives as an effort to give them a set of tools to protect themselves.
Those tools come in an array of shapes, from physical/technological tools to psychologic preparation. The idea being that even when some search terms produce results that have evaded the protections in place, the child is able to determine that he is seeing things that make him feel uncomfortable or just wrong, he recognizes that feeling and knows how to respond. That is making them active players in defending their own safety.
We are absolutely certain that no amount of blocking and filtering technologies is a solution or substitute for active counseling and parenting, but it is good to know that there are some tools out there. In our first layer of protection, we are trying a simple array of solutions.
1. Parental Controls
This is the obvious choice, if there is a parental control setting in your device, activate it. Even more, do a quick check right now and make sure that everything is properly configured.
2. Duckduckgo browser
We have set Duckduckgo as the default browser. We like that it doesn’t collect personal information and has a safe-mode that removes explicit content.
3. Youtube kids
4. Family Sharing
OpenDNS Family Shield works by blocking access to adult content, malware, phishing sites, and more. What’s great about it is that you can set it up to work on your whole network or in a single machine.
There are of course many, many, options and tools out there. One that we’ve heard great things about but have not tested is Circle with Disney
– Everybody lies on the internet. EVERYBODY!
– Never give out your real name or any personal information over the Internet or to strangers.
– In the digital world, nothing is ever really ‘deleted’. Act accordingly.
– We as parents can and will have access to any device at any time.
The first thing that you should remember is that the way you handle this will play a great part in defining how your child is going to react when new similar situations arrive. And they will.
So part of our protocol is to avoid all shaming and punishing, the most plausible scenario is that the kid did not act with ill intention. Most likely he heard or saw something somewhere and wanted to see what it was or see more out of natural curiosity. We don’t want the message to be that being curious is somehow wrong or that any particular search is. It probably is not right either, what it is, in fact, is age-inappropriate.
Next would be to openly ask some questions to dig a little more in the origin of the behavior. Some possible questions are: What did you think it was going to be like? What was your impression after you finished watching? What did you like about it? What did you dislike about it?.
Next part is to explain some things are not adequate for a young mind and that, when children see something they aren’t old enough to see there is a possibility for serious harm and even psychologic trauma.
One possible way to make things a little easier to explain, is to draw comparisons between the Internet or movies and real life. There are things that happen in the real world that are meant only for adults, like driving. You wouldn´t just hand them the keys to your car today, but there will be a time when they will learn to drive, you will teach and help them learn how to do it properly, but in a safe and age-appropriate way.
Finally, assure them that they can come to you at any time with any questions they may have, or if someone ever says, shows or does anything inappropriate, scary or weird that they find intriguing.
Remember that these are precious opportunities to build trust and stimulate the muscle of healthy non-judgemental honest conversation with a slightly younger human being.