It is hard to imagine life without the Internet, along with the freedom and possibilities it has opened up. But how much freedom do you allow your kids when he or she is online?
Though worrisome to some, children as young as five are going online without parental supervision, according to Ofcom, Britain’s chief media regulator. Even with talk of cyber-bullying and paedophilia, many parents have no protection measures in place. Kids aged eight to 11 who have web access in their bedrooms has jumped from nine per cent to 16 per cent in just two years, the British survey found.
Despite this, some online experts talk about the need for weighing the benefits against the dangers of the Internet. Sonia Livingstone, a professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics, stresses the many applications the Internet has in a child’s education.
In her Europe-wide ‘EU Kids Online’ report — based on more than 23,000 interviews with kids in 25 European nations — Livingstone wrote there are benefits and drawbacks.
“Children use the Internet for a range of things which are often beneficial, including schoolwork, games and videos. So while it is worrying that some children have been upset by things online, it’s important to balance this against the benefits and to understand that risk doesn’t always lead to harm.”
Other Internet gurus say that often the tools for protection are available to parents, but their own understanding of the world online may be lacking.
“The key is to know the control tools available for Internet services, and especially in parental monitoring of children who use these services,” says safety expert Tito de Morais, the man behind the Portuguese Kids Safe on the Internet project.
Morais often gets requests not only from parents, but also from adults because of their own negative experiences on the web.
“Parental monitoring of the online lives of our kids is as important as the monitoring of their lives offline,” says Morais. “Regarding personal data and photos, I can teach my children not to put it online, but I’m not clear what their ‘friends’ do. Most requests for help I receive are exactly the result of the use of others’ personal data from persons who are known to the victim.”